strength in all things

“They found the plane!”

In December 2013, a small plane carrying Amber Smith, a young woman I’d known in high school band, and several members of her family went down somewhere in the treacherous, icy terrain of a part of Idaho so untouched by man I’d hesitate to even call it rural. Amber’s father Dale was flying her, her fiance Jonathan Norton, her brother Daniel, and her sister-in-law Sheree from a Thanksgiving celebration to Idaho, where Daniel and Sheree lived and Amber and Jonathan attended BYU-Idaho. Dale, an experienced pilot, reported engine problems, but despite being directed to an airstrip, the Smiths never arrived. Though Amber and I had never been incredibly close, she was someone I enjoyed keeping up with via the internet as we pursued careers in separate states, and after the plane disappeared, I found myself among the band kids and family friends supporting the search effort however we could.

On January 10th, 2014, the day before Amber and Jonathan were supposed to be married, a team of searchers found the plane after weeks of fruitless efforts. I remember seeing the post that went out the next day and being awed by how Amber’s mother, Janis, was able to rejoice that her five family members had been found even as she began planning their memorial service. Though I’d never planned to fly back to California for any two-day weekends, I made my one and only exception to attend the funeral for Dale, Daniel, Sheree, Jonathan, and Amber. The music director allowed me to sing in the choir despite missing every rehearsal; the memorial was easily the most powerful one I’ve ever experienced. The sight of five caskets, evenly spread in front of the altar with little room to spare, is not one I will soon forget.

During the service, Melissa Reyes, a friend and fellow trumpet player, recalled an award she had given to Amber at the end of a marching band season. Melissa had called it the Strength In All Things award, referencing Amber’s physical ability, her emotional and mental fortitude, and the power of her faith. Though it has taken me three years to reach the right point in my creativity to compose this piece, I’ve had the title since that sunny February day. I can only hope it touches hearts as permanently as Amber and her family have touched mine.

Run time: approx. 6’05”
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Listen to an excerpt of strength in all things, as performed by the Arizona State University Wind Ensemble, here: