It is often difficult to speak about a loved one who has passed away without becoming overwhelmed with emotion. For those who survive, heartache can transform despondency into creativity and passion. This was the case for Tyler S. Grant who has written a breathtaking musical tribute in honor of his remarkable friend, Tony Wood.
Just three weeks after their friendship ignited, Wood was diagnosed with stage-IV pancreatic cancer. He passed away in September 2014 following a brave thirteenth-month battle with the disease. His funeral was preceded by the fall equinox; and as family and friends experienced the dimming light of an abundant life, the equinox forced more darkness upon the day. Despite the fact that the two confidants are separated by many years in age, the composer recognized the significant impact his friend’s inspirational life impressed upon him as age is irrelevant when friendship is formed.
Although simple and serene in presentation, this lyrical composition is reminiscent of the Irish ballad, Danny Boy; American folk tune, Shenandoah; or John Mackey’s recent Sheltering Sky. This unique composition is charged with multi-meter and lavish expression, while fostering independence of all musicians. As if to welcome a new celestial figure, the marimba and vibraphone magnificently open the piece with a brief repeated theme of gratitude. Followed by more exposed lines and beautiful solo instruments, the melody gently emerges in the alto saxophone and brass as if to depict a flowing feeling of relief from an incurable pain. Even though an extraordinary life is ending, the gorgeously sustained notes reflect hope for a friendship that will never die even with the loss of a human life. As brief moments of musical dissonance reveal heartbreak and the unwelcome tension felt in death, lush harmonies confidently represent comfort and dependability in a sorrowful time. The alto saxophone, clarinet, euphonium, oboe, and horn reemerge with stunning solos to symbolize a final conversation between loyal friends. The climactic ending, filled with dynamic joy, is followed by a final, faint ending of peace. Ultimately, a musical whisper of solace is heard, demonstrating that no amount of darkness can extinguish a friendship.
Program note by Lori Schwartz Reichl, author and music educator.
Please credit Lori Schwartz Reichl when reproducing or excerpting this program note.
Cedar Ridge High School (Josh Cvijanovic, director), Fred J. Carnage Middle School (Matthew Pellas, director), Green Hope High School (Brian Myers, director), Hoover High School (Ryan Fitchpatrick, director), Hillsborough High School (Nicholas Clipperton, director), Ligon GT Magnet Middle School (Renee Todd, director), Lincolnton High School (Joshua Belvin, director), Middle Creek High School (Andrew Weiss, director), North Lincoln High School (Kevin Still, director), Orange High School (Andy Carter, director), Scarsdale High School (Jason Noble, director), The University of Alabama (Randall Coleman, director), West Forsyth High School (Patricia Hughes Ball, director), Wheatmore High School (Jennifer Beck, director)