March 11th, 2020 to me, felt a lot September 11th. Thousands of people didn’t die in one fell swoop, but it was when Coronavirus shifted from concern to cancellation. What once seemed far away was at our doorstep. A grim reaper coming that would rack up a worldwide death toll two orders of magnitude greater than September 11th.

As trivial as it sounds, WGI was cancelled on March 11th. With units traveling to Ohio from several countries (including Japan) and all over the US, it made sense to cancel it. Should we all be sitting in close quarters in a poorly ventilated arena? Probably not. Sites like is it canceled yet? had been tracking canceled events, and this was just another notch on the bedpost.

Maybe I could still enjoy some local live music? I had tickets for the orchestra that Friday, March 13th. It was to be canceled too, but not entirely. The orchestra would play – without a hall audience, and they would broadcast it on Minnesota Public Radio. The repertoire? Shostakovich’s 7th – The Leningrad Symphony.

I tuned into the broadcast and sat in darkness to soak in the sounds. You can listen to the historic live broadcast on the MPR site.

Music is one of those things that gives people hope that there will be better days, no matter how bad things get. Shostakovich’s 7th was no stranger to tough times, having been both composed and premiered under dire circumstances.

Connection to Drum Corps

My love of classical music was reinforced through my 4 years marching in the Phantom Regiment Drum & Bugle Corps. I loved playing music that was new (to me), then researching a composer’s other works. I relished finding great recordings, which would further fuel my curiosity.

The obvious connection from Shostakovich’s 7th to my corps, is their 2002 program entitled Heroic Sketches – but long before that program ever took the field, I heard a piece that begged to be performed by a strong hornline. One that wound up being a cornerstone of 2002 show…

Back in the day…

The 1996 Phantom Regiment show Defiant Heart opened with a different piece by Shostakovich called the 4th Ballet Suite. As always, I would find recordings of the music we were playing to hear the original, and to hopefully hear something new.

I bought a recording of the Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Neeme Jarvi on the Chandos Label. It also included Symphony No. 10 – boy was I in for a surprise. I had never heard that Symphony, let alone the second movement Allegro, and it is a thrilling performance.

One of my favorite things about classical compact disc recordings (if they’re included) is the liner notes. Sometimes they have a history of the composer and the piece, and I would often use that as a basis for more research, or just to simply help paint a picture of what the music was about. From this CD the liner notes read:

The second part, the scherzo, is a musical portrait of Stalin

And here is the Phantom Regiment hornline playing an excerpt during their finals warm-up in 2002:

Simply amazing.

Symphony No. 7

That same 2002 program closes out with Shostakovich’s 7th. While researching that piece in 2020 during quarantine, I came across this recording which is stupendous.

I don’t have the CD liner notes to reference, but the comments on the YouTube video are worth reading. This one is my favorite of the bunch. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I choose to believe it is.

The story goes, Leonard Bernstein was in failing health and he knew he was never going to stand in front of the Chicago Symphony ever again. Apparently there has been a long standing tradition of never encouraging the brass section of the CSO; not even looking at them or else they’ll blow you off the stage. During the end of this concert, and being a helpless romantic himself, good ol’ Lenny not only looked at the Chicago Brass, but he asked for everything they had. And the rest is history!

4 thoughts on “Heroic Sketches

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