By Mary Pickels Tribune-Review
Staring at the framed score of “Flight of Valor” on the wall of his Jeannette home, Dan Orange can’t help but recall the chaos and sadness of September 11, 2001, when United Airlines Flight 93 plummeted to the ground not far from his Somerset County vacation cottage.
The song, dedicated to the crew and passengers of the hijacked flight, takes the 75-year-old clarinetist back to that grim day when he was among the first citizens to arrive at the crash site.
Orange will perform the song on Feb. 28 in Philadelphia during a joint appearance of the Jeannette and Somerset County community bands in honor of the commissioning of the USS Somerset.
The commissioning is scheduled for March 1.
Orange had begun to spend more and more time in his Indian Lake cottage in 2001 after losing his wife, Sylvia, that spring.
On September 11, he went to a neighbor’s home to borrow a tool.
“He asked me if I knew what happened in New York City,” Orange recalled.
Shortly before 10 a.m., the men were watching televised footage of the planes smashing into the World Trade Center towers in New York.
“After about 15 or 20 minutes, there was a loud explosion. It literally shook the house. We rushed outside. His wife was gardening and she said she thought it was a plane,” Orange said.
His neighbors were concerned about Orange going to the scene of a disaster so soon after his wife’s death, but the three decided to drive in the direction of the explosion anyway.
“We thought maybe we could assist in some way. We saw the plume of smoke,” Orange said, referring to the view made famous in a photograph showing smoke rising above a bright red barn.
“There was a wheel next to the crater, and lots of paper on the ground,” Orange recalled. “Trees had been scorched and blackened.”
They didn’t find any survivors among the 40 passengers and crew. The 9/11 Commission later determined that some had fought the hijackers, preventing the plane from hitting a target in Washington.
“There was debris in the trees. There was part of a structure — like a window of a plane — in the woods,” Orange said.
When state troopers arrived, they asked the people gathered at the crash scene to leave, he said.
The song’s beginning
The Somerset County Community Band commissioned “Flight of Valor” from Ohio composer James Swearingen, band President David Breen said. Swearingen directed the premiere of his composition during a 2002 concert in Somerset County to mark the anniversary of 9/11.
About a half-dozen musicians from Jeannette and about 35 members of the Somerset band will perform in Philadelphia. The bands have performed together before, and some musicians are members of both groups, Breen said.
“Flight of Valor” is based on the Horatio Gates Spafford hymn, “It is Well with My Soul,” which was written in 1876 when Spafford’s four daughters died in a shipwreck.
“Its basic message is that if you have faith, you can get through anything,” Breen said.
Swearingen’s piece starts with a military march, as the passengers become citizen soldiers, Orange said.
The music grows chaotic and tense to represent the hijackers as they make their intentions known. A quiet interlude symbolizes a hushed flurry of phone calls by crew and passengers to loved ones, Breen said.
Some learned of the other hijackings and said their goodbyes. Others left farewell messages on answering machines.
The music becomes loud and raucous as the passengers resolve to fight the terrorists.
“Suddenly there is a silence. In music, that is called a grand pause,” Orange explained. “That symbolizes that the plane is down.”
The music resumes, hymnlike, followed by a majestic swelling conveying triumph over terrorism, Breen said.
“Every time we have performed it, there has been a standing ovation,” he said.
The USS Somerset is one of three amphibious transport dock ships, including the USS New York and the USS Arlington, named for places targeted by the 9/11 terrorists.
Thousands of visitors, officials and crew members will participate in the centuries-old Navy tradition of a ship being “brought to life” at Penn’s Landing. Family members of the Flight 93 passengers and residents of Somerset and nearby counties plan to attend.
Some band members have come to know Flight 93 passengers’ family members through volunteer work as ambassadors at the Flight 93 National Memorial, Breen said.
“It’s still emotional to play the piece,” said Orange, who is looking forward to the performance and the commissioning. “Since I’ve been involved from the beginning, I felt as though I really wanted to do this.”
To hear “Flight of Valor,” visit the Somerset County Community Band’s website. Click the “Notes” tab at the top of the page to hear the piece, which was commissioned by the Somerset County Community Band from Ohio composer James Swearingen to honor the 40 passengers and crew members on United Flight 93.