Freedom and joy

Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra closes season with Lincoln tribute

By Joyell Nevins

Photo: Dr. Herbert Martin will narrate Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” during the Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra Freedom & Joy concert

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war.”

So began Abraham Lincoln at the official dedication ceremony for the National Cemetery of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, on the site of one of the bloodiest and most decisive battles of the Civil War. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of that war.

To honor the ideals of those who fought in the Civil War, and to celebrate its own 25th anniversary, the Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra (MVSO) has made this concert season one of historic proportions. All of its performances have followed themes of freedom, hope and redemption. The final concert of the season, Freedom & Joy, features a suite from the film “Gettysburg,” the “Lincoln Portrait” by Aaron Copland and Ludwig van Beethoven’s entire Ninth Symphony. It will be held Sunday, May 3 at 2 p.m.

Copland originally wrote “Lincoln Portrait” in 1942, as part of a World War II patriotic war effort. Copland infused his composition with narration as well, using spoken words from and about Abraham Lincoln.

Providing that narration during the MVSO concert will be Dr. Herbert Martin, professor emeritus at University of Dayton. Martin is a leading recognized Paul Laurence Dunbar expert, and the subject of the film “Jump Back, Honey: The Poetry and Performance of Herbert Woodward Martin.”

“As poet, scholar, and performer, he brings to his audiences a precious gift: himself – unadorned, humble, and eager to give his best,” says David B. Schock, producer of “Jump Back, Honey.” “Martin has trod the boards, but not bored the trads … As a performer, he brings great presence and joy to the stage.”

The Alabama native studied at the University of Toledo, SUNY at Buffalo, Middlebury College and Carnegie Mellon University. Martin came to UD in the fall of 1970, and has spent the majority of his career teaching literature, creative writing and poetry on the campus. He has also had bouts as a distinguished visiting professor at Central Michigan University and a Fulbright Scholar in Pécs, Hungary.

Martin has published and edited several volumes of poetry, written librettos, won awards and traveled the world – almost all through his research and love of the works of Dunbar, an African-American poet from Dayton who lived in the late 1800s. Dunbar was one of the first African-American poets to receive national recognition, according to the Academy of American Poets. Dunbar’s parents were freed slaves, and he was good friends with abolitionist Frederick Douglass. He published several collections of poetry and wrote four novels before passing away at 33 years old.

MVSO founder John Root heard Martin recite Dunbar’s poetry before, and met him when Martin was a part of the MVSO’s “Les Miserables” ensemble. When the “Lincoln Portrait” was chosen for the final concert, Root says they immediately thought of Martin for the narration. Root notes that during the performance, the orchestra will follow Martin’s cadence, not the other way around.

The other portion of Freedom & Joy is a full performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The final movement of the symphony is the well-known “Ode to Joy.” Root says the “Ode to Joy” has been the musical soundtrack for many liberating events, including the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

“It comes full circle with the concept of struggle for freedom,” Root says. “It was a totally different time and world, but Beethoven and his music fits into the same ideals Abraham Lincoln had.”

MVSO is a 65-member full standard orchestra, comprised solely of volunteer musicians and under the new direction of former West Point conductor David Deitrick. Root notes the group is open to all skill levels and is always looking for string positions. Auditions are held every year, and rehearsals are held every Thursday evening. The mission of MVSO is to bring high quality classical music to the community at affordable prices.

Freedom and Joy will be presented Sunday, May 3 at 2 p.m. at Bellbrook High School, 3737 Upper Bellbrook Rd. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online or at the door. For more information, please call 937.530.0515 or visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at

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Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at or reach her at

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