Cleveland Winds Program - March 10, 2024


The Cleveland Winds

Fantasia on Aura Lee - Ira Hearshen

Perpetua - Peter Meechan

DOPE! - Katahj Copley

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Aura Lee is a folksong with deep roots in American life. First becoming popular in the mid-nineteenth century, the song has been sung at the West Point Military Academy since before the Civil War. At this venerable academy, it became known as The Army Blue. The music is attributed ot George R. Poulton and appears ot have existed at least as early as 1846. The song is usually reserved for sentimental occasions such as the last dance at West Point events or "Front and Center" at Graduation Parade.

With new lyrics by Vera Matson and Elvis Presley, the song was used in the 1956 film Love Me Tender, Presley's first movie, which was immensely popular. The "new" title song was to obscure the origins and traditions of Aura Lee for years to come.

This spectacular treatment by Ira Hearshen gives the simple and beautiful melody an astounding transformation. Brilliant scoring, intense emotional content and fantastical thematic development lend the tune a personality few would expect to hear. It is joyous, celebratory and triumphant, trumpeting in glorious fashion the heritage of American folksong and the pride of the United States Army cadets. It remains fresh and listenable, while demonstrating the contemporary harmonic, rhythmic and timbral command of the arranger.

Ira Hearshen (born 30 November 1948) received his B.M. degree from Wayne State University. Studio and other professional work as a trumpet player led to an opportunity in 1983 to work with Hollywood composer Joe Harnell on his two series (running concurrently) Cliffhangers and The Incredible Hulk. Since then, he has worked steadily as an arranger/orchestrator for motion pictures, television and recording, including assignments with such composers as Randy Newman, Lalo Schifrin, Lee Holdrige and others. His many film credits include scoring sequences from The Scorpion King, A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2, which include the Sinatra-style arrangement of the movie's theme "You've Got A Friend In Me," written by Randy Newman and sung by Robert Goulet. Hearshen was also co-orchestrator for Monsters, Inc., including the Randy Newman song "If I Didn't Have You," for which Newman won the Oscar for best song in 2001. Hearshen's work for the concert stage include his Symphony on Themes of John Philip Sousa, a forty-five-minute, four-movement symphony nominated for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize in music, Divertimento for Band, a Patriotic Overture and the present Fantasia on Aura Lee (Army Blue) to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of the founding of the West Point Military Academy.

Hearshen believes that not only is the art of music arranging not dead as some would have us believe, but that it is in fact more alive than ever, as it is changing with the times in the new worlds of electronics, world music, computers, the internet and multi- media entertainment.

Perpetua was written in between two other works that deal with dark subject matters, Close to the Sun (written for a friend whose brother's life was lost tragically early) and let this place (a work that bridges the Holocaust, the current rise in anti-Semitism, and the current lack of humanity in society), I wanted -- and personally needed -- Perpetua to be something that was joyful, hopeful, energetic, exciting, and fun. In that Close to the Sun and let this place were reflections of what I saw around me in my community, Perpetua is the world I want to live in.

In writing Perpetua I wanted to compose a piece of perpetual motion, that is challenging, exciting, and fun -- all brought together through a sense of joy.

Perpetua was commissioned by Foothills Concert Band (Calgary, AB, Canada) and their conductor, Anthony Reimer.

  • Program Note by Peter Meechan

The first semester of my masters- I was in a different headspace. I had finished writing Where the Sky Has No Stars and at the moment I felt renewed. I didn’t know what else to write, so I began to write music that felt disingenuous to my spirit (music that will never see the light of day)- I was going on autopilot and I had lost my voice. During one of my lessons at UT Austin, my professor Omar Thomas and I began listening to a piece I had mocked up a couple of days before. We both weren’t feeling it, and finally I asked him to turn off the piece and I told him it didn’t sound like me. I felt lost creatively. He then asked me what music I listen to. I began to name only band music composers. He asked me again, and I told him outside of wind band music I’m in love with Rap, R & B, Jazz and Soul.

Then he asked an important question- “Why do you make a barrier between those ideals?”

I didn’t have an answer. It was a wake-up call for me. Why was I compartmentalizing my musical inspirations?

He continued, “If you create something that is a celebration of who you are, the music you grew up with, and the music that inspires you now… then that would be dope…”

And with that this piece was born. With that realization, I began to create a piece that celebrated all the music that had inspired me throughout my life. From Thundercat to Kendrick Lamar, Miles Davis to Hiatus Kaiyote, I wanted to bring all of these influences together into one cohesive dope work. DOPE is a gumbo of all the music that inspires and influences me from Thundercat to Kendrick Lamar to Miles Davis to Hiatus Kaiyote and more, this piece is in essence a deep look into my musical world.

The piece can be broken up into three parts. Since this work is dedicated to the trail black music has created, inspired and the new horizons it’s reaching, each part is named after a part of the black identity.

UNDENIABLY (which is the partial score) is the opening of the piece. It's gritty, intense with moments of color and undeniable energy. It is carried by a bass line heavily influenced by Thundercat's playing on Kendrick Lamar's Untitled 05 along with Miles Davis's Nardis.

UNAPOLOGETICALLY (the middle section) is a world building vibe and examines just how beautiful the music can be. I explore the colors and stretch them to their limits, but in doing so found new hues within myself and my writings. With this act, I gained heavy inspiration from John Coltrane, Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington and Hiatus Kaiyote (to name a few)

UNDISPUTEDLY (the finale) is an intense, groove filled statement. Every color explored is here and is in its full potential. It's bold and- like undeniably and unapologetically- is undisputedly black. Guided by my love for Tyler, the Creator's Hot Wind Blows, Marvin Gaye's I Want You ( due to Kendrick's The Heart series), and Kamasi Washington's Street Fighter Mas along with Askem.

I hope that "DOPE" will serve as a tribute to the black musicians who have paved the way and inspired me to create music that is authentic to who I am. I also hope that this piece will inspire others to break down the barriers between their musical influences and create something truly unique and personal.

PREMIERE: October 9, 2022
University of South Carolina Symphonic Winds (DR. JAY JACOBS, CONDUCTOR)

  • Program note by Katahj Copley

Music Director

Dr. Birch Browning is Professor of Music and Director of Bands at Cleveland State University (CSU) and Music Director of the Cleveland Winds, a professional wind band based at CSU. He taught high school band and orchestra in Florida prior to earning a Ph.D. in Music Education at Florida State University (FSU). Dr. Browning joined the faculty at CSU in 2002, and he previously taught music education courses at Stetson University and FSU.

Along with his research work, Dr. Browning is in demand as a conductor and clinician. Dr. Browning founded the Cleveland Winds in 2009. The Cleveland Winds is the winner of The American Prize in the Band/Wind Ensemble Performance—community & school division and performed at the Ohio Music Education Association Professional Development Conference in Cleveland, Ohio in 2017. The CSU Chamber Winds performed at the same conference in 2005 and 2015. Dr. Browning’s ensembles have given live performances on WCLV, Cleveland’s Classical Music Station, on six occasions. The CSU Symphonic Band, CSU Chamber Winds, and the Cleveland Winds appear on the Timothy Reynish International Repertoire Series, Vol. 12 recording, which is available on iTunes and Spotify. Selections from the Cleveland Winds March 2022 concert, including the US premiere of Luis Alarcón's Cello Concerto with winds, percussion, and piano, will appear in volume 13 in the series.