First Lt. Elizabeth Elliott conducts The U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own" during the premiere performance of 'Love and Light'. She currently serves as exutice officer and conductor of the TRADOC Band at Fort Eustis, Virginia. Photo by Jeff Heeny.

'LOVE and LIGHT'-- a melody of loss, love, hope

On Saturday, The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” performed at the Rachel M. Schlesigner Concert Hall in Alexandria, Virginia, in a concert that featured the world premiere of a composition commissioned by a fellow military band member, who conducted the full band in the performance.

First Lt. Elizabeth Elliott is the executive officer and conductor of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Band at Fort Eustis, Virginia. When her first child, daughter Madison, was stillborn in November 2018, this career musician and educator longed for a song to help in her grief recovery. She stated that even while in the hospital, she felt the desire to create such music.

Having known of Baltimore-based composer and conductor Brian Balmages through her years of teaching and from fellow musicians, she reached out in January 2019 to commission a special piece to not only help in her healing but to fill a need for other parents who have lost a child, said Elliott. The two collaborated for more than a year creating “Love and Light.”

When Elliott contacted the “Pershing’s Own” command team about premiering the piece, there was no question it would occur, noted Col. Andrew Esch, the commander of TUSAB.

“She is a band officer and one of our own,” Esch explained. “It was apparent to me that what Army bands do is connect people and many people could relate to her experience of loss, especially our Soldiers and military community. While unique, I knew this was something we could do.”

He said that the full concert was planned around “Love and Light” including featuring it at an off-post concert hall to help increase audience accessibility. Leading up to the concert, the only change was pushing the performance date from May to February, said Elliott.

“I miraculously got pregnant again and if I was going to be a part of this, I wouldn’t be able to do it in May because I could be in labor or have a newborn,” she said.

As she conducted the full band through the first performance of “Love and Light,” a name meant to show hope and healing according to Balmages, Elliott had the support of her whole family in the audience and also members of pregnancy loss groups who had heard about the concert. The composition is now available to those individuals and groups through TUSAB’s website and social networking channels to assist in their grieving process, said band officials.

In addition to Balmages’ work, the concert featured Paul Hindesmith’s “Symphony in B-flat.” According to TUSAB officials, the piece was composed in 1951 under commission by then “Pershing’s Own” commander Lt. Col. Hugh Curry. The band also performed new works by American composers Mason Bates and Michael Daugherty.

TUSAB will be holding free concerts at Brucker Hall March 3-7 during the annual trombone workshop and will host a special “What’s Your Warrior” concert March 29 at 3 p.m.

By Alice Swan Pentagram Reporter