The flutes came in first with a gentle melody, and the clarinets answered their call, adding to the tender tune. It wasn't long before all the instrumentalists in the Spring Grove Area Intermediate School fifth- and sixth-grade band had joined in, playing a song written specifically for their ensemble.

Spring Grove Band Director Tim Bupp several years ago reached out to award-winning composer and conductor Brian Balmages after visiting Pearl Harbor during the attack's 70th anniversary to compose what would become "Tears of Arizona," a piece to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the attack on the naval base in Hawaii.

The band will play the piece during the spring concert on March 31 and again in May on the steps of the World War II Monument during a field trip to Washington, D.C.

"The further you get away from a historic event, the less you see it on the bookshelves, the less you see it in history books," said Bupp, adding he has a passion for American history. "I wanted to incorporate that element of history for the students and really bring it all together for them with the music and their field trip."

Practice: Balmages on Wednesday joined the young musicians who would be debuting his piece in a few weeks.

They have been practicing the music for about a month now, Bupp said.

The guest conductor, who has led bands, orchestras and university groups all over the world, worked with the students to help them see the bigger picture behind the piece. He talked to them about volume, tempo, dynamics and rhythm as they worked on the challenging music.

"You think the music is the notes, but I as a composer think it’s everything written on the page coming together," he said. "All those letters all those symbols, all those words around the notes means something too, and it makes the music what it is."

Composing: Balmages, who has composed musical pieces for beginning musicians and professionals alike, said he had the opportunity to twice visit and conduct in Oahu, where the USS Arizona memorial is located. The ship, which is visible just below the surface of the water, continues to leak small amounts of oil to this day — sometimes referred to as the "tears of the Arizona."

"Tears of Arizona" starts out softly and solemnly, then moves into a more upbeat section which captures the easy-going Hawaiian culture, Balmages said, noting there are subtle luau-like undertones present in the music.

The composer said there have been many pieces written to commemorate the attack and he wanted to avoid following the more common narrative in the music he wrote.

"As a composer, as someone who creates, I’m always looking for a way to do things in a new way," he said, adding he wanted to capture the sadness of the event but also the pride and strength embodied by the survivors. "Many have requested to have their ashes released in the water over the ship or put in an urn to be placed inside the ship by divers."


A sneak peek into the Spring Grove Intermediate band practice with award-winning composer and conductor Brian Balmages.

— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at

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