In the somber atmosphere of Ithaca College’s Veterans Day celebration, Andrew Thomson ’12 painted a vivid picture for his audience. Unlike a conventional painter, Thomson chose to let the abstract form of music do his talking. With the Ithaca College Brass Choir as his voice, Thomson witnessed the world premiere of his composition “The Letter,” a piece over four years in the making.
Enrolling in the Marine Corps after graduating from high school in 2006, Thomson dedicated two years of his life to service. While training to be a rifleman, he found that his free time was being spent in a different mind-set -- composing music. Searching for inspiration along the way, he stumbled upon a journal entry from a fallen soldier, detailing scenes from the front line. From this story, Thomson set out to compose his piece. “It became a goal to really tell a closer story,” he says. “I wanted to go further than just a piece of music.” Dedicated not just to the soldier in the letter but also to a close friend who died in battle earlier this year, “the piece is an opportunity to say goodbye,” he says.
Opening with a slow and quiet tone, “The Letter” eases the audience in. “I created my own story behind the piece,” he says. The first stance depicts a soldier before going into active duty. Soon transitioning into a more upbeat marching theme, the music tells of the soldier being called into service and embarking on his training. With a darker tone quickly raising the tension in the piece, the audience realizes that the soldier now knows what his job is, and he is sent off to battle.
To fully capture the emotions conveyed in the journal entry, Thomson, a composition and instrumental performance double major, joined the performance on snare drum from near the back of Ford Hall to create a surround-sound effect that simulated the heat of a firefight.
The next stance begins with a lone trumpeter performing “Taps,” accompanied by the soft tones of chimes. “This is the end of combat,” Thomson says, “when the smoke clears and you can see what’s left.” Ending with the sad but uplifting hymns of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, the piece comes full circle as a reminder of home and a tribute to service as a whole.
After the performance concluded, the audience was left in a reflective but emotional state. Upon seeing many in the audience of Ford Hall overcome with tears, Thomson reflected on what he intended to evoke with “The Letter.” “My original goal was not for the piece to make you cry,” he says. “It was to make me cry. If I can’t be in combat myself, let me be there with music.”
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