The Derby: Song & Celebration
JHS to Perform Free Musical Concert On May 10
Writer / Beth Beckwith
Kentucky is best known for our annual Derby horse race, celebrated throughout the U.S. but presiding in the heart of Louisville. To commemorate the event, local Jeffersontown High School has something special in store for the public this month. On Thursday, May 10, the Jeffersontown High School band will be performing a brand-new musical composition honoring timely Kentucky traditions.
The idea first came to light when Mr. Charles Stewart, Director of Bands at Jeffersontown High School, met Mr. Randall Standridge, a musician from Arkansas, at the Kentucky Music Educator’s Association Conference in 2014.
“Standridge is a very prolific composer in the band world,” Stewart says. “We knew that the work, should it be published, will be seen and played by lots of groups, possibly even across the world one day. It’s a powerful piece that really captures the heart and spirit of Derby. Luckily, our group got it first.”
In 2015, Stewart partnered with Standridge on a concert at the high school. After the venture proved to be successful, the duo paired together once again to tackle an even greater adventure. Stewart felt confident in his students’ ability to perform and sought the opportunity to provide them with an inspirational new musical composition to stir up their Derby spirit. With limited funds, the commission seemed to be a far-distant aspiration. Fortunately, Mr. Chuck Pierce, a retired Jeffersontown Educator, caught wind of the escapade and decided to make it a potential reality.
Pierce, an avid fan of the arts and supporter of local talent, held a personal interest in this piece. His love of music, jazz in particular, was far surpassed by his dedication and pride in JHS’s students. Without avail, he fully funded the commission for the new musical composition, bringing Stewart and the band’s vision to life. Standridge quickly went to work, creating a passionate and innovative masterpiece dedicated to their financial contributor.
The piece itself revolves around the Kentucky Derby and is reminiscent of older times. Certain segments allude to the era of the late 1800 races. It also fervently pays homage to the song “My Old Kentucky Home.” The song starts with a never-before-heard rendition of said timeless classic. It then swiftly transitions to a more up-tempo and well-known whimsical call to the races. The notes will first lull you into a familiar and hospitable haze before stirring up the urge to dance with fast notes and high tempo.
“My Old Kentucky Home is performed at Derby each year so I put two and two together and realized that it would be neat to have a work centered around both,” Stewart says. “It has a lot of conflict and joy in there as well. Certain spots mimic the running of the race so there is a turning point towards the middle. Near the end, it gets a little faster to imitate the finish line. The entire pieced amazed us and we are so honored to perform it.”
The opening of the work is reminiscent of the early break of dawn scouring slowly over our well-known robust bluegrass. The much-anticipated bugle call to post even factors in the faint whisper of horse whinnies from the trumpets. A galloping theme comes across soon after, rhythmically appeasing listeners with the incorporation of numerous instruments. Soon the clip-clop of horse hooves can be detected, swirling swiftly into a one-of-a-kind harmonic twist on the Kentucky home front.
As Stewart predicted, the piece proves to be a spectacular innovative interpretation of our local traditional institutions. The grand finale chords of the piece are representative of the celebration after Derby, a time when all people are equally enthused and reciprocative towards general fervor.
“I think that the composer did an excellent job of capturing the necessary spirit,” Stewart says. “His research really shines throughout the piece and you can tell he put his heart into it.”
Stewart recognized that Standridge wrote the piece to suit the performance level of students in the Jeffersontown High School Band.
“It has such potential for students anywhere across the world who play this,” Stewart says. “However there is a certain level of dedication required to perform this piece.”
All involved parties hope to expand knowledge of the new piece and to market it for production. Their free concert is intended to draw in members of the community and unite them through a mutual love and respect for this new artistic approach to accustomed historical conventions.
Since the Derby races tend to last roughly two minutes each, the main body of the work, also known as the “fast section”, lasts the same approximate time. However, the introduction first lures the audience in with a calm melody before enticing them with the upbeat tone. The residential reasoning behind this creative underlay is that the music should remind patrons of their familial home traditions. The piece is intended to spark a new appreciation and understanding of modern-day Kentucky spirit.
Ultimately, the piece ends with a reflective and memorable inclination to the customary start of the piece, “My Old Kentucky Home.” The last few notes, new and improved, promise to leave you in a lingering pause before caving into a well-deserved standing ovation.
Stewart, a close friend of Pierce, says “Mr. Pierce, “Chuck”, is an ardent supporter of the Jeffersontown High School Charger band. He loves the city of Louisville, he loves jazz, and he also loves UK (University of Kentucky) Basketball. He is also a great friend and supporter of local jazz saxophonist, Ron Jones, who is a dear friend of mine and an invaluable member of band instructional staff too. It is our intent to perform this work for Chuck during the coming year.”
The piece incorporates a solo created with Pierce in mind that could either be performed by a saxophone player, in recognition of Pierce’s love for jazz or by a singer. For the debut performance, Stewart’s wife, Erin, will be gracing the stage with her vocal presence for the solo.
The University of Kentucky’s Wildcat Pep Band performs a rendition of their alma mater, “My Old Kentucky Home” at the end of every home basketball game. The same song is performed by the University of Louisville’s Cardinal Marching band at Churchill Downs at the start of Derby each year. Since it is also the state song of Kentucky and reflects Pierce’s love of UK basketball, Standridge and Stewart felt that incorporating it into the new musical piece was an essential move.
Stewart noted that he hopes this piece will spread to a national, if not global, level. The title of the piece is still up in the air. Having the potential to become an abiding classic, the composition’s title has much expectation to live up to. Currently, the final decision has been narrowed down to six choices: “My Old Kentucky Home”, “And Their Off!”, “The Sun Shines Bright!”, “Call to the Post!”, “Run for the Roses!”, or “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports!”
The official “world premiere” event will be held at Jeffersontown High School at 7:00 p.m. in the Fine Arts Auditorium. “The Derby: Song & Celebration” performance is free to the general public and all are encouraged to attend.