Personal Monuments

By Beving, Sue | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 24, 2000 | Go to article overview

Personal Monuments


Beving, Sue, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Composer Robert Kapilow has been almost like a politician for more than a year as he has talked with residents about his "Citypiece: D.C. Monuments." His symphony premieres Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

"It's done; that's the good news," the exuberant Mr. Kapilow says. "It was an amazing experience. . . . This is more the terrified phase. The first time I will hear it with the orchestra is Monday [during rehearsals]."

Commissioned by the Kreeger Museum on Foxhall Road, the work will be performed at 6 p.m. in a free concert by the National Symphony Orchestra, the Master Chorale of Washington, local percussionist Tom Teasley and the Washington Performing Arts Society's Men and Women of the Gospel Mass Choir.

Also featured will be local freestyle rapper Donell Washington, 17, whom Mr. Kapilow met during his forays into neighborhoods and schools. Mr. Kapilow held more than 15 dialogues throughout the District with community groups.

Donell's part of "Citypiece," called "Rest in Peace," is a rap for his cousin who was fatally shot, Mr. Kapilow says. "This is something I would never have come up with if I had not done a `citypiece' like this," says the composer, a New York native who lives in New Jersey.

The estimated 25-minute symphony contains "some references to monuments, but it's more as a metaphor," Mr. Kapilow says. The Washington Monument represents that "we're all at the bottom [of the monument] with our daily problems, trying to rise up to the top and get out of the smaller version of ourselves."

One of the symphony's most important refrains - "quietly with no one watching" - is that "people are doing extraordinary things in small ways that aren't being noticed," whether it be Donell's grandmother caring for children or something else, Mr. Kapilow says.

The purpose of memorials is to "remind and warn," he says, "so we looked at what we wanted to be reminded about and warned about."

Or as the program for the concert says: "At each dialogue [with what are called `Partner Audiences'], he gathered ideas about what should be remembered about Washington and carried forward into the new millennium. He encouraged each audience to reflect on the shape and meaning of monuments: people, places, things. Not just memorials in marble or bronze."

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial "does appear literally" in the piece, Mr. Kapilow says. Those attending the concert will receive inserts in their programs with 25 names of deceased Vietnam War soldiers listed on the Wall, which they may chant at the end of the "War" movement in the piece.

A few people attending a "Citypiece" forum Feb. 5 at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage objected that the jumble of chanted names would diminish the individual lost lives.

"Citypiece," which "has no pauses ever," starts with "Beginning." This movement emphasizes the importance of waterways, such as the Potomac River, to Washington.

"The idea is that water is so much at [the] heart of Washington's history," Mr. Kapilow says.

Eight ocean drummers will be placed around the Concert Hall as if waves were coming down to the stage, he says. Mr. Kapilow describes ocean drums as resembling large tambourines with pellets inside that sound like the ocean when moved.

Originally, he wanted to do something with the Indians, Mr. Kapilow says, but his research at the Smithsonian Institution showed that none of the original music of the indigenous Piscataways has survived. So the Indians are represented in "abstract ways," he says.

Taps also can be heard in "Citypiece" - at the beginning and end. Also featured is English poet Stephen Spender's work "I Think of Those Who Were Truly Great."

Mr. Kapilow says: "So many monuments in Washington are of great individuals, I didn't want to pick one. I wanted to write about greatness itself. …

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