Loss can seem like an impenetrable darkness, seldom parted by rays of light and hope. When middle schooler Jenna Witherspoon was losing her battle against cancer, a song was commissioned in her honor to ensure her memory lived on through music. “In my Perfect Place” was born.
The Millard North Wind Symphony created their own light in a time of uncertainty by becoming one of the first high school bands nationally to virtually perform a piece. The lyrics, along with metallic notes of percussion and wind instruments, tell of Witherspoon’s love for space and her desire to fly among the stars; “The clear night sky is infinite, I can float peacefully, Race the comets
Dance with the stars, Do whatever I please,
For I am in my perfect place.”
Junior drum major Hailey Revord contributed her clarinet playing to the piece and was touched by the song’s message.
“I was able to connect to this piece because the minute that I heard what this song was created for I knew we had to do it justice,” Revord said. “I wanted to help spread her [Witherspoon’s] love and joy to the community.”
To create a digital version of what the wind symphony would sound like in person, each member had to record their instrument’s individual part of “In My Perfect Place.” Band director, Craig Mathis then spent over three days layering the videos together with an online program.
The wind symphony and band as a whole received acknowledgement from many via social media, including the composer of the piece, Leslie Gilreath.
“I am incredibly touched by this wonderful show of resilience, musicianship, and your commitment to each other,” Gilreath posted on Facebook. “What a wonderful example of camaraderie and leadership in this difficult time. You are my heroes today!”
However, for many symphony members, simply playing music was enough reward.
“It felt amazing to keep making music,” newly minted junior band major Jared Gerhardt said. “When the coronavirus broke out, I was really sad because it meant the end of band, something that has always made me so happy. Being able to find a way around that meant a lot for me, and a lot for other people.”
Witherspoon’s mother, Tricia Witherspoon also reached out to the band directors, being brought to tears by hearing her daughter’s tribute played.
“When you find out a song composed in your daughter’s memory is being performed as a virtual band concert, [there is] no greater blessing than seeing Jenna’s legacy continue,” T. Witherspoon commented.
For the wind symphony, their practice and effort to learn the piece felt more important than ever.
“It made us feel overwhelmingly happy that we were able to find a way to continue doing what we love with the people we love,” Revord said. “Music brings people together, and this way we are able to still share that connection with those that watch this.”
Band director Ryan Placek echoes Revord’s sentiments and believes music can act as a light in the darkness of the unknown.
“Music brings everyone together. They say music tames the savage beast,” Placek said. “I think at times like this, music can help to comfort and bring people together—no matter their differences.”