Last May, Deb Fallows wrote an account of a historical coincidence that linked The Atlantic Monthly of 150 years ago with the American Futures project we're doing for The Atlantic these days.
In the town of Columbus, Mississippi, part of the "Golden Triangle" of Mississippi we described in more than a dozen posts last year, a few Union soldiers killed at the battle of Shiloh were buried in the local cemetery along with the much larger number of Confederate soldiers. In 1866, four women from Columbus decorated the Confederates' graves and decided to honor those of the Union soldiers as well. They also sent notes condolence to the northern soldiers' families. Based on this act of commemoration and conciliation, Columbus, Mississippi considers itself (as do several other cities in America) as the originator of Memorial Day.
In 1867, The Atlantic Monthly published a poem called "The Blue and the Gray," by Francis Miles Finch, that was certainly based on the Columbus observances. Finch, who then lived in Ithaca, New York, had read newspaper accounts of the women's gesture and was moved to write a poem of tribute to them. Everything about today's Mississippi is shaded by the state's past 50 years, and past 150, and past 300—as people there are the first to recognize. For some of the ways people discussed these concerns with us, consider "The Endless Civil War Goes On," "The Endless Civil War, Continued," and "The Civil War That Does Not End."
This last post included videos of some of the historic re-enactments that students from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science perform in a Columbus cemetery, which brings me at last to today's announcement of an important commemorative performance that will happen there soon.
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Five years ago, as part of the national preparations to observe the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the composer John Purifoy, who lives in Tennessee, began work on a project that would eventually bring him to Columbus. As he wrote in an email this week to Deb:
In 2010 I was commissioned to compose a large choral and orchestral work commemorating the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War by the Knoxville Choral Society to honor their conductor Dr. Eric Thorson. The world premiere took place in 2012 at the historic Tennessee Theater with around 1,100 in attendance. One of the closing numbers of the 54-minute work is a musical setting of the Francis Miles Finch poem, "The Blue and the Gray."
Later that year Distinguished Concerts International New York invited members of the KCS and other professional choral groups around the country to present a New York premiere of the work in Carnegie Hall, June 8, 2014. One of the groups I invited to join us in New York were members of the Columbus Choral Society in MS where the poem was inspired.
You can read about that New York performance here. And see a sample of the program notes below.
Through circumstances you can read more about here and here, the performance is being brought back to the site of its origin, Columbus, this weekend. Members of the Starkville Symphony—Starkville, Columbus, and West Point are the three cities of Mississippi's Golden Triangle—will present the program, along with some 130 singers from the Columbus Choral Society and visiting groups.
There are lots of other events in the area this weekend, including a special performance by students from the Mississippi School for Math and Science of their historic re-enactments, Tales from the Crypt, featuring the 2015 version of the Decoration Day Ladies; details in the Commercial Dispatch. Sorry we can't be there.