By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–On November 15, the IU Southeast Concert Band will perform a new piece that tells the story of the 96th U.S. Infantry Division, a celebrated Army unit that served in such crucial Second World War battles as Leyte Gulf and the invasion of Okinawa.
The work, “Remember the Deadeyes,” by David Neville, is remarkable for being a work of family remembrance, inspired by a beloved elder who had served in the 96th, nicknamed the “Deadeyes” for their precision marksmanship.
What makes it even more remarkable is that David Neville is not a professional composer, but a student of composition at IU Southeast.
Neville, a senior from Danville, Indiana, received an IU Southeast student research fellowship for the summer of 2019 to compose the symphony, research the history of the 96th and pay musicians for the eventual performance.
Neville grew up in a home infused with a diversity of music, from classical to rock. His interest in film music began at a young age. The first film that made a big impression was Pirates of the Caribbean, with music by Hans Zimmer.
“I was always moved by films emotionally,” Neville said. “At some point it dawned on me that it was the music that was eliciting these vivid emotional reactions.”
Growing up, he listened to film soundtracks, especially those by John Williams, analyzing orchestration and melodies. In high school, faced with a choice between band or choir, he chose band, and became a percussionist. At about the same time, he and his brother saved up enough money to buy access to Note Flight, a composing software, and he began to write “some pretty good music.”
Neville chose to attend IU Southeast because it was the only program in the area to offer a film composition concentration that he found interesting.
Under Erich Stem, Neville has blossomed.
He has written music in a variety of styles and contexts including film music, video game music, orchestral music, arrangements, chamber music, solo works, and concert band pieces. Two of his orchestral works have been performed by Orchestra Enigmatic, a Louisville-based ensemble, and one of his arrangements of a cinematic theme was performed by the IU Southeast Orchestra at this year’s summer concert.
“I am 100 percent more well rounded and more well versed in other styles of music now than when I started,” Neville said. “Everything about my composition is more expanded.”
In addition to music, Neville has enjoyed taking classes outside of his department, particularly in philosophy, which helps to expand his mind and become more conscious about what he is writing music about.
“Remember the Deadeyes” is a musical tribute to William Hill, the great grandfather of Neville’s girlfriend. Hill served in the 96th, and it was through him that Neville’s imagination and awe were ignited.
“He went through hell in the war, but was always funny, courageous and gentle,” Neville said. “I wanted to write the piece for him and also to tell the story of the 96th in the way I know how.”
The concert work is a departure for Neville, who sees himself pursuing a career in film music. But it does follow a program–a narrative built up organically from hours of interviews with living Deadeyes and relatives of the deceased–that Neville can picture and score.
From there, Neville developed the sounds and melodies of the piece, moved through a painstaking stage of notation and problem solving, and prepared the score for performance. He also assembled a slide-show to be shown during the concert.
As conceived by Neville, the piece “combines the feelings of pride and happiness by employing techniques of classic American symphonic music while also exploring the feelings of uncertainty, trapped in a seemingly unending conflict, by using contemporary harmonic structures and dark/rich timbres or instrumental textures/colors.”
Stem has enjoyed helping Neville expand his musical voice, and respects the immense effort his concert piece represents. He looks forward to the drama and emotional power of Neville’s piece.
“Regardless of ability, composing is hard work,” Stem said. “It can take hours of trial-and-error, sketching out ideas, tossing sections in the music that don’t work, weeks of frustration, and overcoming the daily distractions of life. To overcome this, you need tenacity, patience, and a lot of discipline. Writing a piece for concert band can be a daunting task. David’s concert band piece is a terrific achievement and should be seen as such.”
For more information about this concert, or to buy tickets, please visit the Ogle Center website.