WAR STORIES TOLD IN MUSIC
Performance of compositions to honor Marines
SSTAFFORD, VA. ome people recall memories with images, others through stories. Frank Matthews remembers through music. Seventy years after Mr. Matthews set down boots in Iwo Jima, he can remember the emotions of fighting and camaraderie, memorialized in musical compositions he began writing as an 18-year-old Marine private.
For the first time Sunday, others will have the opportunity to take a step back in time and into his memories, when two of his pieces are performed by a professional band at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
“This was a way I recorded what I felt, what I saw,” said Mr. Matthews, 88. “It means my music is a little different. People are listening to what I was seeing, what I was feeling, whatever I was experiencing in the music, rather than in art or words.”
Mr. Matthews’ music will be played by the Band of America’s Few, an orchestra of about 75 former Marines who volunteer their time to play several concerts each year.
Trumpet player Tony McDonald, a former staff sergeant who lives in Woodbridge, said the band has been performing at the museum for several years. When he and the band learned of Mr. Matthews’ work, coupled with the fact that he is a docent at the museum, they added his music to their repertoire.
“Our band is about helping, honoring Marines and those who’ve gone before us,” Mr. McDonald said. “We’re really honored to be able to play some of his pieces for him.”
One of Mr. Matthews’ pieces to be played by the Band of America’s Few is a march written to honor the museum. The other, “Evening Tide,” has a Glenn Miller big-band sound.
Sitting on the shady back porch of his daughter’s house in Stafford, Mr. Matthews recalled the experience that inspired the piece.
A day before leaving the Pacific island of Iwo Jima, where he had spent more than a month fighting Japanese soldiers, Mr. Matthews was asked by the chaplains to play a portable organ for Sunday services.
“I have no clue how many times I played the national anthem that day,” he said. “A lot of [veterans] got teared up hearing the national anthem that day on the plain.”
Afterward, Mr. Matthews took some time to himself, watching his fellow Marines tend a makeshift graveyard for their fallen comrades.
“It looked liked they moved Arlington [National Cemetery] here overnight,” he said. “I sat and watched things for a while. They were still burying people, and I decided I wanted to compose.”
It would be decades before Mr. Matthews would revisit his compositions. Shortly after his wife, Margaret, died in 1999, he began fleshing out his work.
“I had hundreds of them,” he said, his blue eyes shining. “Any time I heard a melody, it would bring me back in a very vivid way to what I was thinking at the time.”
Mr. Matthews was living on the West Coast at the time. He taught music until he retired in 2001 and has embraced the digital era.
With the help of a composing program, he translated his handwritten notes into songs and compositions.
Now living with one of his daughters and her husband, Mr. Matthews volunteers a few days each week at the Marine museum nearby.
“He’s not shy about telling people what it was like to be a 19-year-old kid getting onto the beach at Iwo,” said Michele Flynn, museum visitor services chief.
Mr. Matthews said he wrote the march to encourage his fellow docents. That’s why, he said, he is most looking forward to the reactions of his colleagues Sunday.
“Docents carry that museum,” he said. “This is an effort on my part to get docents to take pride in being a docent. That’s all I’m hoping about this personally.”
The concert begins at 10:30 a.m. The concert, museum admission and parking are free.
Frank Matthews says his melodies bring back vivid memories of fighting at Iwo Jima during World War II. Other remembrances (left) hang on the wall where he lives in Stafford, Virginia. He has hundreds of musical compositions, two of which will be played Sunday by the Band of America’s Few. “It looked liked they moved Arlington [National Cemetery] here overnight,” Frank Matthews says about the makeshift burial ground in Iwo Jima.