EDITOR’S NOTE: Ron Shafer has, in the past, been a leader in the Grace Brethren Church of West Kittanning, Pennsylvania (Mark Cornwell, pastor).
PITTSBURGH — An Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor and North Buffalo resident will take on a new role this week as he portrays his most admired historical figure, President Abraham Lincoln.
Ronald Shafer, of the English Department at IUP, will assume the role of Lincoln in a production of “Lincoln and Lee: Music of the Civil War,” to be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh’s Oakland section.
The special music production, under the direction of New Bethlehem native Roger Tabler, a Pittsburgh-based music director and conductor, will be presented by the Pittsburgh Youth Pops Orchestra, an ensemble of 75 musicians ages 12 to 19, representing 30 school districts in Western Pennsylvania.
Shafer, who is in his 37th year at IUP, said Lincoln is one of his most admired historical figures.
“I was honored to be asked to assume this role,” Shafer said. “I admire Lincoln not only because he was one of the greatest leaders the nation has ever seen but he is also thought to be the best writer of any of the presidents. He actually wrote the Gettysburg Address, as he did practically all of his speeches. He was a brilliant orator and an accomplished wordsmith. Personally, I am impressed by Lincoln’s humanity as well as his intelligence.”
Shafer gave full credit for the production to Tabler, who he said was at one time one of his students at IUP.
“Roger is recognized as one of Pittsburgh’s top 100 most successful new leaders,” he said. “He is the one behind this whole Lincoln and Lee production. Roger’s script gets into Lincoln’s head and soul.”
Tabler said all the original words spoken by Lincoln and Lee, relating to their thoughts on the war, their similar pressures of dividing and uniting a country, their ideas about warfare and religion, and their similar views on the role of music in times of turmoil are included in his script.
Tabler shares Shafer’s fascination with the Civil War era.
“I have always loved the history of the Civil War era. I chose to have the narrator to be from Martinsburg, W.Va., because that is where my grandfather was born, and I spent time there every year while growing up. I grew to really like the area and the history that it represents to the nation, and the place that it holds in my heart.”
Tabler said West Virginia was split over the issue of slavery and the right to secede from the Union. He said the town of Martinsburg changed hands under North or South control nearly two dozen times during the course of the war, and with the presence of the B&O Railroad, it was a significant area to control.
Tickets for the event can be obtained at the door on the evening of the concert for $10. Shaffer said there will be a will-call table and anyone who mentions his name can be admitted for free, while supplies last. For additional information, readers may contact Lynne Cochran, Pittsburgh Youth Pops Orchestra executive director, at 412-403-0002.