You don’t have to know much about music to appreciate the piece that Platte County commissioned for its 175th anniversary, “The Heart of the Land.”
A basic understanding of earth and sky will do just fine.
When the work was first performed Sunday, you could almost see the point at which they met. Morning light arrived in a brassy, bright moment like the tingle of the eye’s first contact with the day, courtesy of Platte City native Michael Anderson
You might also imagine a bird when the flutist performs, anouncing the beginning of pronounced dissonance within the piece that might be Anderson’s reading of the human drama that has taken place in Platte County amid the natural splendor.
A combined musical group made up of players from the Platte City Community Band and the Parkville Symphonic Band gave life to “The Heart of the Land” as part of the closing event of Platte County’s 175th anniversary celebrations.
The piece, atypical and even edgy in certain respects, exited with an orchestral staple: a strong note repeated three times and then again in a crescendo that announces the final, triumphant ending.
At the close, Anderson — a thin, bearded, smartly dressed recent graduate of the University of Missouri — quickly, stepped up to the stage and gave conductor Gavin Lendt an energetic handshake and full-volume smile.
The traditional ending capped a challenging and, at times, tumultuous sonic journey, which Anderson said he wanted to be very deliberate about given that orchestral music can sometimes be composed in a vacuum.
“(Audience reaction) is something that composers should be thinking more about. I did want to push people a little,” he said. “But more than anything, I just wanted it to be a celebration.”
Anderson, a member of Platte City High School’s graduating class of 2008, signed the contract in February with Platte City Friends of the Arts to produce the piece. Although composing software helped him hear perhaps 20 percent of the final product, Sunday was his first chance to see the piece come to life with actual players making actual sounds.
So, Anderson never got to hear those weird percussive elements before they met the ears of Sunday’s audience. He’d only guessed that backing some of the reedy elements with a bass drum might enhance some of the more tense moments.
The result, he said, exceeded his expectations. Anderson said the musicians nailed the execution, an ideal end to what he described as a healthy challenge for a composer.
Anderson began composing “The Heart of the Land” for an orchestral group about half the size of the one that ended up performing it. About two-thirds of the way through, he learned that the Platte City Community Band would be joined by the Parkville Symphonic Band.
Though caught off guard, he built the second group in by enriching the piece with backing parts — and somewhere found time to finish another commissioned work this year, too.
Sunday’s event also included an art and history display that showcased the area’s creative talents.
Among them was photojournalist Bill Hankins, stationed by a table featuring his prints of picturesque rural living. While Anderson’s piece sought to capture the essence of Platte County aurally, Hankins’ work aimed to do the same visually.
It’s a spirit he says is defined by something not entirely new but that will always have purchase: hard work and good people.
“I hate to be stereotypical, but the essence of this place is just the people and the land,” he said. “You know, it’s those things that make this a place with a capital ‘P’.”