In early January of this year, my friend and colleague Jim Schuster, Director of bands at Davison HS approached me about commissioning a new work for band and chorus. A former student of his had recently passed away and he wanted to honor his memory with a piece that would celebrate his life. I was honored to create this work to serve as a living memorial for Chandler Wolfgang Anschutz.
The greatest challenge for me was to try to get an understanding of who this young man was, and what his character was like. Through conversations and letters, Jim and his students, as well as Jennifer Orkisz (Davison Choir Director) and her students explained to me how Chandler was the kind of kid who made an impression on those around him, and wasn’t one to sit back and watch life happen in front of him. He was active in the band, choir and theater programs at Davison and was the type of person who made everyone laugh. He was chivalrous and kind, playful and confidant, generous and honest. He was a very loyal and dear friend to many, and they knew that he cared for them. He was also a complex human being who struggled with his health and place in life. I wanted to find a way to express the many colors and facets of his personality.
While I was thinking about how to aurally represent his youth and spirit, I was reminded of the many students I’ve had over the years who shared some of Chandlers personality traits. The idea of “dancing through life” kept reoccurring to me, and it felt connected somehow. I also thought that an odd meter dance would be appropriate, as odd meters tend to “stand out” and draw attention to themselves because of their idiosyncratic nature, much like Chandler did.
My immediate thought was of a piece I had written years ago, when I was nineteen, for Trombone and Piano. Odd-meter, fast, dance-like. Chandler played the Trombone (of course he did) and was about the same age when he passed, so this also felt connected. I considered adapting this Trombone & Piano concerto for band, but it eventually served only as inspiration for the final work, as the concerto was much too difficult and complex, and ultimately, it wasn’t about Chandler’s youth, but rather mine.
While researching odd meter dances and idioms, I came across a turn of phrase that resonated with me profoundly...
To "trip the light fantastic" is to dance nimbly or lightly, or to move in a pattern to musical accompaniment, often used in a humorous vein. Grammatically, it is an example of a constructionally idiosyncratic idiom, in that it is impossible to construct a meaningful literal-scene from the formal structure of the phrase. This phrase evolved through a series of usages and references, typically attributed to John Milton's 1645 poem L'Allegro, which includes the lines:
"Come, and trip it as ye go / On the light fantastic toe."
The imagery of tripping on toes also appears in Shakespeare's The Tempest: "Before you can say come, and goe, / And breathe twice; and cry, so, so: / Each one tripping on his Toe, / Will be here with mop, and mowe."
I knew that Jim wanted to include chorus in the work, both to honor Chandler’s involvement in choir, as well as for musical effect, and these lyrics were screaming at me to be used. I explored the Milton poem further, and fell in love with it. "L'Allegro" is a lyric poem centering on the joy of taking part in the delights of a spring day, including those provided by nature in a pastoral setting and those provided by the theater in an urban setting. The title is an Italian word that originally meant "the cheerful man." The poem was published in London in 1645, so the language is just beautiful. The speaker orders Melancholy from his life, telling it to find a dwelling place among the Cimmerians—people who live in a land of unending darkness. At the same time, he invites a goddess of joy, Euphrosyne, to bring him mirth on the dawning of a new spring day as the song of the lark and the din of a rooster chase the last of the darkness away.
I chose some of my favorite verses that seemed to reflect how Chandler lived his life:
“Come, and trip it as ye go,
On the light fantastic toe,
Young and old come forth to play,
On a sunshine holiday,
Sights as youthful poets dream,
Summer eves by haunted stream,
Rob’d in flames of amber light,
Clouds in thousand liveries dight,
These delights if thou canst give,
Mirth, with thee I mean to live!”
The iambic tetrameter of the lines worked perfectly with the odd meter dance I heard in my head, and the imagery was just spectacular. My sincere hope is that this work can honor Chandler’s life, and offer a tiny glimpse into the infinite wonder that I believe he is now one with.
(Click here to preview the score)