Original Song Composed to Remember 9/11

May 9, 2017

Dr. John Prescott during the 2016 TAPS project at Missouri State University

Inspiration can come from anything: an object of affection, heartbreak, world events, poetry. The list goes on.  Dr. John Prescott, composer and professor of music at Missouri State University, was asked to create a memorial piece of music to be performed on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, and he obliged.

 Dr. Prescott: "It's a memorial piece, and so I started with the four notes that are in the Bugle Call, "Taps". Taps, traditionally played at funerals, memorial services, but also when a flag is being lowered ... A lot of uses in the military for Taps, and so it's a moving piece. To take those four notes and to make a new piece out of them, I simply moved them to different keys, and had the different instruments play in different keys at different times while walking towards each other. Then, when they get to the center, then all four instruments actual play material that's together. "

The location in which it would be performed, at the center of Missouri State's historic quad, inspired Prescott as he composed the piece, he says. 

 Dr. J Prescott: "While I was working on the sketches for it, it looked like just a natural kind of thing to involve the cornerstone at the center of that old quadrangle for the university. My inspiration was to have four players, two trumpets and two trombones, who started at the four corners and then came in towards the cornerstone, played at each other in tight quarters, and then just turned around and went back out. I was talking about the whole project to my composition class, and we could actually from the classroom, we could see the cornerstone. I played them some sketches and looked at it and I said, 'You know, my working title of this is 'Quadrivium.'' When I told them what the Quadrivium was they said, 'That shouldn't be a working title. That should be the title,' and so I said, 'Okay. I think you're right.'" Nicki Donnelson: The term "Quadrivium" relates to medieval concepts of the university. He explains ... Dr. J Prescott: "In Latin, it literally means a place where four roads meet, which is just perfect for the layout of the quadrangle there. In the medieval university, there were seven subjects. There was the trivium, the first three subjects and then the quadrivium, the second four subjects. The trivium was grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Once you took those, then you were qualified to move onto the quadrivium, which were made up of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. Music used to be up there with all those other ones you know, and that was kind of a cool time."  As he was developing the piece, he began incorporating ideas from the students who would later perform it. He realized that this piece needed to be shared with more than the Missouri State and local Ozarks community.  Dr. J Prescott: "It was my intent to make this piece available to the public, basically for public domain kind of thing. I actually posted JPEGs of the parts for this piece on my composer Facebook page, so that anybody else that wants to do this piece for this kind of purpose is welcome to just download those and do it, and I hope people will." Nicki Donnelson: As he reflects upon the piece, and the term quadrivium, he continually goes back to this idea that music should play an integral role in society. He notes that it has the opportunity to speak in a way that words may not.  Dr. J Prescott: "Somehow, over the years, it sort of lost its place up there, particularly, for example in public schools, where the arts and music tend to be the first thing that gets cut where there's some sort of a budget cut. There's a lot of theories about why that might be. I certainly would love to see it return to that position, but then I'm a musician, so I should be expected to want that. Not to denigrate the importance of math and science and those subjects, but yeah, the arts and music are really important to the nourishment of the soul and people lose sight of that sometimes." That was Dr. John Prescott, professor of music at Missouri State University. I'm Nicki Donnelson for the Missouri State Journal.