Fanfare by the Common Man: Lake Forest Resident's Composition Stirred Inauguration Crowd
White hair, wigs, candlelight. These are some of the images that typically come to mind when one thinks of a composer. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart – all the greats we’re taught about in grade school music class – seem to follow that format.
Now it’s 2021, and composers aren’t as formal; they’re sitting next to you , enjoying a beer at the bar. Lake Forest composer Jim Stephenson, for example, is an everyday guy, with one exception: his composition “Fanfare for Democracy” was selected and played by the U.S. Marine Band before the Presidential inauguration in January in Washington, D.C. In fact, that was the first time the piece was played in public.
Jim grew up in the Chicago suburb of Joliet, where he started his musical career playing the trumpet at age 10. He perfected his craft in the warmth of Naples, Fla., serving as a trumpeter with the Naples Philharmonic, before coming back to the cold of Chicago with his family. Both of his daughters have caught the composing bug like their father, who became a composer in 2007 and who is largely self-taught. His house is filled with music, from classical to rock n’ roll and jazz.
When I spoke with Jim about what drew him to Lake Forest, the community was his first response -- the ability to walk up town, grab a drink with friends and enjoy the day. A day like that, in fact, inspired his “Fanfare for Democracy”.
Saturday after the presidential election in November, as he was sitting outside a local restaurant with friends, inspiration hit Jim. The music infiltrated into his head, “like fireworks, like a fanfare.” Taking only a few hours to compose, “Fanfare for Democracy” is filled with the sounds of trumpets , trombones and other instruments.
Although inspired by the change in our government, Jim still hadn’t had any intention for “Fanfare for Democracy” to make it all the way to D.C. When his piece was selected, it created a chain reaction among other composers. All around the country, people began to submit their works, in hopes of having a world premiere at the historical event. Ultimately, three compositions were conducted during the opening ceremonies, with “Fanfare for Democracy” leading them off.
And where was Jim as his song played at the Capitol? Scrambling to try to watch it on TV.
“It was actually rather hilarious,” he recounted. “My wife and I were frantically searching for channels where there wouldn’t be talking heads during the music. So she was downstairs trying CNN and ABC, and I was upstairs trying PBS or C-Span, with each of us intermittently shouting ‘I think I found one.’” Ultimately, they watched a recording.
Though white hair, wigs and candlelight may be relics of another era, Stephenson – who is
also a conductor and arranger – holds in high esteem the musical giants of the past.
“In addition to adding my own modern sensitivities, I try to give my music a blend of familiarity and new discovery all at once,” he notes. “With this, I hope to lead audiences and
performers on a journey of both anticipation and reward.”