Symphony No. 2 Voices for Orchestra


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Symphony No 2 Voices for Orchestra by James M. Stephenson

Originally commissioned by The United States “President’s Own” Marine Band; Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director Orchestral version commissioned by the Texas State University Symphony Orchestra; Jacob Harrison, Director, with additional support from the University of South Carolina Symphony; Scott Weiss, Director

Premiered on November 18, 2023 by the Texas State University Symphony Orchestra, Jacob Harrison Director


Program Notes:

Symphony #2



James M. Stephenson

(Editor’s note – from the composer himself):
For two years, the program notes further below (below the dashes) were what remained public.
Recently, as I started feeling personally comfortable with it, I began sharing the original impetus for this symphony, which was):

On April 23, 2016, my mother, Shirley S. Stephenson, passed away, at the age of 74. It was the first time anyone that close to me had died, and I honestly didn’t know how to respond. As this new piece – the symphony – was the next major work on my plate, I thought the music would come pouring forth, as one would imagine in the movies, or in a novel. However, the opposite happened, and I was stuck, not knowing how to cope, and not knowing what to write. Eventually, after a month or so, I sat at the piano, and pounded a low Eb octave, followed by
an anguished chord answer. I did this three times, with three new response-chords, essentially re-creating how I felt. This became the opening of the symphony, with emphasis on the bass trombone, who gets the loudest low Eb. I vowed I wouldn’t return to Eb (major) until the end

of the piece, thus setting forth a compositional and emotional goal all at once: an Eb to Eb sustaining of long-term tension, technically speaking, and the final arrival at Eb major (letter I, 3rd movement) being a cathartic and powerful personal moment, when I finally would come to terms with the loss of my mother. The voice in the piece is that of my mother, an untrained alto, which is why I ask for it without vibrato. In the end, she finally sings once last time, conveying to me that “all will be ok”. I think it is the most difficult times we endure that force us, inspire us,

to dig deeper than we could ever imagine. On the one hand, I am, of course, deeply saddened by the loss of my mother; but on the other,
I will always have this piece – which is the most personal to me – to in essence keep her alive in my heart. I always tear up at letter I. Always. But they are tears of joy and treasured memories of 74 years with my mother.

(Jim Stephenson; October, 2018)

The original published program notes, were as follows below, because I was not in an emotional state where I was ready to talk about such personal matters, as shared above.


Recently, I was awaiting an international flight, when I heard the distinct sound of laughter coming from behind me.
Because I could not see the people laughing, it occurred to me that it was a universal language of happiness; one which
cannot evoke any judgment based on racial, religious, gender, social, or any other type of prejudice. I decided to not turn
around, but rather to enjoy the laughter for what it was. It was this decidedly delightful sound of the human voice that inspired
my 2nd symphony for wind ensemble.
Voices. They come in so many forms. Some high, some low. Extremely loud, or extremely soft. Some are menacing, or angelic.
A voice is completely unique to each individual, and instantly recognizable to a close friend or relative. As a verb, it is used to express
or vocalize an opinion. Used together, voices can express opposition, or unification. It occurred to me that all of these and more can
be represented within the scope of a wind ensemble. The symphony No. 2 is an exploration of as many voices as I could formalize,
resulting in a kind of concerto for wind ensemble. The culmination of the symphony is one of a unified voice, bringing together all
of the different “cultures” and “individual voices” of the wind ensemble to express an amassed vision of hope and love; a vision I believe
to be shared throughout all the world, yet disrupted continually by misguided and empowered individuals. I could think of no better messenger for such a work than the US “President’s Own” Marine Band – the commissioners of the work – who not only stand among
the best musicians of the world, but also represent a country based on the principles of all-inclusiveness and celebrated diversity.
It is because of this that no text is used for the mezzo-soprano voice used in this symphony. Instead, the singing voice is another instrument in the ensemble, joining in, or emerging from, the surrounding textures.
I would like to personally thank Lieutenant Colonel Jason K. Fettig for his invitation to compose such a significant work,
and also the members of the band, many of whom I’m honored to call friends, for their remarkable musical gifts
and dedication to our country.

~ Jim Stephenson; September, 2016

Regarding the orchestral version:

I am extremely grateful to Jacob Harrison for this collaboration to create an orchestral version of this Symphony No. 2.
I am also grateful to Scott Weiss for his additional support of the project.
Orchestra is my first love. I started playing in an orchestra when I was 10 years old, and I was immediately hooked.
I was always under the assumption that I would perform in an orchestra my entire life, but, as they say, life had other plans. My parents always supported whatever musical direction my life took.

I think it is poetic that I ended up doing an orchestral version of this symphony, as it has taken me back to my roots, which
never would have started without my parents’ initial nudges. It is nice to think that whenever this piece is played, whether by wind ensemble, or now, by symphony orchestra, my mother’s “voice” will always be a part of it.

Duration: 21 minutes

Instrumentation: b b
piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, *3 B clarinets (cl. 2 doubles on E clar; cl. 3 doubles on Bass clar.), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon 4 French horns, 3 C trumpets, 2 trombones, Bass trombone, tuba
timpani (doubles on Sus. Cymb.)
3 percussion, piano/celesta (one player), harp
female voice (mezzo-soprano or soprano)

Percussion instruments needed:
Perc. 1: marimba, triangle, snare drum, xylophone, tambourine, crotales, 20″ sus. cym., vibraphone, Cymb. a2, glockenspiel
Perc. 2: Cymb. a2, 13″ sus. cym., wood block, vibraphone (shared), snare drum, tam-tam (shared), marimba (shared), xylophone (shared), crotales (shared) Perc. 3: bass drum, tam-tam (shared), 17″ sus. cym., slap-sticks, Djembe, snare drum, ride cym., triangle, Cymb. a2

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