Song of Hope Springs from Enterprise Tragedy

By Linda Hill

As a way to express human emotion, music can say it all without saying a word.

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The powerful feeling music can provide is the impetus behind a new, commissioned piece of music from The University of Alabama to honor and remember victims of the devastating tornado that slammed through Enterprise, Ala., on March 1, 2007.

Eight students – all teenagers – were killed at Enterprise High School when the F4 storm hit early in the afternoon and a hallway roof collapsed. The tragedy has been described as the worst disaster in Enterprise history.

The commissioned music is simply named “Enterprise,” says Ken Ozzello, UA director of bands, who initiated the project. Ozzello and others behind the music hope it will provide healing and hope for those directly affected in the Enterprise community and others across the state.

“I talked to so many people who sent money and had gone down to Enterprise to help those folks. I was trying to think of a way to help that hadn’t been approached yet. I was thinking why not use the musical talent at the Capstone to contribute something unique to that situation. I think that’s the reason we have music – it’s a means of communicating emotions – all the arts do that,” Ozzello says.

Dr. Ken Ozzello, who initiated "Enterprise," says music is a means of communicating emotion. (Photo by Zach Riggins)
Dr. Ken Ozzello, who initiated “Enterprise,” says music is a means of communicating emotion. (Photo by Zach Riggins)

Each year, the UA School of Music takes on a commissioning project to add to the body of ‘wind literature.’ “That’s a name for music written for bands,” Ozzello says. “Bands use only wind and percussion,” he explains. “Orchestras use strings as well. The repertoire for string orchestras is hundreds of years old and very vast, while the repertoire for bands is much smaller. One of our more important objectives in the wind band world is to add to the body of quality literature.”

“Enterprise” will contribute to the body of music much like a famous band piece written for victims of the Columbine High School shooting called “American Elegy.” Last year, the commissioned piece at UA was on “An Alabama Songbook,” a collection of folk songs, supported by a consortium of 25 public schools. This year, “Enterprise” is commissioned through the office of UA Provost Judy Bonner. The music project has also been supported through the UA Creative Campus program, under the auspices of Drs. Hank Lazer and Scott Bridges.

“Enterprise” premiered in January during the Alabama State Music Convention, a gathering of music educators from across the state. The music will be performed again in Enterprise near the one-year anniversary of the deadly tornado.

Students in the Alabama Wind Ensemble, the top concert band in the UA College of Arts and Sciences’ School of Music, and the University Singers, the top vocal group in the UA School of Music, began rehearsing “Enterprise” during the fall 2007 semester.

Helping Enterprise Heal

Dr. Ken Ozzello directs. (Photo by Zach Riggins)
Dr. Ken Ozzello directs. (Photo by Zach Riggins)

Before starting the “Enterprise” project, Ozzello says he phoned Charlie Ford, Enterprise High School director of bands. “I called down to Charlie Ford at Enterprise to make sure the idea was OK with the parents of the students and citizens in the area. They were very gracious that we were considering this project,” Ozzello said.

“Enterprise” will include music and lyrics, further tribute to the victims. Of the eight students killed in the Enterprise tornado, five were music department students – two in the band and three in the choir.

“We did lose five music students in the tornado,” Ford somberly recalls. “We handled that the best could. It was very difficult, especially for many of the students. It was really hard the first time we had a rehearsal after we got back into school. But, all these kids loved what they did in band and choir, and that has really helped,” he said.

“As far as the band students, we are leaving empty spaces in our marching show this fall for the two students who would have been with us. We do not intend to make a big deal out of this, but it is for our students and the families of these two students we lost,” Ford added.

Ford says the response from Enterprise to “Enterprise” has been positive. “I think this project is a wonderful idea. Of course, many people do not even understand what it means to commission a piece of music. But, just the fact that the Million Dollar Band is doing something in remembrance of what we all have been through has generated a great deal of appreciation from everyone.”

Ford says the piece will have a lasting impact. “Music affects every aspect of our daily lives, and, in some instances, affects our lives in a permanent manner … such as those of us who teach music for a career or those who compose or even perform for a career. No one who hears goes through a single day without being affected by music in one form or another. It most certainly affects our moods and our emotions.”

Making the Music

Making a piece of music that will have longevity is one of the goals of Ozzello, who will serve as conductor for the performance of “Enterprise,” and Ira Hearshen, a composer based in Los Angeles, Calif., who will bring together music and lyrics for “Enterprise.”

As composer of the original piece for band and voices, Hearshen said the seven- minute piece will connect to the audience as they hear it and hopefully serve as a healing experience.

With a background in Hollywood music, Hearshen most recently worked on the scores for the popular film “Rush Hour 3” and on Disney’s “Game Plan.”

To make “Enterprise” authentic and meaningful, Hearshen traveled to Alabama to meet Ozzello and Ford in Tuscaloosa. In his first venture to the Deep South on this trip to Alabama, Hearshen said he found the people gentle and gracious and a source of inspiration for the music. “It’s an honor to be part of this project,” Hearshen said. “The people in Alabama were so courteous and friendly to me. I’m going to do my best to achieve a kind of worldly explanation in the piece.”

In composing “Enterprise,” Hearshen incorporated the songs “Amazing Grace” and “Carry On,” along with words taken from a poem published in the Enterprise High School yearbook. Hearshen said he drew on his musical background as well as his spiritual roots in composing “Enterprise.”

“In Judaism, my faith, there is a prayer called the Kaddish that is said at funerals and Sabbath services, and it refers to eternal life – that’s a sentiment we’re trying to convey in the composition. In the mystical part of Judaism, known as the Kabbalah, there is the belief that if a child dies before they come of age, their soul becomes actualized into the next life, the idea of life being renewing,” he said.

The idea of renewal is something that appeals to Enterprise’s Ford, too.

“It has been such a blessing to see the response of people from all around the state, country and even other countries. In today’s world we see and hear so much of what is wrong in our society, but this tragedy has shown all of us here in Enterprise that there is still a great deal of good in the world, as well. I know the end result of this project will go a long way in helping our school and even the community to move forward in a positive and hopeful manner,” Ford said.

Let the music, and the healing, begin.

Further Reading

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.