Home-Grown Symphonies: Celebrating 100 Years of Arizona Music




Applause and praise abounded at a recent concert of the Arizona Wind Symphony (AWS) in Tempe. The group of 80 adult band members had performed the Arizona Centennial Overture, an original piece commissioned to honor the state’s 100-year celebration.

“One audience member actually caught me after the concert and said that the piece was her favorite because of how it described all of Arizona’s history and culture,” said Bill Richardson, director of the symphony.

For nearly  a year and a half, band and choral directors like Richardson who hail from across Arizona have downloaded original chorus and band music to perform in tribute to the state’s centennial. Well-known Arizona artists were appointed by the Arizona Commission on the Arts in early 2010 to create the pieces that will be available copyright free through December.

“Turquoise and Thunderstorms” was the choral song written by James DeMars and poet Alberto Rios. The Arizona Centennial Overture for bands and orchestras was composed by Dr. Sy Brandon, who showed up at the last two rehearsals and the concert to assist with Richardson’s symphony.

“It was a treat to have the composer actually work with the band and actually to be in the audience at the concert,” Richardson said.

Trumpet player and AWS board president David Melkin said the concert was a great outlet to show pride in their community and the state.




“All the music performed was inspired by Arizona and its diverse cultures that live within,” he said. “It is with a strong sense of community that we celebrate our home through the music that was written by [Arizonans] and tells the story of Arizona.”

The choral piece can be sung by high school, college, community, church, or professional ensembles. There are different versions that allow for piano or organ accompaniment, and there is also an a cappella version. The overture is arranged for any type of concert, symphony, or orchestra band.

Works by DeMars of Tempe have been performed by various musicians, including the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Phoenix Symphony.
“I met with Rios to talk about the nature of the project and the unique images to Arizona,” said DeMars, who teaches composition at Arizona State. “We then worked by e-mail and over the phone. And so it went back and forth until the concert version for the a cappella chorus was finished.”

Then, DeMars created arrangements for all vocal combinations with and without accompaniment. “My wife reminded me that not everyone enjoyed ceremonial music, but many people would enjoy the images,” he said. “So, I worked out a version for a folk song and a version for a jazz vocalist. Those have yet to be sung.”

Brandon, who lives in Cottonwood, is professor emeritus from Millersville University in Pennsylvania. His creations have been recorded by several orchestral groups, including the Czech National Symphony. Rios, a librettist from Chandler, has written poetry books that have been nominated for the National Book Award and  has won many other awards. He has been a Regents Professor of English at Arizona State University, where he has taught since 1982.

The trio was selected through a juried process. Funding for the works came from the Arizona Historical Advisory Commission and the Arizona Commission of the Arts. All of the artists are all available for guest lectures,  appearances, and conducting.




Visit azarts.gov/programs/arizona-centennial-projects/ to download and hear free Arizona Centennial musical compositions. Bands or choruses wanting to perform any of the pieces can notify the Arizona Commission of the Arts in advance and get their performance dates publicized on the commission’s Web site. E-mail Jennifer Tsukayama at jtsukayama for information.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

© North Valley Magazine

Scroll to top