Brass Band of Huntsville (BBoH), a rising “Musical Star of Alabama”
Commissions “The Von Braun Suite”
The Brass Band of Huntsville commissioned internationally-acclaimed, retired President’s Own Marine Band staff composer/arranger, Stephen Bulla, to compose “The Von Braun Suite” to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Man’s lunar landing during the Apollo 11 mission and to honor the vital role that Huntsville and the Marshall Space Flight Center played in that historic journey.
Stephen Bulla travelled to Huntsville in March 2018 to conduct research in support of developing this composition. Inspiration came from viewing Huntsville and the Tennessee Valley from Monte Sano, visiting the house where Dr. Wernher von Braun and his family lived while in Huntsville, receiving a VIP tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center with one of BBoH’s own trombone players and real rocket scientist and historian, Mark Fisher.
Stephen Bulla then visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, where he got up close and personal with the Saturn V rocket and the systems designed to land man on the moon during Apollo 11. However, one of the most serendipitous moments for his inspiration was when he got to meet two of Dr. von Braun’s children, Margrit and Peter von Braun, who happened to be there attending a birthday celebration for Dr. von Braun.
Stephen Bulla returned to Huntsville in September 2018 to conduct the initial rehearsal of “The Von Braun Suite” with the Brass Band of Huntsville. The composition consists of four major movements, each depicting major events in Dr. von Braun’s life that lead to man’s lunar landing during the Apollo 11 mission. Following is a description of the narrative for each movement.
- Movement 1: “Operation Paper Clip” – This movement represents Dr. Wernher von Braun’s original rocket team brought from Germany to the United States under Operation Paper Clip near the end of WWII. Von Braun’s journey to escape Nazi atrocities, lead to a new home in West Texas at the White Sands Proving Grounds. This kept Von Braun’s dream alive to pursue his vision of building rockets for space flight and exploration.
- Movement 2: “The Rocket City” – This movement represents a tribute to Huntsville, as the Von Braun team is moved from Fort Bliss to Alabama as part of the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Redstone Arsenal. Dr. Von Braun immediately fell in love with the Tennessee Valley as it reminded him of the landscape from his original home. His team flourished and continued to advance the state of the art in rocketry and lead the nation in the development of engineering marvels for space flight technology. This culminates in the first US satellite, Explorer I, being launched on a modified Redstone rocket, which was designed and built at Redstone Arsenal. Coming on the heels of Sputnik, this was the opening salvo in the “Space Race” with the Soviet Union.
- Movement 3: “Saturn V” – This movement represents Von Braun and his team transitioning to NASA in 1960. He became the first Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center and was charged with developing the new rockets that would enable the U.S. to begin exploring space. Von Braun would lead the development of the Saturn V, the rocket which could carry the U.S. to the moon. The Saturn V would be the largest rocket ever built and was the culmination of Von Braun’s dream of building spaceships. He was now in the right place at the right time with the right stuff to pursue his dream of space flight and his vision for space exploration.
- Movement 4: “One Small Step” – This movement represents the triumph of Von Braun and our national quest to go to the moon. After several test flights, the team supports the launch of Apollo 11 with the Saturn V rocket on July 16, 1969. The launch of the Marshall-developed Saturn V was flawless and allowed for the successful landing of the lunar module, Eagle, in the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969 with the immortal words of “Houston, Tranquility Base. The Eagle has landed”. This was followed with Commander Neil Armstrong’s immortal words of “That’s one small step for a man. One giant leap for mankind” as he descended onto the surface of the moon. The safe return of the Apollo 11 mission crew occurred eight years after President John Kennedy (1917-63) announced a national goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. All of this from the vision and dream of Dr. Wernher von Braun.
World Premiere Performance – July 16, 2019
The Brass Band of Huntsville performed the world premiere of “The Von Braun Suite”, along with commissioned arrangements celebrating Alabama’s Bicentennial, as featured entertainment during the Apollo 11 Homecoming Celebration Dinner & Program held beneath the Saturn V rocket in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center on July 16, 2019. Retired NASA engineer and best-selling author Homer Hickam performed the narration scripted at the beginning of each movement.
Sponsorships and Support
“The Von Braun Suite” commission was made possible through the generosity of principal sponsor Radiance Technologies, Inc., and support in part by the Huntsville Arts & Cultural Grant Fund, a program of the City of Huntsville and Arts Huntsville and the Huntsville Chamber Music Guild in memory of former Board Member Dr. Charles Lundquist. The July 16th world premiere performance was sponsored in part by Torch Technologies.