While some are planning Memorial Day cookouts and family gatherings at the lake, Marlane Sturm and Stephanie Wagner are packing their bags for New York City.
The Fort Wayne women will join other members of a 200-voice mass choir and orchestra Monday in a commemorative “salute to our nation and the men and women who serve and protect it,” according to Distinguished Concerts International New York, which is sponsoring the event.
Held that evening at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the concert, entitled “Of Faith and Freedom,” features music written and conducted by composer Joseph Martin. Included in the program are his “Song for the Unsung Hero,” written in response to the 9/11 attacks, and the world premiere of “A Festive Call to Freedom.”
“I have chosen many of Joseph Martin's choral anthems for my Aldersgate choirs,” says Sturm, director of Music and Worship Arts Ministries at the west side United Methodist church. “We love his music, and he has become one of our favorite composers.”
Called to music ministry
Sturm, an Ohio native with a degree in theater arts, moved with her family to Fort Wayne in 1975. Feeling a tug to music ministry, she studied at Fort Wayne Bible College. In 1989, she was hired at Aldersgate, where she directs or oversees all aspects of worship arts.
As she selected music for her choirs, Sturm gravitated to a certain style, not realizing initially that many of her selections were composed by Martin.
“His music is so conducive to our traditional style,” she says. “It is very inviting and suits the quality and capabilities of our choir.”
Five years ago, unbeknownst to Sturm, her choirs commissioned and secretly rehearsed an anthem dedicated to her. The first page is framed on the wall of her office.
“They wanted the song to refer to my commitment to sacred music and also to my Native American mission work,” she says. “He (Martin) composed 'Living Water, Guiding Spirit,' and the choirs and instrumentalists presented it in worship in May 2007. Oh my, what a surprise it was!”
The anthem went to print, selling 25,000 copies in the first year.
Singing since childhood
“I grew up singing in the church,” recalls Wagner. “My mother was the children's Sunday School leader, and I have memories of her leading us in various worship and special programs.”
Wagner's love of singing continued through high school and into college at Marion College (now Indiana Wesleyan), where she auditioned for the college chorale.
“Chorale was the first opportunity I had to sing really difficult, true choral music,” she says. “It was so much fun and so challenging.”
Wagner and her family moved to Fort Wayne in 1992, where they visited Aldersgate.
“I went to Marlane after the service and practically begged to sing,” she recalls. She was welcomed into Wesley Choir and Chancel Chorale.
In July, 2011, Wagner, Sturm and three other Aldersgate musicians joined Martin in a European Choral Tour.
“It was amazing!” says Sturm. “The music was patriotic and was presented for service men, women, and families in Germany ... and in concert programs for families at American cemeteries in France. One of the most moving was the concert on the 4th of July at Normandy, France, overlooking Omaha Beach.”
“I really enjoy Joe,” adds Wagner. “He's quite a character and an amazing composer. He has the ability to tell a story with his music.”
At Lincoln Center
During the European tour, the women learned of the New York concert at Lincoln Center.
“My favorite is 'The Epitaph,'” says Wagner. “The lyric is based on a Native American poem. (It) is so inspiring, ... (don't) cry over the loss of death ... see the loved one in nature, the song of a bird or the rush of the wind ... .”
Sturm is moved by “The Awakening,” a dream about a world where there is no music, just sadness and silence — a condition she sees in today's world where traditional music's role in school, church, and society has diminished greatly.
“But suddenly there is an awakening of sound and music and praise to the Giver of the song,” she explains. “It is a very dramatic and powerful anthem. I know there is hope that the beauty of the creation of music will go on, and this is what this song exemplifies.”
Both women anticipate an exhausting, but fulfilling weekend.
“With these anthems being either sacred or patriotic in nature, one can't help but be moved spiritually,” says Sturm.