Battle Hymn of the Republic

A Composer’s Perspective

by Gary Powell, Vocal Arranger/Producer

“Battle Hymn of the Republic”
             Gary Powell, Arranger/Producer

Shortly after September 11th, 2001, a new century of American flag-waving began. It’s hard to know whether this display of nationalism was a sign of solidarity or just unconscious rage. When our behavior is unconscious, some simple math will reveal that the forthcoming ramifications from that behavior will also be cloaked. Whether war is in our nature or just our birthright, it may be time to step back and search out new teachers and healers.

On November 19th, 1861, Julia Ward Howe was sleeping in her hotel room at Willard’s Hotel in Washington, D.C., now the Willard Intercontinental. Having just visited troop maneuvers outside of town, her pastor suggested she write more appropriate and inspirational lyrics to the stirring folk tune, “John Brown’s Body”, which the troops had been singing that day. According to her memoirs, her own inspiration was born both from a “feeling of discouragement” and a desire to make a contribution to the war effort.

Fast forward 140 years and I now felt uncomfortable with musically waving the flag without acknowledging the loss that had come before and the loss that was now close at hand. With that in mind, this, a cappella arrangement, begins and ends with the simple haunting word glory. The musical treatment of that word and the word itself play opposite each other by design. In between these mournful bookends, you might hear flag-waving, hope, despair, victory or defeat, for it is certainly all there. For myself, however, this entire piece is about loss.

If war is a natural state of humankind, then it’s time to own it and change it. If war is unconsciously taught through the trauma of its victims to their children, it’s time to heal it. However, simple platitudes will not affect change until our enmeshment with violence transitions into a balanced coexistence with whatever the truth is about us. This is my best effort to musically represent that balance.

The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973) by Erich Fromm
Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child (1981) by Alice Miller

LEAD VOCALS: Rayvon Foster, Alicia Jones
WOMEN’S CHORUS: Alicia Jones, Chris Martin, Robin Huston
TENORS: David Stephens, Gary Powell
BASSES: John White, Gary Powell

Recorded January, 2002
Musical Arrangement Copyright 2002 Jesmax Music, BMI