Palatine High School's band and percussion ensembles performed a moving patriotic suite last week when they welcomed WGN-radio personality Orion Samuelson to their senior concert.
The veteran announcer lent his baritone voice to their symphonic band setting, "To Heal a Nation," which was written by James L. Hosay in honor of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday, and features music wrapped around the recitation of the Gettysburg Address.
"The music is very dramatic, and the placement of the narration in the midst of these musical moments is emotionally stirring," says Raeleen Horn, Palatine's director of bands.
They're not done yet. Members of the symphonic band will make one last trip over the Memorial Day weekend to play an encore performance at the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, Calif.
Horn took Palatine band students there four years ago, shortly after the library had doubled in size and unveiled its full-size replica of the White House East Room. At their concert that year, they made a big impact on one of the adults in the audience: Edward Nixon, the youngest and last surviving brother of the former president.
Next week, Palatine band members will return to Southern California, to perform in the historic East Room. This time, instead of Samuelson, they have secured Edward Nixon to recite the Gettysburg Address to their performance of "Heal the Nation."
"What a thrill it is that he has agreed to appear with our group," Horn says. "It will be great for the students -- and all of us on the tour -- to experience a brush with history."
The concerts are especially stirring for the band's 38 seniors who have played all four years in the program. Included in that group were the two drum majors, senior trombone player Tommy Laabs and senior flute player Emily Liquin, both of Palatine.
The teens said playing the Civil War-themed music to Samuelson's narration was the highlight for them, but they describe their last four years as filled with highlights.
For Laabs, he remembered their trips, including playing with the brass ensemble last year at the White House over the Christmas holidays.
Liquin pointed to a trip last year when band members traveled to Chicago to take in a performance of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra before staying overnight and playing in Chicago's Memorial Day Parade the next day.
"This last concert was bittersweet," Liquin says. "As a senior, it will be hard to leave, and the final band concert made me realize how quickly that end is approaching."
Laabs concurred, though he credited all of their practice in the band room -- long before Samuelson, a Huntley resident, arrived for rehearsal.
"We have all worked diligently to succeed," Laabs said. "And success is exactly what we achieved at our last concert performed at our school."