Student's Civil War Music Ready for Spotlight

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Virginia Commonwealth University’s “Year of Freedom” continues next week with a performance that will transport listeners to another era. The “Crisis of a Country – A United States Civil War Musical Retrospective,” a musical composition, reflects the emotions felt by Confederate, Union and enslaved individuals during the period.

The composer, Allen Wittig, an undergraduate music student, received a grant last summer from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program that allowed him to research music of the Civil War era up to the Battle of Gettysburg.

The musical performance features original 20th-century music and popular songs of the mid-19th century. The piece will be performed by the combined forces of the VCU Orchestra and Commonwealth Singers on March 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts. Christy Coleman, president of the American Civil War Center, will narrate the event.

The music evokes that period and, even if only a little, enables us to feel what people then might have felt, said John Kneebone, chair of the Department of History.

“Abolitionist meetings would feature songs to awaken listeners to the evils of slavery and to enlist them in the cause,” said Kneebone. “Enslaved people found sustenance and powers of resistance in the singing of sprituals, and soldiers marched to ‘John Brown's Body’, ‘Dixie’ and other tunes.”

The Year of Freedom is a university-wide program exhibiting VCU's participation in the Future of Richmond's Past project, which will sponsor the annual Civil War and Emancipation Day on April 6. Year of Freedom remembers 150 years of Civil War and Emancipation history. The program embodies the idea of “Confronting our past, facing our future.”

“The American Civil War and Emancipation constitute the most important events in American history. Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, was ground zero for the Civil War and became ground zero for conflicts over public memory of the war,” said Kneebone. “By participating in the Year of Freedom, VCU has the opportunity to engage with our community and to enhance understanding of the city, state, and nation in which we live.”

The concert also features Franz Joseph Haydn's “Missa In Angustiis,” a powerful piece also known as the “Nelson” mass in honor of British Admiral Horatio Nelson defeating Napoleon's fleet in the Mediterranean.

Tickets are $7 in advance and $10 on the day of the performance, and free for VCU students with ID. Tickets can be purchased in advance by contacting the VCU Music box office at (804) 828-6776 or, or by going online to


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