A Clarke County Portrait In Music
An original by composer James Meredith premiered at The Barns
By Krista Jo Brooks
This year the Clarke County Community Band commissioned a piece of music to be written by Virginia composer James “Jim” Meredith in celebration of Clarke County and as a way to give back all the love and support the band receives from its community.
The band premiered the piece, titled “A Clarke County Portrait,” on December 6 during the their first holiday concert of the season at Barns of Rose Hill. It will be performed again during the second holiday concert at Armstrong Hall, Shenandoah University on December 13 at 3pm.
“A Clarke County Portrait” has four distinct sections. The River, Daniel Morgan, The Village, and a Clarke Celebration. As Mr. Meredith writes in the program notes, “The pieces I write are not specific moments like scenes from a movie, but are open to any number of interpretations according to where your heart takes you.” The following is one flute player’s interpretation of “A Clarke County Portrait”.
It starts with the late silence of the witching hours. The collectively held breath of an audience interspersed with the shifting of a leg or muffled cough like the creak of a branch or a single bird plopping onto a bed of new spring growth.
The conductor’s raised arms make small, timed movements and suddenly dawn has arrived on the Shenandoah River. The rays of the sun shooting across the sky as they escape over the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and out of the holes of woodwind instruments.
Sunlight sounds like bells as it bounces in ever more vibrant forest colors and punctures the gentle flowing water. You can hear the waves lapping the shore and rolling over the rocks of the shallows.
The river awakens, playful and gentle. A fish splashes, a bird twitters, and the sun continues its song of bouncing light and flitting colors. The band seems to sway with the waves and the audience closes their eyes to feel the warm sun on their shoulders and the cool water between their fingers as they dream of floating down the river that nourishes the soul of Clarke County.
Jovial voices ring loudly across the intersection of the Winchester Turnpike and Charlestown Road as rowdy young toughs stumble out of the Battle Town tavern into the sticky summer evening. Their boisterous banter playing up their own greatness to each other in the happy temperaments of early drunkenness.
Frontiersmen puff out their chests and slap one another on the back as trombones cheerfully slide through the melody like so many men of that
Woodwinds echo the tune as the youth’s pitch and drunkenness rise and an older, brasher Daniel Morgan stands above the rest in jolly competition. And much like those many years ago, the music soars with the egos: too high and too far. Morgan’s famous pride has been prodded and poked past its limits and what was a pleasant time suddenly turns into a right brawl. Stones fly and fists fall as many ripe bodies fight for greatness in the dirt of the crossroads.
In the end, Daniel Morgan stands imposingly above the rest as the losers skulk away into the night. His temper extinguished and a well-timed chuckle throws the remaining group back into the swing of its earlier temperament until none can stand a moment longer.
An Iroquois woman sat atop the hill that rises above her village below and gazed at the valley beyond. Smoke rose in the distance on the sound of a flute. It has started. Her people set the land afire and soon the flames would be visible from her perch. The fire would reset the barrens so that the grass will grow as tall as a man and the elk and bison can range close by. The burned forest floors will fill in with Oak, Hickory, and Table Mountain Pine. The woman lightly touched the petal of a wild rose growing next to her. The roses will thrive.
The smoke thickens, and in it she can see the generations of her people that the stories and skills have passed through. Behind her she can hear the sounds of children climbing the hill to see the red horizon. The flames lap the skies and a stag runs out of the smoke to safety. A few will be lost so more can thrive. This is the way of a healthy world.
This community is small, but fiercely loyal and tightly woven into a diverse tapestry of histories. Together we are the beating heart of Clarke County. Our surroundings give us a strong sense of place. The Cardinals and the Sycamores have taken root in our blood. The river nourishes us, our history grounds us, and our diversity strengthens us. The heartbeats of our people create a rhythm. As we have added more voices and more stories the beat has strengthened into a
Our feet tapping with the sirens of John H. Ender’s firetrucks as delighted school kids don plastic fire hats. Our heads bobbing to the sounds of the High School marching band practicing on the field after school, filtering through our house and car windows. The crash cymbal sounds of crackling fireworks bouncing around the sky as somebody celebrates one of their best days at Rosemont Manor. You can feel people swerving around antique cars parked on Main Street or bobbing and swaying to better see the goods for sale at a Saturday yard sale.
It is our home that we love and as the final movement of the piece reaches its peak, we no longer know if our beating hearts form the music or the music beats in our hearts. But isn’t that the point? This music is a celebration of all of us, here now or gone, and is thus added to the grand tapestry that is Clarke County.
The conductor holds his arms up, welcoming the last joyful note into the hall, before cutting it off. For a moment a ghost of the feeling the note held reverberates off the walls before that first clap of that first citizen breaks its mood and the real world filters back in.
The Clarke County Community Band was founded in 1992 to promote music in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. It is a group of local musicians who gather together Tuesday nights to play. They give a variety of concerts throughout the year and have a wide range of ages and skill levels among the players.
The band had its 25th anniversary last year. As a way to celebrate, Mr. Shoremount proposed the idea of commissioning a Grade 4 piece of music for and about Clarke County. The band enthusiastically agreed that this was a way to give back to the community a gift that would outlast us all and cement the Clarke County of today into the history of tomorrow.
It was very important to Mr. Shoremount that a composer from Virginia be used and Mr. James Meredith fit the requirement perfectly. Meredith, known as “Jim”, is an alumnus of the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music in Winchester. He passed through the county on his way to and fro and would often stop and read the historical markers and take in the quaint, old buildings of Berryville. His favorite part, though, was the Shenandoah River. His heart had a stake in this composition.
Mr. Meredith has been a staple of Virginia for decades, retiring from forty years as a band director in the classroom. During his tenure at Sandusky Middle School in Lynchburg, Virginia the band received statewide, national, and inter-national recognition for its many superior ratings, awards, and multiple performances at the Virginia Music Educators’ Conference, at universities, and the Midwest Clinic in Chicago. Jim is the 2013 Virginia music Educator of the Year and the recipient of the 2015 Shenandoah Distinguished Alumnus Lifetime Achievement Award. He is co-founder of James River Music Publishing Company, and, in his own words, “Enjoys trying to master the frustrations of golf.”
Mr. Meredith and Mr. Shoremount knew each other from their days at Shenandoah University, where Mr. Shoremount earned his Bachelors and Masters in Music Eduction. Shoremount taught in public schools for thirty-one years where his various bands received numerous accolades and Superior ratings, as well as various positions at the collegiate level. Among his many awards and honors, he was inducted into the Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association’s Hall of Fame in 2018 and was awarded the “Presidents Award” at the Shenandoah Apple
Blossom Festival’s Concert Band Competition. He currently is an adjunct professor of Music Education at Shenandoah University and performs regularly with “Jumptown”, a rhythm and blues soul band.
The Clarke County Community Band is sponsored by the Clarke County Board of Supervisors.