`Choir of Angels' goes out to a friend

Hereford High concert honors memory of student who died in 2005

May 02, 2007|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun Reporter

During the two weeks of rehearsals for tonight's spring concert, clarinet player Erin McDevitt felt pride. She also has endured waves of sadness.

But when she saw the tears streaking down a mother's face and watched as a father raced from the auditorium unable to contain his heartache, she felt the full weight of what her high school band was preparing to do: Unveil to the world a piece composed in honor of Joey Baseman, a 14-year-old schoolmate who was killed in a car crash.

Erin, a 17-year-old Hereford High School junior, said she cried during Saturday's rehearsal. The experience brought insight into her own family's grief after her mother's miscarriage a few years ago.

"I was hit with that when I saw how Joey's family felt," she said.

Chorus Angelorum, or "Choir of Angels," was commissioned after Joey's death, as Hereford High School's band director Mark Zielinski and Hereford Middle School's band director Chris Bennett searched for a way to honor him.

"Being musicians, we went to what we know -- music," Bennett said.

Hereford High School's symphonic winds will perform the world premiere of the piece at 7 tonight at the school during a free concert that also will include the school's orchestra. Joey's mother, Judy Baseman, whose oldest son, 17-year-old Jimmy, plays trumpet with the winds, said she's more than a little nervous about the show.

It's not easy for her to listen to the piece written in honor of her son and her mother-in-law, who also died in the crash.

"But it's so wonderful to know it will be passed on to other bands," she said. "And it's so wonderful a gift."

Jim Baseman, Joey's father, said he finds comfort in knowing his son touched so many lives but struggles with the emotions that Chorus Angelorum evokes.

"It's painful when you put it to music," he said. "It grabs hold of you. It's definitely a memorable piece."

Joey and his grandmother, Audrey Baseman, were driving home from the school when they were killed in a car crash Nov. 8, 2005. The fatal accident was the third tragedy to strike the school during a six-week period that fall.

Two former football players from the school's Class of 2002 were killed while stationed as Marines in Iraq. Another student from the school died in a car crash in February 2006.

The close-knit community has rallied around the grieving families. Jim and Judy Baseman said the outpouring of support, especially from the students, has been overwhelming.

"Without it, I don't know how I'd go on, except that I feel so much positive has come of it," Judy Baseman said. "Not that it replaces Joey in any way."

Joey, who was a freshman when he died, had played French horn in the middle school band. Within days of his death, Bennett was on the phone with Samuel R. Hazo -- a nationally recognized composer who long ago took concert lessons from Bennett's mother, and who played in a high school band directed by Bennett's father in Pennsylvania. The composer, whose schedule is normally so packed that commissioned works generally take several years to deliver, agreed to create a composition for the school.

In program notes that accompany the composition, Hazo wrote, "Chorus Angelorum explores the concept of how beautiful a song an angelic choir would sing. The first note of the composition symbolizes the last moment of physical life, and the first moment of spiritual life."

Between is the story of angels singing "as they carry two souls to Heaven," according to the composer's notes.

The song's closing section "reminds us that the love we have been given by others stays in us even after they're gone; reuniting with them is only a thought or a dream away," Hazo wrote.

Jim Baseman described hearing the piece for the first time on Saturday as an "intense" experience.

"With Mr. Hazo's note, the piece took on much more meaning," he said. "It was very moving, very emotional, very vivid."

Zielinski, the high school's band director, said he has been amazed by the students' spirit of sacrifice -- they gave up two trips and staged benefits to raise about $7,000 to pay for the composition -- and their ability to learn the technically difficult, solo-filled piece during the past two weeks.

"One of the biggest jobs of a teacher is you need to inspire students," he said. "When kids understand what they're dealing with because they're connected, it's easier to do it. They feel the music and the reason behind it."

Clara Sparks, a 15-year-old sophomore who plays the flute, said she too was moved by seeing the effect it had on Joey's parents."

"At first, I was excited to play the piece, but seeing their reaction has made that feeling twice as strong," she said.

Erin McDevitt said the song has brought the musicians closer together. "Nothing," she said, "has been as important as this."

Bennett said the band wanted to provide a lasting tribute.

"We hope this piece brings the family some peace," he said. "It's about a higher power, about thinking beyond."


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.