Roanoke Symphony Orchestra premieres state song on capitol steps

David Stewart Wiley conducts the orchestra on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol.

David Stewart Wiley conducts the orchestra on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol.

By Mike Allen 981-3236 (The Roanoke Times)

The Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and Chorus have a momentous responsibility on their tuxedo- and evening gown-clad shoulders.

They’ll be debuting Virginia’s newly adopted state song, “Our Great Virginia,” on the Capitol steps in Richmond on Memorial Day.

Mind you, this isn’t the first-ever public performance of the song. Nor is it even the only new state song — Virginia has also adopted a popular state song, “Sweet Virginia Breeze,” that has an adult contemporary rock feel.

However, “Sweet Virginia Breeze” likely doesn’t quite match the mood of the final state-organized event commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. That’s where RSO comes in — they’re the first musical group to play “Our Great Virginia” for a state occasion since the song gained official status.

“We’re honored to be the first chorus and orchestra to present it,” said artistic director and conductor David Stewart Wiley.

“It’s pretty exciting to play the front steps of the Capitol,” said RSO executive director David Crane. Playing the commemoration finale is “a big win for the RSO.”

The Sesquicentennial Finale Concert takes place 6:30 p.m. May 25. RSO will perform the entire concert in a program that includes “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Go Down, Moses” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

The event concludes the state’s commemoration of the Civil War sesquicentennial that began in 2009.

Virginia Tech professor emeritus James “Bud” Robertson will be the narrator for the concert. He’ll put the songs in context, showing how they reflected the times that made them.

“It should be a really wonderful collaboration.” Wiley said.

Robertson’s a fitting choice not just because of his prominence as a Civil War historian, but because he lead the successful charge to install “Our Great Virginia” in the post left vacant in 1997 when the General Assembly banished the racially problematic “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny.”

In addition to these honors, RSO recently won kudos for its education programming.

The orchestra and Roanoke City Public Schools were selected as joint participants in the Symposium on Music in Schools at Yale University, which takes place the first weekend of June. Wiley will co-present with Roanoke superintendent Rita Bishop and arts coordinator Cari Gates.

Participants are invited to be presenters if they have demonstrated excellence in teaching music in public schools.

Though the Sesquicentennial Finale Concert is free, pre-registration is required. For more information, visit