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ClassicsOnline Home » HEARSHEN, I.: Strike up the Band / Symphony on Themes by John Philip Sousa (United States Air Force Heritage of America Band, L. Graham)
Ira Hearshen is one of America’s most popular and successful orchestrators and arrangers. He has written for many Hollywood films, such as Toy Story and The Scorpion King. He has also written for the concert stage, especially wind band, notably his Pulitzer Prize-nominated Symphony on Themes of John Philip Sousa, which is adventurously constructed, richly melodic and colorfully scored. His unique takes on Strike Up The Band and There’s No Business Like Show Business provide moments of rich humor whilst the Divertimento for Band mines the American jazz vernacular with true rhythmic verve.
Ira Hearshen (b 1948)
Music for Wind Band
My first contact with Mr Hearshen was as a result of a meeting with film composer Lee Holdridge with whom he worked as an orchestrator. My interest in having Mr Hearshen write for band was a result of exploring established, consummate composers who did not have a pre-disposed bias as to the sound of a band and wanted to compose for it. I wanted Ira to compose based on his musical ideas and skills in orchestration without qualification. The result is music that is linear, highly colorful, complex, but accessible. He truly is a major talent. Enjoy this musical journey into the musical world of Ira Hearshen as performed by the organizations that premiered those works.
Ira Hearshen’s first arrangements were for the WSU Marching Band of Along Comes Mary, a pop song of the time, and concert band transcriptions of the entire Rodeo ballet suite by Copland and the second (scherzo) movement of the Shostakovich Tenth Symphony. He also became interested in jazz and pop arranging in college, having played proms with his high school dance band.
At this time Hearshen started gigging around the Detroit area, playing and arranging for bands who were doing Motown, and covers for such groups as Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Chicago. During such a gig at the ‘20 Grand’, Ira had to ‘fill in’ or ‘invent’ horn parts for visiting acts such as the Dramatics, the O’Jays, or the Temptations when they did their shows, because most of the horn parts to the arrangements they carried were missing and the idea was to ‘cover’ the record. This generally took place at a one to two-hour rehearsal about an hour before the show was to begin and was a great opportunity to learn to ‘think fast’ which became a valuable commodity much later.
Hearshen moved to Los Angeles in 1972 and started playing trumpet on casuals and the Latino club scene. He started studying commercial and film music at the Grove School with teachers such as Kim Richmond, Allyn Ferguson, Dick Grove, and Albert Harris. It was through studying orchestration privately with Harris that Hearshen got his first opportunity for TV/film work. In 1983 Harris recommended Ira to composer Joe Harnell who needed orchestration help on two concurrent series he had going; Cliffhangers and The Incredible Hulk. It was this experience that began Hearshen’s career as a film music arranger/orchestrator.
He has steadily worked since as an arranger/orchestrator in motion pictures, TV, and recordings, for such composers as Randy Newman, Lalo Schifrin, John Debney, Stanley Clarke, Lee Holdridge and others. His most recent credits include all of the rhythm section arrangements of orchestral film cues in the upcoming release Undercover Brother, many cues including the final action sequence in The Scorpion King, and the complete orchestral scores for both Rush Hour and Rush Hour 2, as well as orchestrations on A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2, which included the Sinatra-style arrangement of the movie’s theme You’ve Got a Friend in Me by Randy Newman, sung by Robert Goulet. He was also co-orchestrator on Monsters Inc. and was the arranger for both the rhythm section and the orchestra on If I Didn’t Have You, which won Randy Newman the Oscar for best song at the 2001 Motion Picture Academy Awards. Most recently, he has arranged the strings for composer/ bassist Stanley Clarke’s forthcoming album.
Hearshen’s works for the concert stage include the original compositions Symphony on Themes of John Philip Sousa, a 45-minute four-movement Symphony nominated for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize in music, Divertimento for Band, a Patriotic Overture and Fantasia on the Army Blue commissioned by the US Army Field Band to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the West Point Military Academy.
It is Hearshen’s sincere belief that not only is the art of music arranging not ‘dead’ as some would have us believe, but is more alive than ever, as it is changing with the times in the new world of electronics, world music, computers, the internet and multimedia entertainment.
Lowell E. Graham
Strike Up The Band (1927/1987)
I first met Lowell Graham in June 1986. Major Graham was in Southern California on business and, while in the LA area, wanted to connect with composers who made their living in Hollywood writing music for the entertainment industry on a full-time basis. His reasoning was that he wanted to find composers who would approach Symphonic Band/Wind Ensemble writing in a freer, more open-minded way. He later told me that much of the available contemporary literature for band was academic, formalistic, and predictable, and he was looking for something different. To that end, he had connected with film and TV composer Lee Holdridge who, though interested in such a project, had schedule conflicts which would have precluded him from commencing work on a piece for the foreseeable future.
