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Jack Lee pictured himself sitting on the deck of his former battleship and gazing out at sea as he listened Saturday night to the angelic voices of children. They sang of waves lapping against a ship at sunset accompanied by orchestral instruments.
Lee, a Navy veteran from Warminster, Pa., was one of hundreds who heard the ChildrenSong vocal group and the West Jersey Chamber Orchestra perform a new work inspired by the USS New Jersey, which has returned to the Delaware River to become a museum in Camden.
The premiere of "Twilight at Sea" received much praise from listeners inside Haddonfield United Methodist Church, who said it captured the solitude of a picturesque sunset as the sun's rays shine not only on the sea but on the ship' s hull. The song was dedicated to the ship, and woven into the music were woodwind strains of the Navy Hymn.
"It's beautiful at sea and I think some of the moments in the song captured that," said Lee, who served on the USS Iowa, a sister ship of the New Jersey.
ChildrenSong, a nonprofit choir of South Jersey children ages 7 to 15, hired composer-in-residence Dean Rishel, former artistic director of the Greater South Jersey Chorus, to write the music to the lyrics of a poem by choir member Emily Westfield, 10, of Haddon Heights. Her poem was chosen as the winner of a choir poetry competition inspired by the battleship's return to the region, where it was built at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
The lyrics describe the "ship's foamy wake" making "a path before the rising sun."
They conclude with:
As sure as the sun will set and the stars will shine on me,
There is no way I can forget twilight at sea.
The battleship sailed the seas during a nearly 50-year career between World War II and 1991. The ship is set to open as a museum on the Camden Waterfront sometime this fall.
At the concert, ChildrenSong donated $250 to the Home Port Alliance, also a nonprofit South Jersey group, for its ongoing efforts to refurbish the ship.
Retired Rear Adm. Thomas Seigenthaler, the alliance's s s executive director, said the music was "a great tribute" and made a pitch for volunteers to help with the ship project.
"It was beautiful. (Emily) captured it - the emotional aspect of viewing the sea from a ship," said retired Navy Capt. David McGuigan, former alliance president. His conversation with the choir last year inspired the winning poem.
The song was performed during a program in which the choir sang other nautical songs from around the world. The concert was funded by grants from the Camden County Cultural and Heritage Commission and Target stores.
"To me, `Twilight at Sea' was very moving. I thought he wrote a great piece of music to the words," said Dena Heitman of Medford, whose granddaughter, Elissa Nagy, also of Medford, is a choir member.
Heitman's son John said that as a former Navy sailor he especially enjoyed the song and was thinking of his fellow soldiers from the Vietnam era while he listened.
"Being on ships was an excellent experience," he said.
The song will be available on CD at a future date. Copies can be obtained by calling ChildrenSong at (856) 216-1140 or visiting www.childrensong.org.