THOMAS C. DUFFY
When visiting Frankfort, Kentucky, last year for the premiere of another of his pieces, The Miracle Mile, Thomas C. Duffy was inspired to write Gnomon during a tour of Frankfort’s local points of interest. When taken to visit the Kentucky Vietnam Memorial, Gnomon, he was overwhelmedÑphysically, spiritually, and emotionally. Duffy recalls, “I was moved to silence. In the quiet of the momentÑa quiet accompanied by the sounds of birds, in that sacrosanct place surrounded by distant trees, I conjured up the sounds of distant bugles, martial drumming, marching, funereal hymns, and the popular folk songs that represented the anguish of America in the 1960s.” His comment to his tour guide, Rick Moreno, Co-director of Frankfort’s Western Hills High School Band, that “This place is full of musical metaphor,” was taken to heart. A month later, the Capital City Concert Band called and commissioned him to write a work about this monument.
“In 1975 when Saigon fell,” remembers Duffy, “I was 20 years old. When I was 17, Nixon decommissioned the draft. Growing up on a college campus where my father was a professor, the war consumed me through my freshman and sophomore years of high school. Since I was not drafted, I never had to make the kinds of decisions that would allow me the privilege of speaking about the war like the veterans or those that were called.”
“Gnomon” is the Greek word for the pointer of a sundial, and the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial bears that name with good reason. Designed by Helm Roberts, a Lexington, Kentucky architect and veteran, the monument pays tribute to each and every Kentuckian killed in the Vietnam War. Engraved on the surface of the 215 ton blue-gray granite plaze are the names of the 1,074 Kentuckian killed and 20 Kentuckians missing in action in VietnamÑcasualties incurred from 1962 through the 1975 evacuation of Saigon. Towering above the plaza and visible for some great distance around the Memorial is the stainless steel gnomon (or “pointer”) standing at 14.62 feet above the surface of the plaza with a length of 24. 72 feet. The angle of the gnomon is equal to the latitude 38 degrees 19’ 25” from horizontal, and points to the true North Pole and Polaris, the North Star. On the plaza the name of each deceased Kentuckian is located such that the tip of the shadow of the gnomon, or pointer, touches it on the actual anniversary of his death.
The names of 20 men still listed as MIA or POW are located in front of the gnomon, where the shadow never falls, paying special tribute to their personal agony, and symbolizing continued vigil for their return. Two names have been moved from this area into the shadow-marked memorial.
Inscribed around the base of the gnomon in the same style used for grave markers in the Arlington National Cemetery and other government markers throughout the nation is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under Heaven: a time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what was planted; a time to kill and a time to heal;..... a time for war and a time for peace.”
According to Duffy, the piece is a tapestry of fragments from several commonly known songs, symbolizing the fragmentation of the United States during the ’60s. The themes presented are Goin’ Home (the tune played by Army bands as the bodies were removed from planes upon returning to the United States), Taps, The Star Spangled Banner, military themes, My Country ’tis of Thee, Blowin’ in the Wind, and Where Have all the Flowers Gone? Superimposed over this at one point is a 16th-century plainchant by Spanish composer Crist—bal de Morales: Memento homo qui a pulvis es et pulverem reverteris, et in pulverem reverteris (Remember, O man, that dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return).
The musical materials represent the passing of time, the presence of death and incredible sadness, the juxtaposition of civilian and military sounds in the United States during the thirteen years of war, the presence of the 16th-century death-chant, a constant beat of military drums, marching music, the tick tock of time, and the melodic motive spelling of Helios (sun) in musical pitches. Correlations exist between the workings of a clock (including this sundial) and the progress of the music.
Gnomon was premiered by the Capital City Concert Band and the 202nd Kentucky Army Field Band at the Kentucky Vietnam Memorial monument during Frankfort’s Veterans Day Ceremony in November 1995. This will be the third performance of Gnomon.
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