John Wesley Gibson
Spirit of Ellis Island
This epic 4-movement suite was written for the United States Air Force Band of Liberty and is featured on their 2009 CD recording "The Spirit of Ellis Island." (Cover art by Mort Kunstler)
View Score Sample Grade 6 11x17 Score
1. Dreams of a New World
Of all the reasons people of the old world dreamed of a new life in the young United States, the two most prominent were escape and opportunity: escape from tyranny, famine, poverty and repression; and the opportunity to make a new, better life. In another time, when the world was big and the oceans were great barriers, the mythology of this new world was passed mostly by word of mouth and grew with each passing day. Some yearned to leave their old world behind for the new, and others were reluctant, but resigned to journey across the sea to create a new beginning for themselves and their families.
2. Journey to the Land of Promise
At the time, there was no other way to travel. The journey to the Land of Promise was an ocean voyage on one of the great ocean steamers or smaller merchant ships of the time. For those who could only afford $30 for a steerage ticket, the destination was Ellis Island. For others, the first- and second-class passengers, the destination was the Port of New York and embarkation directly into the city. Many families chose to send one of their own ahead, a father or an older child, to stake a claim in the new nation, to work and to make enough money to send for the rest. Sometimes, they were never heard from again. But, most often they sent for their loved ones, and the majority of those passing through Ellis Island in the Twentieth Century were joining relatives already in the United States.
3. Prayers by the Light of Liberty’s Torch
Of all the mythology of the new world, one of the most prominent images was that of Lady Liberty lifting up her torch, welcoming all to her land of equality and opportunity. For many immigrants, she was the sign for which they searched the horizon, the symbol of the end of their journey from an old life to a new life. As she emerged out of the mist and into sight, some knelt and whispered prayers, some shouted and danced, and some thanked their God for safe delivery. But all were awed and touched by the sight of the great lady - the myth becoming real.
4. The Golden Door
Immigrants passing through the Golden Door found not only freedom and opportunity, but also challenges. At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the great ethnic and cultural cauldron that New York City had become and that our nation would become, boiled and bubbled, blending together more and more diverse people, searching for the opportunity to make their way. Many built upon their old world skills and created new prospects for other immigrants. Many ventured into the west where a strong back and determination provided these new Americans with escape from the sweatshops or menial labors of city life and the chance to shape our growing country. Many entered the Land of Promise through the Golden Door and succeeded; some entered only to endure new struggles; but few returned to the life they had left behind. And, as our nation began to grow as no other had grown, sown with seeds from lands around the world, the United States became the nation of immigrants it is today.