Mariners’ March

June 11th, 2020 - 3:30pm

Mariners’ March: An Anthem for A Place Where No One Marches Alone

“A pompous and confident beginning, a jaunty main melody, an interlude, and a bombastic and celebratory ending.” This is how Jim Stopher described his composition and College of Marin’s (COM) historic new anthem, Mariners’ March.

Stopher is a conductor, pianist, composer, and educator. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, he has been composing since the age of 10 years old. At College of Marin, Stopher teaches courses in music history, theory, and ear training. Additionally, he serves as chair of the Music program and is the Music Director of the Symphony Orchestra. He holds degrees from Harvard University (BA), the University of Arizona (MM), and the Peabody Conservatory (DMA).

While teaching a course on ear training in which students learn to read music, hear notes, and write them out, Stopher first had the idea to compose a fight song.

“Part of the class deals with these musical topics called intervals—the distance between ‘this’ note and ‘that’ note,” Stopher explained. “And, you have to learn all of them, going up and going down.”

It’s sometimes a lot for students to handle, especially learning to distinguish the intervals quickly. To help, he composes small, memorable melodies that they can associate with each interval. “One of them in particular was pretty jaunty,” he noted. He continued to hum until he had composed an entire set of melodies. And, while they were used primarily to help students, he kept them in mind for something else, too.

Eventually, they became the basis for a brand-new fight song.

An Ensemble of Muses

Once Stopher knew he had the pieces for a perfect march, he realized that he had never heard a College of Marin-specific song. It seemed like an opportunity. He knew that the COM Symphonic Wind Ensemble often performed as part of graduation activities, and he said he was “blown away” by the quality of their concert performance.

With such a capable ensemble at his fingertips, Stopher was inspired to write a piece that the Symphonic Wind Ensemble could perform both at graduation and in a concert setting. After some consultation with ensemble director Trevor Björklund, PhD, Stopher spent the summer of 2019 hashing it out and developing the piece.

“A lot of the music I have written in the past is for piano, and I’ve written a couple of orchestral and chamber pieces,” he said. “But this is the first time that I have written for a concert band.”

In December 2019, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble finally premiered Mariners’ March in its winter concert, directed by Björklund. Stopher dedicated the song to the ensemble and its director.

“Besides being a great piece, Jim managed to strike an important balance of ‘interesting and fun to play’ on one hand and ‘challenging’ on the other,” said Björklund. “It is always a great honor to premier a new composition written for one’s own ensemble. And, with Jim Stopher’s Mariners’ March, COM’s own Symphonic Wind Ensemble had the benefit of performing a piece by a dear colleague.”

“It was an interesting challenge to write for this collection of instruments for the first time,” Stopher added.

The result sounds something like a movie score, between his composition and the performance of his accomplished muses.

Historic Commencement

Most years, COM graduation festivities have featured a live performance by one of the music program’s ensembles, like the Wind Ensemble, with dozens of family members looking on. It’s a distinguished event in the life of both a college and its graduates.

“Knowing that there is a live performance element to commencement really gives it that pomp and circumstance,” Stopher said.

While 2020’s graduation festivities were completely different in every way, the element of a musical performance continued. The 93rd Annual College of Marin Commencement and Transfer Recognition is virtual and hosted online. A recording of the Symphonic Wind Ensemble’s December performance of Mariners’ March is featured in the virtual ceremony, initiating a new tradition at COM. 

“It was a privilege to contribute some important musical history to the College of Marin,” shared Björklund. “I foresee the Mariners’ March proudly participating in many College of Marin events to come!”

Stopher hopes that his March can be a true anthem for Mariners. “It is designed to be a community piece of music,” he said. “It’s very difficult right now to have a sense of community, and it’s something that I wanted to offer the College as a whole, as a way of having some little thing that we can share together that reflects our identity as the College of Marin.”

He noted that the song is titled Mariners’ March, with the plural possessive usage of Mariners, to signify that no Mariner marches alone.