After Hands Across the Sea
This work is the fourth movement of Symphony on Themes of John Philip Sousa
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Symphony on Themes of John Philip Sousa, Movement IV: After Hands Across the Sea 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
- Alabama: Class AA
- Georgia: VI
- Indiana: ISSMA SENIOR BAND GROUP I
- Louisiana: V
- Texas: V. Complete
To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project
- University of North Texas (Denton) Symphonic Band (Dennis W. Fisher, conductor) – 29 March 2018
- University of Miami (Coral Gables) Frost Symphonic Winds (J. Stephen Moore, conductor) – 12 October 2017
Works for Winds by this Composer
- Abbey Road (as arranger)
- Danish Bouquet (2005)
- Divertimento for Band (2000)
- Fantasia on Aura Lee
- Forged in Fire (as transcriber) (2008)
- March from "Strike Up the Band" (as arranger)
- Patriotic Overture, A
- Reveille (2017)
- Symphonic Dances from "Fiddler on the Roof" (as arranger)
- Symphony on Themes of John Philip Sousa
- Hearshen, I.; Sousa, J. (2004). Symphony on themes of John Philip Sousa : Movement IV After "Hands Across The Sea" for Symphonic Band [score]. Ludwig Music: Grafton, Ohio.
- Ira Hearshen website - Accessed 25 September 2017