On Veterans Day, the Houston Grand Opera (HGO) presented the final concert of its expansive concert series “Veterans Songbook.” The project, which began in 2014 and is performed by HGO’s community outreach division HGOco, is dedicated to giving voice to the stories of Houston-based veterans and their families. The final concert took place at Christ Church Cathedral and featured several works by University of Houston Moores School of Music (MSM) alumni and students, including “Overboard,” a special work by by Mark Buller (D.M.A. ’15).
In 2014, HGOco commissioned Buller to compose a set of songs inspired by true-life stories of U.S. veterans to kick off "Veterans Songbook." This year, HGOco returned to Buller, asking him to compose a capstone to the Songbook, as the project neared its end. The final work, created for a capella chorus, was written to a text by the author Leah Lax, the librettist of “The Refuge” who worked with composer and UH alumnus Christopher Theofanidis.
“Overboard” premiered at the Houston Maritime Museum in March of this year as part of an exhibit marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Sunda Strait, a notable battle in the Pacific in World War II. The work tells the story of the men aboard those ships, which were caught unawares by the Japanese fleet. Many of the soldiers were captured and forced to march hundreds of miles to prison camps; the moving text by Lax details their struggle and memorializes their sacrifice. A recording of HGOco's choral ensemble is currently being played at the exhibit, which is now on display at the Sydney Maritime Museum in Australia.
Buller, a successful composer based in Houston, credits MSM composition faculty members Marcus Maroney and Rob for providing him the foundation for his career. “I'm so thankful for my time at Moores,” he says, adding that he often looks for ways to give back and further promote the school. In addition to recent performances by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and HGO, he is currently working on a commission from River Oaks Chamber Orchestra that features MSM Associate Professor of Voice Timothy Jones.
“Veterans Songbook” also featured the works of Jonathan Booker (M.M. '15), Henry Darragh (D.M.A. '15), George Heathco (M.M. '11) and Madelyn Styskal (B.A. '18).