Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Any American flags marched proudly row to row, across the dark blue necktie of J. William Middendorf, a mid of many identities who was, at the moment, warming up to conduct the U.S. Navy Band.
It was a little before 8 Monday night - still late afternoon at this time of year. The shadows were deepening under the trees, out on the lawn by the west steps of the Capitol, but the last rays of the sun were lingering, warmly, brightly on the buildings classic white dome. Off in the "distance, a small chorus was chocking out the words of the "U.S. Capitol March" one last time, getting ready for the music's premiere performance:
"Oh, how my heart fills with love of country/Near this symbol of th free, /May the Good Lord always bless this Dome,/That shines down on me."
"This is my 43rd march," said composer Middendorf. "I wrote the words, too to try to tell how I felt about this building and what has been done here. If the first march ever written for the Capitol Building - at least, I think it is."
He looked up the long, wide staircase that was rapidly filling up with the evening's audience - an informal holiday sort of crowd in brightly colored T-shirts and shorts and cool summer dresses, who might have been waiting for a ball game to begin. The massive staircase was nearly full, with a passageway marked off at the side for the few who wanted to use the steps to go up or down.
It seemed a curious thing for a former secretary of the Navy, a former ambassador to the Netherlands, a financier who is engaged in a proxy struggle with Bert Lance and a group of foreign investors for control of the Financial General Corp., to be getting ready to conduct the Navy Band in one of his own compositions.
"I conduct whenever they ask me," said Middendorf. "Last fall, I conducted the St. Louis Symphony when they introduced two new pieces of mine - a march and a violin concerto." But he feels equally happy when someone else takes up the baton: "Arthur Fiedler played another one of my marches, 'Old Ironsides,' a few seeks ago." Not a bad musical record for a closet composer who finished second last Saturday in the senior men's division of the national rowing championships - only 10 seconds out of first place.
Closet composers are more numerious on the American landscape than you might suspect, but probably few are as prolific as Middendorf, who in the last 10 years has composed ("late at night - very late") seven symphonies, 15 concertos and an opera.
"I compose for other people; I try to write what they will enjoy," he mused. "I try to make it sound like a melody - it's not easy. So many of the good tunes have already been written."
As he talked, Sen. John Chaffe (R-R.I.) came over to shake his hand: "I came down to pay you my respects, both as a constituent and as a composer," said the senator. They chatted for a minute and the senator started back up the long flight of stairs toward the Capitol, stopped partway up and sat down in the audience, looking slightly out of place in the mandatory Senator uniform of jacket and tie amid the vivid stripes and floral patterns of his neighbors.
The band struck up the Star Spangled Banner and everyone-stood, then announcer Jerry Wallace introduced the composer-conductor. "He is certainly a man for all seasons - not only one of our country's most extraordinary and finest businessman, a former ambassador to the Netherlands, former secretary of the Navy, but also an artist, a musician, and a composer.
Middendorf raised the baton, a little stiffly, tentatively, but the band swung in like the crack professional outfit it is and the conducter's gestures quickly become smoother, more expressive as the music warmed up. It did sound like a melody - a whole series of melodies, stately, bright and sprightly, with a good, firm swing to it. By the time the music ended, Middendorf was grinning broadly and the applause was enthusiastic.
The march is "written to honor the men and women of the Congress of the United States" and dedicated to George White, architect of the Capitol, who had talked to Middendorf about writing it 18 months ago. White had not heard the music before, but seemed confident that it would go over well and happy when, in fact, it did. "It's good music," said White "It is stirring as well as dignified - like that dome up there." He glanced up at the dome, around which the shadows of night were gathering.
Out of the audience, summoned by the announcer, came Sen. Chafee, along with Sen. Claiborne Pell. (D-R.I.), Harry Byrd (Independent-Va.) and Robert Morgan (D-N.C.) to be presented the original manuscript of the music. Pell, who has seniority, took the manuscript and presented it to White, who will give it to the Library of Congress (for which Middendorf has already written a march). Someone suggested that the music might be played to march senators in for quorum calls, and Pell said, "I'd like that."
Middendorf stayed for the rest of the concert, which included Leonard Bernstein's "Slava" Overture and Rene Varley's "Give me Liberty or Give me Death," using the words of Patrick Henry. The last item on the profram was space music, including the cantina music from "Star Wars," and suddenly little Artoo was on the scene getting warm applause.
Afterward, Middendorf walked slowly away, looking back at the dome, which was brillianty floodlit and looming out of the darkness. "That's I was writing about," he said. "You know, no matter what foolishness we commit, we cannot kill the greatness that has been there."