• Unknown Soldier subject of choral work

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    June 9 and 10 will see the world premiere of “We, The Unknown,” a major new choral work for men’s voices, soloists and chamber ensemble. WETU tells the story of how the Unknown Soldier of World War I was selected. It was conceived by Fort Leavenworth civilian employee, Rob Hill, a doctrine writer at the U.S. Army Information Operations Proponent, who is also the oratorio’s co-librettist.
    WETU has been endorsed by the National WWI Centennial Commission and will be presented by Heartland Men’s Chorus at the C. Stephen Metzler Hall at the Folly Theater in downtown Kansas City, Mo. HMC will be joined by the men of the U.S. Army Soldiers’ Chorus, an ensemble of the U.S. Army Field Band.
    Hill was inspired to create WETU in part to honor his grandfather, Brig. Gen John G. Hill Sr., who served in World War I before heading to West Point and a career that spanned World War II and Korea. He was also inspired by the story of the Unknown Soldier, which according to the Arlington National Cemetery website goes as follows:
    “On Memorial Day, 1921, four unknowns were exhumed from four World War I American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat, highly decorated for valor and received the Distinguished Service Medal in ‘The Great War, the war to end all wars,’ selected the Unknown Soldier of World War I from four identical caskets at the city hall in Chalons-sur-Marne, France, Oct. 24, 1921. Sgt. Younger selected the unknown by placing a spray of white roses on one of the caskets. He chose the third casket from the left. The chosen Unknown Soldier was transported to the United States aboard the USS Olympia. Those remaining were interred in the Meuse Argonne Cemetery, France.”
    After hearing this story, Hill wondered who Younger might have chosen. What if he was African-American or gay or openly fearful of battle — someone we might not at first consider? WETU imagines the answer by bringing the four unknowns to life to tell their stories, with one exception: rather than one soldier telling his story, his Gold Star mother tells it based on his letters home. Each soldier’s story is interlaced with the thoughts of Sgt. Younger as he contemplates the difficulty of his task, as well as text and poetry of the period, such as Alan Seeger’s “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” and John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields.”
    HMC has secured Minneapolis-based Timothy C. Takach to compose the oratorio. Takach is a rising star among choral composers and no stranger to World War I, having co-created the theatrical production of “All is Calm: the Christmas Truce of 1914.” The co-librettist is Kansas poet Pat Daneman, former director of Hallmark Card’s writing studio and senior poetry editor for Kansas City Voices magazine.
    Page 2 of 2 - WETU will be part of a larger concert titled “Indivisible: Songs of Resistance and Remembrance” that explores the dynamic that often exists between patriotism and protest and how both contribute to a thriving democracy. Singers from Fort Leavenworth and the wider Leavenworth community — particularly active or reserve military — are welcome to join HMC in performance.
    Although founded as a gay man’s chorus, HMC is today neither exclusively gay nor male. It welcomes all singers who can vocalize in the tenor or bass-baritone register. There is an audition process that involves attending at least one of the first two rehearsals on April 3 or 10.
    To learn more, visit the chorus’ website http://hmckc.org or e-mail Rob Hill at robrtmhill@ yahoo.com. To learn more about WETU in general, visit http://wetheunknown.org.
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