It has been a unique spring to say the least – I cannot remember a time that I have been busier with writing, guest conducting, concerts, teaching, and traveling. I am constantly humbled by colleagues both near and far who have selected “American Visions” for performance with their group. While there are program notes in the score, I feel led to provide the full story that sparked this piece into being. Some of it was written over my life-time, but I did not know how to say it. It is a piece about America, a piece about my father, and the composer I am trying to become.
When I write, I have something to say – I just choose sounds to say it. I write music that (I hope) the students would enjoy playing, the audience will enjoy hearing, and that conductors will enjoy teaching. Sometimes I get inspired by words spoken or written, an image, or people. In the case of American Visions it was all three. Read the fourth verse to the Star-Spangled Banner – I read it in the spring of 2007 and finally understood what my grandmother went through when her only son (my father David J. Weller) went through when he left for Vietnam. “Oh thus be it still when free men shall stand, between their loved homes and the wars desolation!”.
I remember having one real in-depth conversation with my father about his time in the military – I asked him what it was like. He replied “Guy, I hope you never have to find out.” War is an atrocious event, and freedom, our freedom, has been paid with the lives of many young patriots. My dad served in 1967 for people he never met or knew, and some – like his two sons – were not even born yet. I went to parades on Memorial Day and Veterans Day growing up – I said the pledge, I sang The Banner – but I didn’t understand until age 34 what had been done for me by my father and countless others I never knew and will never know. We are a blessed nation, indebted to our men and women who serve and protect. American Visions became an outpouring of thanks and love from a grateful and fortunate son. How could I not write this piece for my dad? I knew purpose when each of my four children had been born, but I knew musical purpose in 2007. In a span of four weeks beginning in February, American Visions was born.
My vision of America I owe to my parents – work hard, do something you love, love family, love friends, have faith in God at all times, honor your country, respect the men and women who serve – they have always shown me those qualities. My dad is my first musical role model; he is my friend, and a patriot. I wanted to write a piece that celebrated those things. American Visions is what I hope our country will be – a vision for which David J. Weller would be proud.
The opening fanfares came first – mixing and shifting meter came very naturally. The trumpet trio in the middle – the only clear My Country Tis of Thee statement – was easy to write, the counter in the alto saxophone and flute took a bit longer. After much laboring over the ending of the song, I finally went to bed one morning at 1:30 a.m. After falling asleep (as the start of my day was only about 4 and a half hours away), I was dreaming about the piece being played by an ensemble to be annoyed by a metronome beating in the group. I woke to realize it was my alarm clock beating in time – and it prompted the shift from 3/4 to 6/8 towards the end and allowed me to conceive the French Horn counter-melody (which I adore). I sang repeatedly in the shower that morning, and frantically wrote everything down on paper before leaving for school – ended up almost arriving late that day – but I had it!
This spring as I marched down Constitution Avenue with the marching band at Mercer for the National Memorial Day Parade, tears filled my eyes for a good two blocks. I was reminded what a fortunate son I am thanks to my father, David J. Weller and countless other men and women in the armed services. I am humbled by the success the piece has enjoyed, and thankful that I could share this story with many others in music education.