Americans remember where they were on September 11, 2001. The stories are varied and unique, just like Americans. But they were also the same, just like Americans. E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one. What our five senses recorded in those minutes and hours could play out like a wall of monitors in a news control room, dancing about with different sights, sounds and speeds. Eventually though, they all would focus on the same thing – a country, a President, a flag.
Fleeting as it may be, unity in a free society is a commodity more valuable than all the gold, silver, bronze and platinum put together, and in that moment, it was ours.
As it should, over the days, weeks, months and years, the monitors returned to their own stories, yet on those brief occasions, we see the same image – perhaps from different angles, perhaps with different lighting, perspective, depth and focus, but the same nevertheless. And nothing helps us focus on a common image quite like music does.
Ten years ago, I was a band director; a small band in a small town, about 20 miles west of the University of North Carolina and Duke University. Mebane, in Alamance County was a bedroom community for the triad area and Eastern Alamance High School had a small group of musicians, about 40, who would make the commitment to lug instruments back and forth to school along with all of their other textbooks, rehearse all week and perform for a halftime crowd that was more interested in getting a hot dog that watching a little band. We had been working on an entertaining little show for the 25 people who would actually paid attention – and then the planes hit, lives were lost, many taken, some given. Without words, we knew our world had changed, forever. Still we got instruments out and attempted to practice, yet nothing came out, no music, only sobs. We comforted each other the best we could, but the gift of music that God had bestowed upon would not flow that day.
But only that day.
As true to the American Spirit, we came off the canvas swinging. We finished out the season, playing our entertaining show to the best of our ability. Yet like so many, we didn’t know how to respond to the attacks, to our trepidation about the future and to the voices of those who could no longer speak.
That would change.
The following spring we began work on a new composition. One we knew would not be performed by anyone but us, something to which we could claim total ownership. At first they were notes, then they became phrases, then sections, then movements. Finally a composition forged from pain, anguish, anger, sorrow, vengeance, compassion, determination, love and tenacity was born. American Heroes – Fallen and Risen was premiered in Mebane, at Eastern High in the spring of 2002 and over the next months it transformed itself into a field show, not just penned by one composer, but by 43 students and several staff and parents who contributed passion, energy and time to their new creation – their voice. It was premiered one year to the day of the most vicious attack perpetrated on American citizens. For the next 3 months, we found our voice and shared it with thousands of people, not just for halftime crowds (much more that 25 now), but for veterans, active personnel and even those who lost someone on 9/11.
We didn’t change the world, just our little part of it and, perhaps the way we view it. Moreover, we found the voice that had eluded us on that fateful day. It was our counterstrike, it was our contribution. It didn’t have an impact on the vast majority of those who were living on planet Earth at the time, but it had an impact on us.
We never received national attention, just local, but that was never our intent. We just wanted to do what citizens of this great nation have always wanted to do from her creation – let our voices be heard.
There are stories of 9/11 that are more dramatic, more heroic and more significant, but this is ours and no one… no one, will ever take it away. It is emblazoned into our hearts, just like that day, but where there were nearly 3,000 less voices in the world, there were 43 voices, in a small town in North Carolina, who spoke and continue to speak for them.
Live for those who no longer can do so for themselves. E Pluribus Unum.
The following is a compilation video of media coverage of our premiers and performance and American Heroes – Fallen and Risen.
Brian D. Cook
Director of Bands, Eastern Alamance High School, 2001