Song of Service 

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Unless you’re an ardent follower of the local composers’ scene, you’ve probably never heard of tunesmith Crawford Gates. But, depending on your charitable tendencies, you might have heard of Brother Joseph Dutton. It’s in the bright corner of charity and melody that the two meet.

A veteran who fought on the side of the Union during the Civil War, Dutton returned home to Wisconsin, where he looked forward to living a typical 19th century American life. He married, then descended into a life of drink and gambling debts after his wife left him. Tired of life’s edge, he converted to the Roman Catholic faith at the age of 40, studied religious literature, and spent little over one year in a monastery. A life of pious solitude didn’t seem compensation enough for his decadent years, however, so Dutton resolved to serve others.

Father Damien’s Molokai leper colony amid the islands of Hawaii presented the perfect opportunity. Dutton packed his meager belongings for Molokai, where he joined Father Damien in service to the poor, eventually assuming full operation of the colony after his mentor’s death. From the day he arrived right up until his death on the island, Dutton tended to Molokai’s diseased residents a full 44 years.

Such service didn’t go without notice back then. Before his death, Dutton got a congratulatory letter from President Theodore Roosevelt, plus a salute from a U.S. Navy liner on route to Japan. And Dutton’s service doesn’t go without notice now.

Crawford, a Salt Lake City composer who grew up near Dutton’s hometown of Beloit, Wis., attended the town’s Brother Dutton School. Before moving out west, he also conducted two local symphonies—one in northern Illinois, the other in southern Wisconsin. Crawford also authored 832 compositions. In the eyes of the Brother Dutton Celebratory Committee, he was the perfect candidate to compose a piece in homage of Dutton—never mind that Crawford is, in fact, LDS. The fact that Dutton was Roman Catholic never bothered Crawford. Growing up in Beloit, Dutton’s name and memory were everywhere.

“When they first approached me I told them, ‘Why don’t you get a Catholic to write the piece?’ They just said, ‘We want you.’ I couldn’t turn it down. I was happy to do it,” Crawford remembers. “Dutton’s such a commendable guy. He dug latrines for the people on that island and served them all his life. That kind of service is almost unheard of in our time—a man with no money dedicating his life to helping people.”

Using Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait as a loose model, Crawford produced the 15 minute orchestral tone poem, Brother Dutton-Servant of God. Copland’s piece is famous for its use of Henry Fonda’s golden Nebraska accent during the narration. Crawford’s ode to Brother Dutton is more varied. It begins with orchestral music, employs a narrator’s voice outlining the events of Dutton’s life, then ends with a soprano voice unfolding the piece’s main musical theme.

Crawford’s work got its rightful premiere in southern Wisconsin. Now it’s coming to Salt Lake City and Orem, with Crawford conducting the Utah Valley State College Symphony Orchestra, narrator Walter Rudolph and mezzo-soprano Doris Brunati as part of a fundraiser for a Hispanic education and cultural center at Provo’s St. Francis Church.

Crawford makes no apologies for his compositional style. “I’m basically a romantic composer. I know I have a lot of colleagues who feel that’s a bit old-fashioned. They like atonal harmonies and spikey melodies,” he said.

Long-time Salt Lake Valley residents might best remember Crawford as the author of “Promised Valley,” the theme of Utah’s centennial celebrations in 1947. That number got ample play for 18 years. Now Crawford would like audiences to think of him as an artist who paid due homage to one man’s tireless charity.

“Music is indeed a force that tends to bring people together in a form of unity they have otherwise have,” he said. “If he [Dutton] were alive today, I’m sure he would be helping people with AIDS.”

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