Rappahannock County resident Geoff Gowen’s response to the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, was to put his feelings into music. On the 10th anniversary of the event, his new composition for chorus and guitar, “September Day,” was performed by the UUBRidge Singers at the weekly service on Sunday, Sept. 11, of the Unitarian Universalists of the Blue Ridge (UUBRidge).
Gowen and his wife, artist Benita Rauda, moved full time to Rappahannock County in 2000, a few years after retiring from the World Bank, where he worked as a project manager and industrial development economist. His says his interest in music dates back to his early childhood in the Philippines, where his missionary parents provided him with a piano. Taking up the guitar as a teenager, he now composes on both instruments with the help of “Sibelius,” music notation software that allows musicians to read and to hear the music before it is performed.
“September Day” was originally composed for just classical guitar a few days after 9/11. According to Gowen, “it was my way of dealing with emotions over the tragedy that we watched unfold on television.” The following June he attended a songwriting workshop led by local musicians Paul Reisler and his wife, the late Julie Portman, one of the last they held in Rappahannock County. The workshop helped Gowen move his composition along, he says.
The song then lay dormant for years, but after getting Sibelius, Gowen says he was able to hear how it sounded when arranged for a chorus. He felt it still needed at least a second verse. That’s where UUBRidge’s Muse discussion group for writers and artists came in. “ Muse inspired me to try to do a second verse,” Gowen says. Muse members also encouraged him to have it performed at a UUBRidge service.
Gowen explained the mechanics of the piece, saying that the guitar, which plays a deep steady tone throughout the piece, is interwoven with the chorus. “I thought of it originally as a tolling bell, signifying a great but sad occasion,” he says. “I also think of it as a heart beating because of the rhythm – two counts, then three, two, then three – with the emphasis on the first count being like a very slow heartbeat.”
Gowen also relates it to the “Om” sound used in Buddhist meditation.” The final notes of the choral ending are all harmonics of the sound which he sees as “an affirmation of the idea that we are all, in some deep sense, harmonics that are vibrating – ideally – in tune, that we’re all interconnected.”
After a superb performance of Gowen’s beautiful and moving choral music on Sunday, Sept. 11, both the composer and the UUBRidge singers received a rousing ovation from the audience.