GORHAM — Upon hearing “Our Cast Aways,” a musical ode to rescue pets by a renowned Mississippi composer, Jacqueline Townsend knew it was a piece she wanted the University of Southern Maine Concert Band to perform.

“She wrote this piece to pay homage to rescued animals, the humans who rescue them, and those that still need rescue,” Townsend said of composer Julie Giroux.  

Townsend, assistant professor of music and director of bands at USM, has put together “Applause for Paws,” a concert that includes “Our Cast Aways” and other work influenced by animals. Donations at the event, at 2 p.m. March 31, at the McCormack Center for Performing Arts at Gorham High School, will be accepted for the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. 

“The piece is in and of itself a stunning work,” Townsend said, “but what struck me was the sheer number of photos of rescued animals Julie included in the conductor’s score for ‘Our Cast Aways.'”

People from all over Facebook shared photos of their own rescue pets with Giroux, who included hundreds of them in the cover pages of her score, Townsend said.

“It just goes to show how much good is being done out there, and I thought it would be fantastic for us to bring light to this movement through music,” she said.

The Animal Refuge League is honored to be part of the concert, said Jeana Roth, director of community engagement.

“Events like this are always a great opportunity to work with a community partner, like USM, to talk about what our organization does for pets and what we provide as resources to our community,” Roth said.

ARLGP will have an information table at the concert and a volunteer to “chat with  with attendees about how they can get involved and help us save lives,” Roth said.

During “Our Cast Aways,” photos of  local rescue pets will be shown on a screen behind the performers, and organizers are looking for more submissions. Members of the community can upload pictures of their rescue animals through a link on the event’s website between now and March 24 at noon. 

Giroux said “Our Cast Aways,” which she hopes “brings joy to all those like myself who have been rescued by a rescued, disposable, cast away soul,” was inspired by her 13-year-old rescue dog, Chauncey.

“He changed my life,” she said. “If it weren’t for a rescue group in Arkansas who also gets gets (older animals) off death row, Chauncey would be dead.”

Giroux has been a professional composer since 1984, with more than 100 television, movie and video game credit to her name. She has worked with dozens of film composers, producers, and celebrities and projects she has worked on have been nominated for Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and Golden Globe awards. In 1991, she won an Emmy for outstanding individual achievement in music direction.

Townsend said she realized that instead of just featuring Giroux’s piece, “we could build an entire concert based on the influence of animals and nature.”

The concert will also feature Felix Mendelssohn’s “Nocturo for Winds,” which will be conducted by USM student Justin Reyes; David Maslanka’s “Mother Earth”; Charles Ive’s “Circus Band”; George Gershwin’s “Walk the Dog,” which will feature a clarinet solo by USM School of Music Professor Tom Parchman; and Rob Spittal’s “Scherzo: Cat and Mouse.”

The concert will also feature Charles Ive’s “Circus Band,” which will be conducted by USM student Liz Park, and Alex Shapiro’s “Beneath,” a piece accompanied by a real whale song.

Townsend said “Mother Earth” and “Beneath” represent their composers’ connection with nature. She said Ives’ wrote Circus Band after seeing animals perform at a circus that came to his town in the late 19th century. The titles of the works by Gershwin and Spittal play off the animal theme.

To purchase tickets to Applause for Paws, visit www.usm.maine.edu/music/boxoffice, or call 780-5555.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or [email protected] or on Twitter @mkelleynews

The University of Southern Maine Concert Band will perform “Applause for Paws,” a concert inspired by animals and the natural world, Sunday, March 31, at 2 p.m. at the McCormack Performing Arts Center in Gorham.

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