There was a massacre on the Mall last night, leaving several composers dead, including Hector Berlioz and Barry Manilow. The sole survivor was identified in the program as Peter Illich Tchaikovsky, who sustain critical injuries. The source of the musical violence in front of the Washington Monument was the annual concert of the United States Army Band featuring the 1812 Overture. Here are the details.
The offensive began as Pershing's Own attacked the popular Roman Carnival Overture by Berlioz, with intonation as flat as the amplified sound and militantly dull conducting by Col. Eugene W. Allen. The next and largest section of the battle included works by composers as varied as Eubie Blake and Alberto Ginastera. A bouncy piece of musical chotchke by Blake called "We Are Americans Too" showed signs of life and excitement, as did the improbable Parade of Pop Brass medley which included some impressive trumpet playing. But the fight was not forgotten.
Even those who usually find music called "easy listening" actually easy to listen to had difficulty with a set of popular songs featuring Sgt. Major Walter Skees. In a style not unlike that of the great Bill Murray, Skees sang "I Write the Songs" and other immortal tunes in a way that truly made one yearn for Barry Manilow.
The United States Army Chorus soon joined the front ranks, their rather beautiful sounds kept in strict check by the metronomic conducting and the sappy arrangements. "America the Beautiful," a really moving piece worthy of becoming our national anthem, was one of the evening's most surprising casualties: An arrangement that included doubling the sopranos and the trumpets as well as a reading of the Declaration of Independence over the humming of the melody was simply not everyone's cup of syrup.
The chorus was quite effective in the opening chants of Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture. But the Motown choreography of the bugles was a fair warning of what was to come, and it was a comforting surprise to find that the piece could withstand the attack. While the amplified sound of the band was like a big car radio, the cannons of the Old Guard Salute Gun Platoon were quite real, loud, and very impressive. And in the middle of all the syncopated violence, the old Russian was hard to kill, with some of the pathos and fervor of this much maligned masterpiece coming through.
We managed to escape during the encores, which included "Stars and Stripes Forever" and "God Bless America."