Per­for­mance of com­po­si­tions to honor Marines

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

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.

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