This area’s long musical tradition is about to add a new chapter. The community bands based in Parkville and Platte City will premiere an original score dedicated to Platte County’s 175th anniversary at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 26, at the high school auditorium in Platte City. Michael E. Anderson, a 2008 Platte County R-3 High School graduate composed the anniversary music, entitled “The Heart of a Land.”
We live in a high-tech era where many people think of music just as something that comes out of ear buds hooked to a cell phone. Many people are simply consumers of whatever music is thrown at them.
However, local and live music makers are still to be found.
On Friday night, I watched and listened as R-3 high school students gave the annual blackout performance following the homecoming football game. Bravo, by the way. They wrapped glo-lights around their legs, arms and instruments. With the stadium lights dark, a skeletal light show twitched and turned as students marched in patterns while playing Billy Joel songs on brass instruments and drums.
Some of those students will graduate beyond halftime shows but carry on with music for fun. They will join the ranks of the community bands.
Musicianship is obscure in our written history but holds a place.
Pioneer-era historian W.M. Paxton mentions in his writings fiddling and dancing at cabin raisings when the county was first settled. In pouring over two separate histories of Platte County’s early decades, I’ve found mention of both men and women who were noted as fine musicians. In the rich Price-Loyles family history someone is mentioned as the piano player or organist for the movie house in Weston when “silent” movies had live musical accompaniment.
Brass bands were the rock n’ roll equivalent of the late 1800s era. They were loud and could be heard over crowd noise, and they had a soul-stirring power not found in quieter string ensembles. I’m sure our towns fielded some bands that played for events or in parks on Sunday afternoons.
So now we come to 2014, and Anderson is applying history to a new song for old traditions. He earned a music composition degree in 2012 from the University of Missouri. A grant from the Platte City Friends of the Arts and Platte County Parks and Recreation helped back the project. Anderson has a music website at www.michaeleanderson.com.
There will also be other exhibits, crafts and a celebration of all the Platte County 175th events on Oct. 26. Visitors are invited to view displays in the high school hallways beginning at 2 p.m.
Covering 175 years is a lot of time put to music in a composition.
I’ve daydreamed of how I might approach it if I had any kind of formal musical training, which I don’t. (But I do have an all-original songs folk/bluegrass CD for sale called “West Missouri Ramble,” if anyone is interested.)
I believe I’d start with a simple, haunting melody on a wooden flute to evoke a natural landscape and Native American culture.
Then I’d add some strings, violin and cello with lilting folk melodies that evoke the French fur traders who moved across this county but left little trace. The pioneers arrival movement would need to be hopeful but somewhat plodding, like oxen trying to pull a wooden plow through soil made tough with roots and rock.
We’d need a pretty jaunty tune to mark people jumping off from the county for the gold fields of California in 1849. Then perhaps the brass instruments could sound stormy and moody for the dark, tense and violent days when slavery was contested along the Kansas border before the Civil War.
For the war, cymbals clanging and horns rising and falling, and then mournful cellos sadly singing.
The horns and the strings could again sound hopeful when thinking of the late 1800s. Perhaps you could sneak in a line from the Jesse James folk song melody. Platte Countians were not shortchanged for musical entertainment when the jazz age morphed into the swing era. Think about generations, including some people still among us, dancing the night away at Bean Lake or perhaps at the Dirty Shame located on the Platte County Fairgrounds.
We rocked in the county when the time came.
I have friends who played in bands. We had local country music stars. People were still dancing to the fiddle and square dance caller in some towns. A young generation re-discovered folk music. Yet also young people are still playing trombones and trumpets and bass drums as they march in parades or at halftime at football games. Many excel at state music contests.
Few get famous, but musicians give the county a heartbeat. For those who seek them out, the world is less lonely.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.