When the news that 20 schoolchildren and six adults had been gunned down by a madman nearly a year ago at an elementary school in Connecticut, Placerville resident Mitch Jones, a former music teacher, felt a deep need to respond to the tragedy.
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And so he has, with a musical composition that reflects his depth of emotion as he listened to the news of that terrible morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, where the children, all between the ages of 6 and 7, had their lives so violently taken away.
Jones, 64, realized that he could have been one of the teachers who so valiantly sought to protect the children, with six adult school employees also losing their lives in the hail of 154 rifle bullets fired by a 20-year-old man.
“Having been a teacher for 32 years, I knew right away that I had to do something,” recalled Jones as he spoke from his home on Broadway. “I had to write down my feelings in music, as a tribute to those kids and their teachers, and I sat down and began right away.”
By June, Jones had the elaborate, handwritten musical score finished “in pencil,” and he approached officials at Union Mine High School in El Dorado to see whether the school would be interested in having its band and orchestra students perform the piece.
“I respect Mr. Jones as a musician and an artist and so I was excited to hear that he had selected us (UMHS) to premier his work,” said Alison Warner, music director at the high school. “I think it is important for my students to play music that can help them connect current events to their art.
“This musical selection will help the students to grow emotionally and musically,” she said.
Jones’ handwritten memoriam piano score, now beautifully rendered in black ink, will be performed by the Union Mine High School Concert Band, during the school’s annual Christmas program, set this year for the evening of Dec. 19.
Some 80 student performers will tackle the piece designed for a wind ensemble and narrators, with a clear, haunting, moving and ultimately uplifting sound that Jones hopes will succeed in capturing the emotions that welled inside him in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings.
“Having taught for so many years (in Fairfield and Nevada), I found myself imagining how those children must have felt as the mayhem took over their lives,” said Jones. “School is one of two places, along with your home, where you should feel safe. I’ve taught first-graders and they are totally innocent.
“And the women …” Jones’ voice trailed off.
In addition to the first-grade children slaughtered by the obviously mentally disturbed shooter, six women, mostly teachers, were slain on that terrible day in December. The shooter then took his own life with a handgun.
Forensic evidence indicated that in some cases the women were shielding children with their own bodies and taking other protective measures when they, themselves, were shot to death.
“The piece takes 10 minutes and 30 seconds to perform,” Jones said, as he demonstrated a few notes while seated at a piano in his home. “During the third part, ‘The Innocent,’ after every four measures, another child’s name is said aloud.”
Jones added that those listening may find themselves moved to tears, but he assured that the four-part musical score that begins with a fanfare of chaos and insanity will end with the soothing, healing notes of peace.
“It’s not really happy until the end,” said Jones, his smile grim. “I don’t know what this madman was thinking, but this piece is layered, and meant to bring us together at the end. It’s intended to say, musically, that here’s a solution: peace. The parts (of the score) are layered, one on top of the other, to show that we are not alone and that violence never works in real life.
“The layers of the music are meant to show that we can work together toward peace,” he said.
Union Mine Music Director Warner said she appreciates the intricacies of the work.
“I find that this piece does a wonderful job of connecting music to this tragic event,” she said. “The way Mr. Jones assigns themes to each individual (part) is heartwarming. His use of percussion instruments adds to the intensity of the piece.
“I can tell that a lot of thought has gone into its development,” she said.
Warner said the high school has performed the works of other local musical artists in the past, “but we have never been selected to perform a piece of this magnitude. I am honored that Mr. Jones is including us in this event (the premier performance of his score).”
Jones taught music and was director of bands at Fairfield High School in Fairfield for eight years, during which time the school’s Scarlet Brigade Band marched in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, in 1980. He performed in halftime shows at Oakland Raiders football games for three years, 1979-81. For six straight years Jones earned 10 Unanimous Superior Straight 1 ratings with his wind ensemble and concert band, from 1976-81.
Jones, now retired, taught general music, band and chorus at elementary, middle and high schools in the Douglas County School District in Minden, Nev., for 24 years, through 2005. He also taught private musical instrument lessons, basic music fundamentals and music theory throughout his career and into retirement.
The public is welcome to attend the inaugural performance of “Sandy Hook: A Memoriam” at Union Mine High’s Theater at the Mine, 6530 Koki Lane in El Dorado, Thursday evening, Dec. 19.
Jones said he would love to see people attend, for one simple reason: “This was written from my heart.”