- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War’s final knell, the Columbus Choral Society, together with visiting singers from Tennessee, Florida and the Golden Triangle area, and the Starkville/MSU Symphony Orchestra, will present “Chronicles of Blue and Gray” March 28.

Composer John Purifoy’s work is, in part a musical setting of Francis Miles Finch’s poem “The Blue and the Gray.”

On April 25, 1866, women in Columbus gathered to place flowers on the graves of not only Confederate but also Union soldiers at what is now Friendship Cemetery. The act of treating the dead as equals, despite the lingering rancor of war, made national headlines.

On reading of it in the New York Tribune, Finch, a lawyer in Ithaca, New York, was inspired to write his poem. The decorating of graves in Columbus is often cited as an origin of Decoration Day, later renamed Memorial Day.

A native of Canada, Columbus Choral Society director Alisa Toy wasn’t aware of the local significance when she discovered Purifoy’s work while searching for a keystone piece for the Columbus-based group. The first time she brought it to rehearsal the emotional response from chorus members let her know it was a meaningful choice.

“It is moving, powerful and beautiful - and the messages contained in it are still so pertinent today,” said Toy. “It was absolutely our signature piece in every way, shape and form.”

Toy’s choosing that particular music before she was even aware of the specific link is only the first in a string of improbable occurrences. It includes Purifoy discovering the Choral Society through a YouTube video of its singers performing an excerpt, which led to an invitation to perform “Chronicles of Blue and Gray” with others at Carnegie Hall this past June and meeting the composer.

That led to Saturday’s concert, which will bring Purifoy himself full circle, one might say, to the place that helped inspire his work from afar - to the hospital town that nursed soldiers from both sides after the bloody Battle of Shiloh, to the gravesites decorated almost 150 years ago, and to the home, Twelve Gables, where four women first met to plan it, unknowingly inspiring a poem.

“I can only imagine what it will feel like,” Purifoy said by phone from his Tennessee home. “To be there will be very spiritual to me.”

A mass choir of at least 130 singers and a 35-piece orchestra will bring the hour-long composition to Whitfield Hall’s Rent Auditorium on the Mississippi University for Women campus Saturday at 8 p.m. The performance includes audio and visual displays relating to the era.

The one-time event will usher in Columbus’ 75th anniversary of its Spring Pilgrimage of antebellum homes and sites.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Toy, of the presentation sponsored in part by the Leslie Threadgill Foundation, Columbus-Lowndes Convention & Visitors Bureau and Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation.

Purifoy’s work was commissioned by the Knoxville Choral Society to honor its conductor and artistic director, Dr. Eric Thorson. The Tennessee ensemble gave the world premiere performance of the piece in November 2012.

“Chronicles of Blue and Gray” weaves American folk songs, spirituals and rallying and battle cries with tunes and lyrics from the Civil War period. Texts from Lincoln’s inaugurals, the Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, secession proclamations, soldiers’ letters and Finch’s poem are set to musical choral statements.

“I lived with the poem and these texts for a long time,” said Purifoy, who composed the piece over a two year-period. “I wept many tears as I wrote it.”

For Columbus history teacher and choral society member Deb Shelton, the impact of Purifoy’s entire piece is strong.

“The mixing of the music and the history for me is almost impossible to put into words. I’ve taught this my whole life, trying to help my students to think about this and understand it and what it meant. This brings it home, makes it more real. This is an inspired event,” she said.

By rough count, more than 1,000 headstones in Friendship Cemetery mark the final resting places of Civil War soldiers. The Union dead were long ago relocated to burial sites nearer their homes.

The names and markers, and thousands more like them throughout the country, are at the heart of “Chronicles of Blue and Gray.” Saturday’s concert commemorates the sesquicentennial of the end of a terrible war and honors the brave ladies in a small Mississippi town who decorated the graves of those who gave their lives from both armies.

“The evening,” Toy said, “promises to be full of beauty and emotion.”


If you go:

WHAT: “Chronicles of Blue and Gray”

WHO: Columbus Choral Society, with area choirs and visiting singers, and Starkville/MSU Symphony Orchestra

WHEN: Saturday, March 28, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Mississippi University for Women’s Rent Auditorium, Columbus

TICKETS: Free to attend, but tickets are required to ensure seating.


Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, https://www.cdispatch.com

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide