Vietnam veteran Kimo Williams' composition will be part of Salute to Independence
SHARPSBURG — Maryland Symphony Orchestra’s Salute to Independence Concert at Antietam National Battlefield has become a wide-reaching attraction the first Saturday of each July. The annual event featuring live orchestral music and fireworks draws a crowd of more than 20,000 people.
This year the Salute to Independence is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 7, will feature a piece called “Fanfare for Life,” composed by musician and Vietnam War veteran Kimo Williams, who moved to Shepherdstown, W.Va., in 2015.
After teaching at Columbia College Chicago for about 40 years, Williams relocated with his wife Carol Williams from Chicago, to “a nice place on the Potomac River” to be near their daughter, Becky Williams, who works in Columbia, Md.
Though he retired from his official teaching post, Williams, 68, continues to feed into the lives of others through music, photography and charitable work. He and his wife founded and run the United States Veterans Arts Program, known as USVAP, which donates art supplies to veterans’ medical centers and encourages communication through art.Composer Kimo Williams’s piece, “Fanfare for Life,” will be performed during the Salute to Independence. (Submitted photo)
Williams, whose father was a U.S. Air Force sergeant, learned of Salute to Independence through partnerships with Mary Hendrick and Robert Tudor, president and music department chairman respectively, of Shepherd University. Tudor arranged a meeting with MSO Music Director Elizabeth Schulze and MSO Executive Director Stephen Marc Beaudoin.
“They heard my music and they indicated that they would love to perform my ‘Fanfare for Life’ in the Salute for Independence. I was, as any composer would be, very appreciative of their interest in my music,” he said.
Williams was born in Amityville, N.Y., but grew up on military bases. He went to high school in Hawaii and played college football at Arizona State. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on July 4, 1969, and after spending a year in Vietnam, attended Berklee College of Music where he earned a degree in composition and met his wife. He later went on to earn his master’s degree in management from Webster University.
He was commissioned to write a fanfare by the Chicago Sinfonietta and composed “Fanfare for Life” during the summer of 1994. During that time, Williams said, four or five young black children were killed in Chicago in gang-related violence.
“All this really hit me very hard. I wanted to do something to make people aware not just of these young lives but of the kids who were observing this and realizing that life must not be that important because I can go around and shoot people and kill people,” he said. “I wanted this piece to speak to the importance of cherishing life in general.”
Williams said “Fanfare for Life” is about four-and-a-half minutes long and begins with a flourish to “really emphasize the majestic-ness, the beauty, the wonderfulness of breathing air every day and taking in nature and life and the people around.”
The next part of the piece uses flute, piccolo and clarinet to convey the “delicateness of the children.” Then a rhythmic brass takes over, representing “families coming together, to speak to the importance of getting along together, being aware,” Williams said. Then it returns to the flourish in a musical illustration of cherishing life.
His writing is informed and inspired by his wife who is also his longtime musical partner, he said, as well as his daughter. Along with Carol, he produced and performed with a large ensemble that became known as Kimotion. The couple set up music publishing company One Omik Music and record company Little Beck Music.
“My wife has a major influence. I say, ‘I’m going to do this,’ and she will say, ‘Have you tried an E flat chord instead? Have you moved the bass line?’ It’s almost like she is the left hand and I am the right. She has so many great ideas,” he said.
Also influencing his music is Williams’ time served in Vietnam where he sometimes performed for comrades with Special Services as the band Soul Coordinators.
“They’d drop us on the front lines out of a helicopter. We’d take out our equipment, put it in the mud and sing ‘Purple Haze,’” he said. “I think being a Vietnam vet, having gone through being in the combat environment, you take a look at your life and you really start to understand the importance of living your life and not taking it for granted.”
Williams reached the rank of captain, became a U.S. Army Reserves bandmaster for the 85th Division Army Reserve Band, and retired as a chief warrant officer in 1996. He continued to travel to places including Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and South Korea performing for service members.
“In 2003, when we had the war with Iraq, there was a soldier who had lost both of his legs. He came to me and said he thought I was the best guitar player in the world. He must have a mental problem,” Williams joked. “He said, ‘I wish I could get back to playing.’”
William asked the solider why he didn’t play again, and the soldier responded that he didn’t have a guitar. Williams purchased a guitar and gave it to the soldier. Since then, he and Carol established The United States Veterans Art Program to provide art resources such as paints, brushes, cameras and musical instruments to veterans’ medical centers.
“The arts are an expressive conduit for communication with the world. Veterans need to do that,” he said.
Williams will communicate to the Salute to Independence audience through song.
“I’m making a contribution to the idea of who we are as a country and how I feel I fit into that by providing art to the community that speaks to my military service,” Williams said. “With the Fourth of July celebrating our independence, I can say I was a part of that concept of independence through Vietnam, through service to my country and by performing for the troops throughout my lifespan.”
Williams has a USVAP photography exhibit on display in a storefront at 141 W. German St. in Shepherdstown open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. through July 15.
Top photo: Elizabeth Schulze will lead the Maryland Symphony Orchestra again this year during the annual Salute to Independence at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg. (Herald-Mail file photo)