One hundred eight musicians. Seventeen states. Social distancing determined by miles, not feet. Combining all of that into one seamless, five-minute piece of music.
That was the plan of Kenyon Wilson, associate head of the Department of Performing Arts at UTC. And it worked—with colossal help from UTC videographer Jacob Cagle.
In 2015, Wilson was compelled to write a piece to honor the five servicemen — four Marines, one sailor — who died in the terrorist attack at the U.S. Navy Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway in Chattanooga. The piece, simply titled “Five,” debuted in 2016 and has been performed every year since.
For the fifth anniversary of the attack, Mr. Wilson wanted to do something special, but the coronavirus meant he couldn’t pull together a local orchestra to perform in person. So he turned to the current go-to method of meetings and gatherings.
He went online.
Putting the word out through a video on social media, Mr. Wilson received responses from high school musicians across the country.
“We put together this video and just put it out there. Then it started getting shared,” he said.
The idea was to have musicians perform the piece, using the same instrument they would play in a live performance, and videotape it.
“We did a video that talked to everyone through the process. Where to go to download the music for free. How to set things up. How to get the submissions to me and then did a separate video of me just conducting,” Mr. Wilson said.
After the musicians sent their videos to Mr. Wilson, he gave them to Mr. Cagle. Adding a video of Wilson conducting, Mr. Cagle’s job was to blend the separate videos into one cohesive whole. Not the easiest job in the world.
“When I did it, I thought my computer was going to burn down,” Mr. Cagle said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to take a long lunch and if it catches fire, let me know.’
“It was insane, but it was pretty cool seeing them come together at the end.”
“Five” originally began after the 2015 attack when Mr. Wilson felt driven to create a tribute to the men killed. Music came to mind first.
“I’m a musician and we tend to think that music is the answer, so that is the one thing that I could do,” said Mr. Wilson. “I later learned in an interview I was reading that two of the Marines had been members of their high school band. Skip Wells played clarinet and David Wyatt played tuba. So the fact that we already had come to this musical connection, it made sense to me, at least for the impetus of the piece.”
He noted that the high school students who performed “Five” at its debut have now graduated. It’s time to hand the piece off, he said.
“We have a new generation of high school students that could have been involved in the project that got canceled because of the pandemic, so we went this other way,” Mr. Wilson said.
“As teachers, we miss our students. I’m sure the students miss making music,” Mr. Wilson said. “A lot of music students really identify with being in band or choir as their community, and they’ve lost that, their support group and all of this.”
The virtual concert, he said,t made it possible to “engage these students and be able to come forward with something productive out of something pretty bad.”