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After the Thunderer

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Ira Hearshen

Ira Hearshen

This work is the second movement of Symphony on Themes of John Philip Sousa.

General Info

Year: 1991
Duration: c. 7:05
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Ludwig Music Inc.
Cost: Score and Parts - $75.00   |  Score Only - $15.00


Full Score
Flute I-II (doubles piccolo)
Oboe I-II
Eb Soprano Clarinet
Bb Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
Bb Bass Clarinet
Alto Saxophone I-II
Tenor Saxophone
Baritone Saxophone
Trumpet (in Bb) I-II-III-IV-V
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
String Bass
Percussion I-II-III-IV-V, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Cymbal (crash and suspended)
  • Glockenspiel
  • Gong (Tam-tam)(low)
  • Snare Drum
  • Timpani
  • Tubular Bells
  • Vibraphone


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Symphony on Themes of John Philip Sousa, Movement II: After The Thunderer 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 obligato 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 1990-1991.

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 four-movement symphony classically constructed. It would have 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.

- Program Note by Ira Hearshen

Commercial Discography

None discovered thus far.

State Ratings

Texas V


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • University of Kentucky (Lexington) Concert Band (John Cody Birdwell, conductor) – 10 March 2020
  • Lafayette (La.) High School Symphonic Winds (Scotty Walker, conductor) – 20 February 2020 (CBDNA 2020 Southern Division Conference, Natchitoches, La.)
  • James Clemens High School (Madison, Ala.) Wind Ensemble (Keith Anderson, conductor) – 1 February 2020
  • Houghton (N.Y.) College Wind Ensemble (Dakota Hirsch, conductor) – 1 November 2019
  • Sacramento (Calif.) Symphonic Winds (Tim Smith conductor) – 5 November 2019
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge) Wind Ensemble (Fred Harris, Jr.) – 25 October 2019
  • Virginia Tech (Blacksburg) Wind Ensemble (Derek Shapiro, conductor) – 13 October 2019
  • Indiana University (Bloomington) All-Campus Band (Alex Baczewski and Jeff Osarczuk, conductors) – 16 April 2019
  • University of Iowa (Iowa City) Concert Band (Eric Bush, conductor) – 21 February 2019
  • CJMEA (New Jersey) Region II Wind Ensemble (T. André Feagin, conductor)- 13 January 2019
  • Ithaca (N.Y.) College Wind Symphony (Christopher Hughes, conductor) – 12 December 2018
  • Colorado State University Symphonic Band (T. André Feagin, conductor) - 6 December 2018
  • University of South Alabama (Mobile) Wind Ensemble (William Petersen, conductor) – 27 September 2018
  • University of British Columbia (Vancouver) Concert Winds (Christian Reardon MacLellan, conductor) – 6 April 2018
  • University of North Texas (Denton) Symphonic Band (Dennis W. Fisher, conductor) – 29 March 2018
  • Alabama Symphonic Band (Tuscaloosa) (Randall O. Coleman, conductor) – 1 February 2018
  • California State University, Long Beach, Symphony Band (Jermie Arnold, conductor) – 30 November 2017
  • Triangle Wind Ensemble (Cary, NC.) (Evan Feldman, conductor) – 18 November 2017
  • University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc Lakeshore Wind Ensemble (Marc Sackman, conductor) – 21 October 2017
  • High School Symphonic Band [Interlochen, Mich.] (Frederick Fennell, conductor) - 11 August 1996

Works for Winds by this Composer


  • Ira Hearshen website - Accessed 25 September 2017
  • Miles, Richard B., and Larry Blocher. 2002. Teaching Music Through Performance in Band. Volume 4. Chicago: GIA Publications. pp. 900-915.