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Morning Sun
  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: Former Pittsburg resident Guy Vollen helps commemorate Kansas anniversary

  • The 150th anniversary of Kansas statehood has been  celebrated in various ways. Guy Vollen, formerly of Pittsburg, made his contribution to the occasion in the form of “Where Seldom Is Heard,” a fantasy overture for concert band.

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  • The 150th anniversary of Kansas statehood has been  celebrated in various ways. Guy Vollen, formerly of Pittsburg, made his contribution to the occasion in the form of “Where Seldom Is Heard,” a fantasy overture for concert band.
    The eight-minute piece had its premiere June 26 at the Pleasant Valley United Methodist Church, Wichita, performed by the Senseney Music Community Band under the direction of Bill Johnson. Additional performances are scheduled at 10:45 a.m. July 16 during the Kansas Bandmasters Association conference at the Marriott Hotel, Wichita, and at 7 p.m. July 21 at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center, Wichita.
    During a telephone interview, the composer said that the form of the piece and some of its themes were suggested by Kansas’ prominence as a battleground over the issue of slavery in the years immediately preceding the Civil War.
    “I used three songs that are associated with Kansas in those early days,” Vollen said. “The first one is ‘Ho! For the Kansas Plains,’ which was written by James G. Clark, a Boston abolitionist in 1856 after the sacking of Lawrence in 1856 by pro-slavery forces. It was written in kind of a march style, so I scored it that way for the band with bugle calls.”
    The second song he used was “The Vacant Chair,” written by George F. Root in 1861.
    “This is a lament for a fallen soldier, and was very popular after the Civil War in both the North and the South,” Vollen said.
    Third song is “Home on the Range,” written in the 1870s by Dr. Brewster M. Higley and Daniel E. Kelley and now the Kansas state song.
    “It’s more alluded to, because I figured that everybody knows this song,” Vollen said. “It represents the resilience and indifference of the prairie, which was there before all these events and will be there after, a little more eternal and impartial.”
    The composer created an unusual element for this part of the piece.
    “I used movements from music boxes that I put in tin cans, and at one point the musicians play these boxes,” Vollen said. “These tinkling, overlapping melodies, combined with the layered statements of ‘Home on the Range’ in the winds and the bells, are meant to evoke the Kansas motto, ‘Ad Astra per Aspera’, or ‘To the Stars through Adversity’.”
    A lifelong Kansan, Vollen was born in Fort Scott and grew up in Pittsburg.
    His father, Gene Vollen, served many years as chairman of the Pittsburg State University music department, and his mother, Linda Vollen, is a violinist and has served as president of the Kansas Federation of Music Clubs.
    “I took piano lessons as a kid and played French horn in the high school band,” Vollen said. “It was in high school that I got interested in composing music.”
    Page 2 of 2 - He studied musical composition at Wichita State University with composer Walter Mays and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from WSU.
    He completed his doctorate in composition at Florida State University as a student of composer Ladislav Kubik.
    Vollen has lived in Wichita since 1992, teaching music classes at WSU and teaching at Hutchinson Community College. During most of his time in Wichita he has also played French horn with the Senseney Music Community Band. “Where Seldom Is Heard” is his second piece for the band. In 1998 he composed “Kellogg Flyover” for the group.
    “I’ve also done some pieces for piano, especially ragtime for piano,” Vollen said.
    He began a publishing company, Prime Material Press, to distribute his ragtime pieces, and in 2910 performed at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Mo.
    His next composition, however, will be something quite different.
    “My next piece will be a choir piece for a high school that will open,” Vollen said. “This will be my first full choral piece.”
    The school will be named for President Dwight Eisenhower, so the composer is using texts from some of Eisenhower’s addresses and speeches.
    “The side I’m most interested in, especially from a musical standpoint, is that Eisenhower was a lifelong warrior, but when he was president he worked to prevent war and talked about waging piece,” Vollen said. “He was a warrior who knew the horrors of war and was trying to prevent a third world war.”
    The composer also plays with the Wichita Wind Ensembles Professional Band and Wichita Community Concert Band, plays in and composes music for the Pegasus Brass Trio, and is co-founder of the Delano Chamber Players.
    His wife, Laura, also a WSU graduate, is a clarinetist and bass clarinetist in both the Senseney Band and Wichita Wind Ensemble Professional Band. She also teaches piano, clarinet and Kindermusik through her studio, Make a Joyful Noise. The couple has two children, Maggie, 5, and Robby 1.
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