McDaniel musicians to premiere ‘Corbit’s Charge’ piece

April 21, 2009

“Remembrance” is the theme that local composer Jonathan Cohen had in mind when the McDaniel College Music Department commissioned him to write the musical score, “Corbit’s Charge” for its flute choir.

(download the .mp3 here)

At 7 p.m. April 28 in Baker Chapel, the college’s Flute Choir, Flute Quartet and Woodwind Quintet, under the direction of Senior Music Lecturer Linda Kirkpatrick, will premiere the selection that commemorates the small, but consequential, skirmish that was waged in the summer of 1862 during the Civil War at the intersection of Main Street and Washington Road, near land now occupied by McDaniel College.

In this fight, a relatively tiny contingent of about 100 members of the Delaware Calvary attacked the much larger Confederate force of more than 5,000 troops led by General J.E.B. Stuart as he made his way from Virginia, through Maryland, toward Gettysburg. The small band of Union troops fell easily to Stuart’s men, but they delayed his arrival at Gettysburg and historians have long wondered if the Battle at Gettysburg would’ve ended differently had Stuart and his men not been waylaid.

Cohen, who has won national awards for his works, said he created the McDaniel piece to tell the story of that fateful day in Westminster history that turned out to be a victory and a defeat for both sides.

The composition takes 7 to 8 minutes to perform and is structured as a sequence of scenes – Prologue, The Maryland Countryside, Stuart’s Army Marches North, Westminster and its Union Garrison, Interlude: “Just Before the Battle Mother,” Convergence and Corbit’s Charge, and Aftermath: Remembrance and Honor.

“For this piece, I wrote the theme ‘remembrance’ first, then saw the sequence of the scenes,” Cohen said in a recent interview. “The rest wrote itself.”

The music contains numerous bugle calls, such as reveille, taps, and charge. Cohen added that while taps was not an official bugle call until after the war, it began being used in 1862 to signal the end of the day and for military funerals.

Cohen said his piece is peppered with songs of the day, such as “Dixie’s Land,” composed in 1860 by Daniel Decatur Emmett and which was popular with Confederate soldiers. Union soldiers sang a version of the 1861 “John Brown’s Body,” also known as “Glory! Glory! Hallelujah” and as “Battle Hymn of the Republic” when sung with Julie Ward’s 1862 lyrics. The songs “When Johnnie Comes Marching Home” by Patrick S. Gilmore and “Just Before the Battle Mother” by George F. Root were popular with both sides.

He wrote the “Maryland Countryside” theme, “Remembrance,” which is heard in the prologue and aftermath, the Confederate’s “Marching Theme,” and the “Westminster” melodies.

Cohen, who has a doctorate degree in electrical engineering, plays the flute in the Montgomery Village Community Band and plays bass flute in Flutes on the Brink, an adult amateur/professional flute ensemble.

In the mid-1980s, he began studying the Irish flute and after a long hiatus, he took up the Boehm flute in 1999. After a snowstorm that rendered him housebound for several days in 2003, Cohen began composing.

He has since earned national accolades for his work, including a composition titled “Flutes and Vegetables,” which last year won an award from the National Flute Association.