FORT LORAMIE — When the chimes rang out at the Sunday, Sept. 9, dedication of the Sept. 11 Shanksville Memorial Tower of Voices in Pennsylvania, it was Houston High School graduate Sam Pellman’s groundbreaking advances in electroacoustic music that allowed the chimes’ pitch and resonance to give “voice” to the victims who died there, Sept. 11, 2001.
The Tower of Voices contains 40 wind chimes, one for each passenger and crew member who died. The largest such structure ever built, the precast concrete tower supports polished aluminum chimes varying in length from 5 feet to 10 feet with varying tonalities or voices.
The National Park Service, along with the Families of Flight 93, Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial, and the National Park Foundation, hosted a dedication ceremony remembering the victims of United Airlines Flight 93 and marking the 17th anniversary of the day four planes were hijacked. Three were used to kill thousands of people in New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The forth crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, when the passengers of the flight tried to take control of the plane.
When plans were begun to build the memorial, architect Paul Murdoch, of Los Angeles, wanted to create an acoustic pattern representing those who lost their lives.
According to Murdoch, “When we were in development phase, we realized that we needed a musical perspective to help us understand what a combination of notes we were trying to achieve.” He said Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93, whose brother, Ed, died in the crash, was acquainted with the Pellman family.
“Sam knew one of the families who lost a loved one on that flight,” said Pellman’s sister, Kay Borchers, of Fort Loramie, “so he jumped at the chance to be part of the project.”
Murdoch said Pellman had been following the progress of the project and was able to send a simulation of what he had in mind.
“He said he felt there should be a strong harmony since everyone on the plane worked together, but also contain some dissonance representing the violence,” Murdoch added.
During an interview, Sunday, on “CBS Sunday Morning,” Murdoch said of the monument’s sound, “They are not booming chimes. They are meant to be subtle and intimate so that people can be there and have a very personal experience.”
Pellman attended the groundbreaking that marked the beginning of construction of the 93-foot-tall monument. However, shortly after he had finalized plans for the chimes, Pellman was killed in a November 2017 bicycling accident near his hometown of Clinton, New York.
Pellman’s accomplishments in music began in his very early years. His mother, Carol Sue Pellman, of Sidney, said he was 7 when he started music lessons.
“Sam had said a little girl told him that her mom wanted to teach music lessons, and could he do that,” chuckled his mother. “I told him, just don’t waste my money.” Two months after beginning lessons, Mrs. Pellman said his original teacher told her she had nothing more to offer because he was a musical prodigy.
Borchers said she remembered how it wasn’t enough for him to just play the music. He would have to embellish and add to it. He was playing for church services when he was 11 and 12. After learning what he could through several area teachers in his high school years, Sam Pellman was admitted to the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music.
Said Mom, “Every other Saturday, we would take turns with another family to drive him down there, and the rest of the week he would practice what he learned.”
After graduating magna cum laude and as class valedictorian from Houston High School, Pellman went on to earn his Bachelor of Music from Miami University and his Master of Fine Arts and Doctor of Musical Arts from Cornell University. Thereafter, he moved on to teach at Hamilton College in Clinton.
Borchers recalled it was in college where her brother developed a deep interest in science, which eventually led him to blend this discipline with his musical talents. As a result of this blending, he was recognized as a groundbreaking scholar in the area of electroacoustic music.
Among his other accomplishments was the authoring of “An Introduction to the Creation of Electroacoustic Music,” a widely-adopted textbook published by Cengage. He had been recognized around the world for his electroacoustic music, presenting his work at many festivals and conferences.
At Hamilton College, Pellman taught music theory and composition and was co-director of the Studio for Transmedia Arts and Related Studies.
Following the Shanksville memorial’s dedication, Sunday, President Donald Trump spoke there at ceremonies, Tuesday, Sept. 11.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.