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October 27, 2017

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Dr. Debra Lynn conducts both the orchestra and the choir performances of 'A Family Portrait' on Monday, Oct. 16, in Cordier Auditorium.

Photo by Marketing Department 

'A Family Portrait' Performance Tells Stories of Civil War 

Kylie Kroger 

Letters of love, childhood adventures and untimely death were transformed into an emotional performance on Monday, Oct. 16, in Cordier Auditorium. "A Family Portrait" tells the story of a nineteenth century union solider, Tyler Houghtaling, as well as the story of other members of the Houghtaling family, largely through letter correspondence.  

The composition was written by Manchester professor, Debra Lynn and featured solos by Grammy-winning baritone, Daniel Belcher and Mezzo-Soprano, Judy Marlett, who is a descendant of the Houghtaling family.         

Preceding the performance, the 30th Indiana Volunteer Infantry arranged an encampment near Cordier to give patrons and Manchester students an idea what life as a Union solider may have been like. This encampment demonstrated how artillery of the time would have been operated, as well as what kind of medical care would have been accessible to soldiers on both sides of the infamous war.  

Spartan baseball also joined in on the retrospective event, playing an 1860’s-rule baseball game against their fellow teammates. The team was enthusiastic and laughs were shared as the team adjusted to a much lighter ball than what is used in modern baseball, as well as a much thinner style of wooden bat. The team closed out their game with a bellowed chant of "Hip Hip Hooray" three times, followed by an additional tradition of the era, adding a tiger growl at the end of their chant.  

"A Family Portrait" is the second composition from Lynn that has made its debut at Manchester within the past two weeks, following "Your John Keats" which premiered Oct. 14 and featured both Belcher and Marlett as well.  

This composition is a compilation of letters from Houghtaling and his relatives Percy and Lanie of the same surname. The composition was accompanied by the Manchester Symphony Orchestra, as well as choir students from neighboring schools and students in Lynn's Acapella class at Manchester.   

As for the letters Lynn chose to include within her composition, she was inspired by the unique personalities of each family member and their voices within their correspondence. Lanie was a particularly interesting character in this sense. "My immediate impression of her included: sarcastic and ironic wit, highly intelligent and articulate, well-educated, especially for a woman of her time, as well as busy and a woman of strong faith," said Lynn in her program notes.  

As for Tyler, his letters featured in the composition track a progressive change from the first to his last. "All three letters by Civil War solider Tyler Houghtaling are dated 1861 to 1862, and show the progression of his feelings throughout those years, moving from optimism and wonder to impending doom and regret," said Lynn in her program notes.  

The influence of music of the nineteenth century is an important element throughout the entire composition. "Given the rich body of American folk music and hymn tunes from the time, it made sense to derive the themes for each character from this beloved repertoire," said Lynn in her program notes.  

The program closed out the same way it began, with an excerpt from American poet Walt Whitman's "To Think of Time." The audience gave it their official stamp of approval, closing out the night with a standing ovation.