It was at that time that Lee recommended me to Major Graham. For the previous three years I had been Lee’s orchestrator-arranger-music consultant on his TV and film projects. He felt that with my eclectic background including my experience with wind writing and wind literature, I’d be the man for the job
Very early on at that first meeting, Lowell and I came to a mutual understanding and agreement about what it was that we were going to accomplish. We both agreed on the idea that there was no reason that ‘bands’ and ‘band music’ had to be perceived as the poor stepsister of the orchestral repertoire, even though most of the intellectual arts community in America had persistently viewed them that way. In short, my ‘mission’ then would be to attempt to elevate ‘band music’ to a more intellectually stimulating level by the use of my craft. This was obviously a long-term project, which would go nowhere if I didn’t produce something the very first time that would excite an audience.
Both Lowell and I were aware of this, so it was decided to start by arranging something listeners would be familiar with, but to do it in a more unusual way though still easily recognizable. The solution was to do an original ‘take’ on a well-known favorite. Having made my living as a studio arranger/composer helps in situations like these because anyone who does this kind of work must be constantly aware of audience response. With that in mind, we decided on the Gershwin tune Strike Up The Band, as it not only lends itself to a lot of musical inventiveness, it connects the audience to the ‘band’ experience in a theatrical way as well.
The only guidelines Lowell gave me for the arrangement were that it be both entertaining for the audience and a ‘fun’ piece for his band to play, with a performance time of approximately four minutes.
To me, being ‘fun to play’ is synonymous with being musically interesting architecturally, meaning that all the instrumental parts in a score are of equal importance. The great musical works are well constructed top-to-bottom as well as inside out. In order for the real power and musical magic of a work to occur, all the melodic, harmonic, accompaniment, contrapuntal, and rhythmic elements must be well-designed and well-purposed. In my way of writing, the fourth trumpet part is just as important as the lead trumpet part in any given situation. In fact there may be times where that fourth trumpet harmony part is even more important than the lead.
This has been my thinking for my entire career and is evident in my entire output of commercial and concert work. I believe that this philosophic approach to my work for symphonic band has, in fact, fulfilled the ‘mission’ of presenting music for the band repertoire that can stand right alongside the orchestral library.
In addition to being ‘fun’ to play, this arrangement was to be entertaining (‘fun’) for the audience. Other than the instrumentation and an approximate performance time, I was given no other specific direction. What ‘fun’ says to me is whatever musical funny business I think I can pull off, not have to rewrite, and still get paid along with the hope of future gainful employment. (Thirty years in the TV/film scoring business helps in this area too).
Just as in other forms of comedy, the biggest musical ‘jokes’ are those that catch the listener off guard. It may come as a musical ‘surprise’ woven into the fabric of a melodic arrangement and/or it may be some reference totally unrelated to the original material. The more out of context the reference or ‘surprise’ is, the funnier it sounds alongside the main theme.
This is the essence of how I constructed Strike Up The Band. The intro consists of two familiar ‘band’ mottos, the first being the initial bar from Sousa’s Stars and Stripes and the second being a stock ‘Circus/March’ intro everyone has been familiar with since childhood. This is followed by a marching drum cadence that sets up Strike Up The Band. Interspersed with that melody are quotes from Fascinatin’ Rhythm, National Emblem, and A Foggy Day.
The second chorus has similar thoughts, though now in 6/8, which allows for a brief homage to the Air Force by quoting Wild Blue Yonder, while the third chorus utilizes elements of a melodic hybrid containing one part St Louie Woman and one part St Louis Blues. If I were ever asked, ‘Why those particular songs?’, the only answer I could come up with would be, ‘It seemed funny at the time’.
The whole chart comes to a crashing climax with a direct lift from Rhapsody in Blue, only to be trumped by the tuba and the piccolo quoting a cell from ‘Strike Up…’ one last time.
Is ev’rybody HAPPY? I hope so.
Symphony on Themes of John Philip Sousa (1994–97)
Symphony on Themes of John Philip Sousa is dedicated to Lt Col Lowell E. Graham.
Stirred and fascinated by the music of John Philip Sousa since childhood, I still get a chill upon hearing the piccolo obbligato in the trio of The Stars and Stripes Forever. While the thought of transforming popular march music into a legitimate piece for concert stage had a lot of intellectual appeal, I figured that any attempt I made to pay homage to Sousa would be misunderstood. But artistic challenge won out and I started working on what was to become the second movement of the symphony in the winter of 1990–91.
