Gettysburg, an American Noh
by Elizabeth Dowd
music by David Crandall

Gettysburg is a work that explores the ill-fated friendship between Confederate General Lewis Armistead and Union General Winfield Hancock, shaped by the structure and performance techniques of Japanese warrior noh. The music, which combines harmonica and violin with traditional noh instruments, creates a new soundscape that is both dense and lyrical, challenging and moving. What emerges is an utterly American story that becomes, though the filter of noh, a broader meditation on the unseen wounds inflicted by war.

A veteran of the war in Afghanistan travels to the battlefields of Gettysburg in search of the place where Confederate General Lewis Armistead fell. This veteran, a descendant of Union General Winfield Hancock, has inherited a watch entrusted to Hancock by the dying Armistead in recognition of their friendship before the war. The veteran meets a groundskeeper who leads him to Armistead’s marker. There they talk about Armistead and the bond between soldiers. The groundskeeper suggests that to fully experience Gettysburg the veteran should, “Wait till twilight. When the sun slants across the fields, you can feel the past. You can hear it.” The groundskeeper departs across the open field of Pickett’s Charge where his day’s work awaits.

As the veteran waits for sunset, a docent locates her straggling tour group (the audience) and shares information about Pickett’s Charge and the story of Hancock and Armistead, friends fated to fight against each other. After the docent leaves, the veteran watches the evening mist rise from the battlefield. As the groundskeeper suggested, the veteran feels the presence of the men who fell there. ln this half-waking, half-dreaming state, the ghost of Brigadier General Lewis Armistead appears to the veteran. The chorus sings the story of the pre-war friendship between the two generals. Wracked with regret, the ghost does a madness dance and speaks with the veteran, across time, of war, of loss, of duty. The ghost asks if history has revealed any words from Hancock upon hearing of Armistead’s death. Learning that there are none, Armistead remains trapped in the afterlife of soldier’s hell, doomed to relive his final battle and his regret at the loss of this friendship. As dawn approaches, the ghost departs. The veteran exits as the chorus describes the fallen autumn leaves, blown across the field, “Torn from limbs that held them, surrendered to earth.”

Artist Statements:
David Crandall, composer
Gettysburg represents new territory for me as a composer and for Theatre Nohgaku as a performance group. Most of our earlier English-language pieces have stayed close to the traditional noh model in terms of instrumentation and voice production, but Gettysburg considerably expands the melodic and stylistic palette. I’m striving to create a truly new, organic idiom that moves freely between noh chant and Western lyrical singing. I’ve substituted violin and harmonica for the traditional noh flute, a choice that fits the Gettysburg theme and allowed me to explore new musical possibilities that expand the noh form.

Elizabeth Dowd, writer
Gettysburg, an American noh, was born out of my experience as a long-time student and practitioner of noh and as an even longer resident of Pennsylvania. Gettysburg explores the tragic friendship between Union General Winfield Hancock and Confederate General Lewis Armistead, who were once united under the US flag but faced each other from opposing lines at Gettysburg.

Warrior noh focus primarily on the great battles of the Japanese Civil War between the Genji and Heike clans and often explore the Buddhist concept of the Asura realm, where defeated warriors are condemned to fight their final battle through eternity. Juxtaposing that “afterlife hell” with the living hell that present day soldiers experience through PTSD was central to the creation of Gettysburg and my envisioning of the waki (traveler) role as a modern day veteran of the war in Afghanistan. My hope is that Gettysburg, a reflection on our shared painful past, will provide audiences a new lens through which to see our national divisions.