Tribute to soldiers and veterans set for June 28

Published 11:03 am Wednesday, June 20, 2012

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT G. Mark LaFrancis, left, smiles with Sylvia Johns Ritchie as they do a run through reading of LaFrancis’ poems and listen of the music Ritchie composed June 12 at Easterling Music. LaFrancis and Ritchie will be showcasing their original poems and music at Co-Lin at the “A Tribute to Soldiers and Veterans in Piano and Poetry” event on June 28. (Photo by Lauren Wood The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — The Miss-Lou offers an Independence Day event next week that pays homage through the ears to the biggest patriots of all — soldiers and their loved ones.

Natchez resident, poet and veteran Mark LaFrancis and Concordia Parish resident and musician Sylvia Johns Ritchie will present a portrait of the daily lives of soldiers and their families at 7 p.m. June 28 in a “A Tribute to Soldiers and Veterans in Poetry and Music.”

LaFrancis, who is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, has written three books of poetry titled “In their boots,” based on six and a half years of interviews with hundreds of soldiers and their loved ones.

LaFrancis reads from his computer one of the poems he wrote for the upcoming tribute. (Photo by Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

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His poems focus on the people wearing the army boots and the families on the other end of the phone or e-mail message — not the acts of war.

“(The poems are) giving a voice to the voiceless, giving the soldiers and loved ones in America a voice,” LaFrancis said.

LaFrancis has performed readings and given multimedia presentations on what he calls his poem stories, but June 28 at the Copiah-Lincoln Community College W. L. Nelson Multi-Purpose Room, the poems will be set to original music.

LaFrancis said it has always been a dream of his to perform his poems to music.

When LaFrancis asked Ritchie, the Concordia Parish gifted-talented program instructor, to participate, she jumped on board.

“I’ve always wanted to put music behind production of some kind … I thought it would be a fun experience,” Ritchie said.

It’s the upbeat poems for which Ritchie enjoyed writing original scores the most. One of her favorite poems is about cookies, crumbles of cookies, Ritchie said.

Lots of loved ones send care packages of food to soldiers, but there’s no guarantee about the condition the desserts will be in once the packages reach Afghanistan, Iraq or other far-off locations.

“All of his poems about soldiers, faith and family — they’re all so moving, and it shows you the sacrifices they make,” Ritchie said.

LaFrancis said Ritchie’s music adds another dimension to the message.

“People will be able to feel the music and experience the poem stories,” he said.

LaFrancis said some poems are dramatic, some are funny and others are simple and touching.

“The audience will get the entire breadth of experience soldiers and loved ones have,” LaFrancis said.

The poems aren’t about gunfights or combat but the warrior overseas and the sacrifices at home, he said.

“This will give the audience a window in to the heart and soul of soldiers and loved ones.”

Ritchie holds a set list of the order of the poems that will be read at the June 28 event. (Photo by Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

LaFrancis said Ritchie’s score, which gives each poem its own musical treatment, will debut for the first time at the event. Other than himself, he has lined up other local names to read the poems, including Judy Daniels Wiggins and Natchez Little Theatre regulars Darryl Grennell and Beverly Adams.

Donations and proceeds from the event will benefit the Natchez Festival of Music.

Ritchie said her exposure to LaFrancis’ poems has helped her understand the other side of war and the families affected by it, which makes it a fitting tribute in time for the Fourth of July.

Not everyone knows someone overseas, Ritchie said, but soldiers and their families are making those sacrifices for every American.

“I think it really touches all of us,” Ritchie said.