Attention! Joseph Jenkins feted by the U.S. Army


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Joseph Wilcox Jenkins

We tend to think of people who live and work in Pittsburgh just in terms of what they do locally. But many have other projects outside of town, especially musicians and composers. Recently retired Duquesne University composer Joseph Wilcox Jenkins is one. He was an arranger for the United States Army Chorus, which feted him last month at Fort Myer, and I thought I would share the news. His former student, Gary Ryan, wrote a nice account of the night:

On Saturday, July 14, The United States Army Chorus presented "A Tribute to Joseph Wilcox Jenkins." Dr. Jenkins served for many years the chief arranger for The United States Army Chorus, and he and his wife were the guests of honor at the performance that took place in the Memorial Chapel on the grounds of historic Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia. When he was introduced to the audience, Dr. Jenkins, who was visibly moved by the tribute afforded him by the current members of his old Army unit, received a standing ovation.

Dr. Jenkins is well known to the hundreds of theory, orchestration, and composition students who had the privilege of studying with him at Duquesne University's Mary Pappert School of Music, where, even after his retirement, he continues to teach as a Professor Emeritus. Lt. Col. John Clanton, who directed the program, noted that Dr. Jenkins is one of only a handful of composers and arrangers in the entire world who truly understands the musical potential of the male chorus and that he is solely responsible for what is the core repertoire of The United States Army Chorus.

Established in 1956 as the vocal counterpart to The United States Army Band, The United States Army Chorus has the reputation of being one of the world's premier male vocal ensembles, and the performance on Saturday evening demonstrated clearly that its reputation is well deserved. From delicately quiet passages in Dr. Jenkins' arrangement of a simple Scottish folk song to the rollicking brilliant sounds of the his arrangement of Sigmund Romberg's "Stouthearted Men," the Chorus performed with a combination of military precision and musical sensitivity. An outstanding example of the select group of men who are members of the Chorus is Sgt. 1st Class Alvy Powell, whose operatic bass voice resonated with clarity and emotion throughout the Chapel in the Jenkins arrangement of Jerome Kern's "Old Man River."

One of the highlights of the evening was the Jenkins arrangement of George Gershwin's "Love Walked In," a song Dr. Jenkins had dedicated to his wife at the time their first child was born. His musical genius and humor was evident in the piano accompaniment that contained several quotations from Gershwin's "Concerto in F." The piano accompaniments to all of his vocal arrangements were likened by Lt. Col. Clanton to piano concerti, and they were deftly performed by Master Sgt. Joseph Holt and Sgt. 1st Class Raffi Kasparian.

At the end of the evening, Dr. Jenkins graciously sat down at the piano to express his gratitude musically by entertaining the Chorus and the many members of the audience who remained to greet him personally after the concert by improvising on a number of well-known favorites, commenting after one of them that he never did to an arrangement of it and thought that it might be time to begin work on it. After hearing only a fraction of his vast output of arrangements, one could only agree and hope that many more will follow.

Gary Ryan

A former student of Dr. Jenkins and an alumnus of The United States Army Band


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