I began this piece by taking the ‘trio’ theme of the march The Thunderer, slowing it down to a tempo of 48 beats per minute and casting it in the style of the finale of Mahler’s Third Symphony.
From the audience reaction to the first performance of (after) The Thunderer, I knew I was involved with something unusual in the realm of band music. The weight of the piece and its eight-minute time performance meant that the idea of a light concert suite of four to six movements as originally commissioned was out of the question. It was at this time I realized that I had the beginning of a full-scale symphony in both length and depth.
I began to envision this work as a classically constructed four-movement symphony. It would have a first movement written in sonata-allegro form, a slow movement, a scherzo, and a finale. Each of the four sections would be based on a different Sousa march and the outer movements must be at least twice as long as the internal two so that the work would have integrity of true symphonic form.
There are two problems that had to be solved: each movement had to be playable as a separate piece, and there needed to be some unifying melodic material that could bring four different Sousa marches together. I found the solution in Sousa’s scores. There was a four-note melodic fragment common to virtually every tune I wanted to use, the same four notes that begin the Dies irae portion of the Catholic Requiem Mass. The intervals are a minor second down, a minor second up, followed by a minor third down. In the key of C major or A minor, these notes would be C-B-C-A. This melodic motive occurs in the trios of both Hands Across the Sea and Washington Post as well as in the introduction to Fairest of the Fair. In fact, these are the first four notes one hears in The Stars and Stripes Forever.
I used this four-note Sousa ‘signature’ to introduce and end the symphony, in the construction of the scherzo, and to create the finale. The coda of the last movement became extended as a prologue to the entire symphony preceding the first movement. Thus, the symphony became a cyclical work unified in its construction, with each movement playable as a separate entity. Sousa’s melodies are all strong and of a wide variety of architectural styles. They range from complex (Hands Across the Sea), to simple (Washington Post), and are all stirring, intense, and above all, really fun to listen to. This is what makes Sousa’s music ‘classic’. I hope listeners have as much of an adventure listening to this as I did putting it together.
There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954/1988)
Show Business was the second arrangement I did for the USAF Heritage of America Band conducted by Major Lowell Graham. After the success of Strike Up The Band, we decided on a lighthearted humorous approach toward this tune as before.
Being long associated with a music writing career of ‘Hollywood Tinsel and Glitter’, the thought occurred to me that it would be a lot of fun to jam every ‘show business’ cliché (both Hollywood and classically) I could into a four-minute arrangement. There is no rhyme or reason to what I chose as material, other than the thought of what would get laughs from the audience as well as what I could fit together musically. That’s why the shark theme from Jaws works so well to introduce the piece. Everyone knows that famous two-note motive and the threat it conveys. By building up that musical drama very much like the score does in the movie, the thought of the height of that musical tension morphing into a light accompaniment figure for Show Business was hilarious to me mostly because of how incongruous it seemed.
From there, it came fairly easily. I just kept looking for whatever well-known musical motives I could think of and four minutes later, voilà!
I think this all works because of its absurdity. There is no reason whatsoever to connect Mendelssohn, the Dragnet theme, Magnificent Seven, Superman; The Movie, Mars from The Planets, and the Intro to Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with No Business Like Show Business other than the fact that hearing it all together is funny (at least to me, anyway).
It followed then that the only logical ‘show-biz’ ending for such an endeavor was obvious. That is; the 1812 Overture complete with cannon and carillon bells with one
last quote from Show Business to finish all. I guess it must’ve worked as we suspected it would, because throughout my entire career I’ve gotten more requests worldwide for copies of this particular score than anything else I’ve ever done.
Inspired by the American composer Vincent Persichetti’s Divertimento for Band, Opus 42, Ira Hearshen employs traditional American compositional and harmonic devices in his five-movement Divertimento for Band. This intensely American style is accented by the bebop harmony that pervades the Ragtime and Blues movements, as well as the swinging sounds of the third movement Mambo Loco—rhythmically similar to the Bernstein composition that loosely shares its name. Susan’s Song is named for and dedicated to Ira’s wife, and the final movement, the March of the Little People, features the universally recognized interval (minor third) used by children all over the world; the ‘Naa-Naa’ interval. Divertimento for Band was first performed by the United States Air Force Concert Band in April, 1999.
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HEARSHEN, I.: Strike up the Band / Symphony on The...