The Firelands Symphony Orchestra (FSO) presents a guest ensemble concert, headlined by the Michael Shirtz Quartet. Shirtz’s musical narrative, “To Rise Above: A Journey of a Tuskegee Airman,” is a tribute to the life and inspiring journey of local Tuskegee Airman, the late Col. Harold Brown. This special musical narrative will be performed live at Sawmill Creek Convention Center on Saturday, Feb. 3 at 7:30 p.m.
“To Rise Above” is a five-movement musical work highlighting experiences from Brown’s 2017 biographical memoir, “Keep Your Airspeed Up: The Story of a Tuskegee Airman,” written by Brown and his wife, Dr. Marsha Bordner. It outlines Brown’s journey through five musical movements – The Dream, The Struggle, The Mission, The Man and The Dream Lives On. Each of the movements features narrated stories and a series of themes.
This event is made possible with support from: Randolph J. & Estelle M. Dorn Foundation, Sam S. & Rose Stein Foundation, Sidney Frohman Foundation, Mylander Foundation and Ohio Arts Council.
General admission tickets are available at FirelandsSymphony.com/Tickets or by calling the FSO office at 419-621-4800, Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adult tickets are $30, and student tickets for youth and college students are free.
The concert is headlined by the Michael Shirtz Quartet, featuring Shirtz on piano/vocals, Dwight Bailey on bass/vocals, Reggie Jackson on drums/percussion, and New York saxophonist George Michael. The concert, which tells Bown’s story through narrations and the elements of jazz, features narrator William Barrett; vocalist Sadiyah Babatunde; an accompaniment of strings from the FSO; and a chorus of singers from the FSO Chorale, Terra State Community College and Heidelberg University under the direction of Van Parker.
Shirtz wrote this musical dramatization based on Brown’s childhood dream of flying, his success in overcoming the despair of racial segregation, his passion for education both as a military aviator trainer and a leader in higher education, and the lessons for all people found in the six principles of the Tuskegee Airmen: Aim High, Believe in Yourself, Use Your Brain, Be Ready to Go, Never Quit and Expect To Win.
Brown passed away on Jan. 12, 2023, at the age of 98. While Shirtz created the music and a narration of “To Rise Above,” he credits both Brown and Bordner for assisting the composition with suggestions and edits to the overall work. Brown was not a musician – even though he took piano lessons as a child and again in his 90s – but he had a deep appreciation for jazz, big band and classical music, especially opera. The audience will hear these concepts used in “To Rise Above” with a neo-classical aria sung by Sadiyah, a fiery fugue depicting his engagements flying the P-51 Red Tail fighter in World War II, and a big band style tune celebrating Harold’s many achievements. Meant to inspire, entertain, educate and share the story and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, there is something for everyone of all ages.