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Hampton Percussionists Commission Song in Honor of Volunteer Instructor


 "Beacon of Light" Composer Chad Heiny, far right, listens as the Hampton High School
Percussion section rehearses the song. 

Italian poet Antonio Porchia once said, “One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.” For Hampton High School percussionists, the saying holds true of their time with drumline volunteer instructor Ryan McCutcheon, who died in an automobile accident on Sept. 30, 2017.

Mr. McCutcheon – a North Allegheny High School alumnus and student at Robert Morris University at the time of his death – loved music and was an avid percussionist. His family members once said that drumming was everything for him; it was his absolute passion. Mr. McCutcheon brought his knowledge and passion for all things percussion and shared it as a volunteer drumline instructor with the Hampton High School Marching Band.

In his short time with Hampton, Mr. McCutcheon made an impact on the students. As a way to honor and repay his dedication, the students have commissioned an original piece from local composer Chad Heiny. The piece, titled “Beacons of Light,” will make its world debut at the Hampton High School Band Spring Concert, being held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16 in the High School Auditorium.

The students said they could not think of a better way to show their appreciation for all Mr. McCutcheon did than to have a song commissioned in his name. Every piece of “Beacons of Light” sold will bear this dedication: “Beacons of Light” was commissioned in memory of Ryan McCutcheon by the Hampton High School Percussion Section.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Lizzie Waters, a freshman percussionist in the band. “I’ve probably listened to the song more than 100 times. It really captures everything we’re trying to express.”

Senior percussionist Jessica Stufft said commissioning the song was a great way to show appreciation to Mr. McCutcheon for his dedication to the marching band last fall.

Junior Nathan Hutchison called “Beacons of Light” the first band piece in a long time that he has genuinely felt happy about performing. “It really captures (Ryan’s) essence . . . his happier time. At the same time, it’s really melancholy at the end.”

“Beacons of Light” is the third song Mr. Heiny has composed for a high school percussion section. He recently wrote pieces for North Allegheny High School and Lancaster Catholic. “But this is the first time I’ve been memorializing someone, so this piece was a lot more emotionally driven and a lot more emotionally taxing for me to write,” he said.

Before he could compose the piece, he had to spend time getting to know the person it would be memorializing. That included spending time with Mr. McCutcheon’s friends and family, and pouring over his personal music collection to get a feel for his musical tastes. “He loved a very diverse collection of music, which made me immediately love him, as this is something that he and I would have had in common,” said Mr. Heiny.

He watched one of Mr. McCutcheon’s homemade drumming videos on YouTube and was struck by the warm tone of his drums and the musical style of his playing. He studied the drum sets Mr. McCutcheon preferred – toms, bongos and concert toms – to create a sound in “Beacons of Light” that musically represents that style. Mr. Heiny also referenced a four-note sequence from one of Mr. McCutcheon’s favorite songs in his composition. “(It) has an absolutely stunning melody and I took my favorite four-note sequence from it to make several subtle – and in some cases, not so subtle – references throughout the duration of the work.

While his musical preferences played a role in the composition of “Beacons of Light,” Mr. Heiny said his primary inspiration for the content came from personal interviews with those who knew Mr. McCutcheon best. “He was liked by all, brought out the best in people he was around, and seemed to always be a positive spirit no matter what the situation,” said Mr. Heiny. “The process of marrying all of this wonderful knowledge about hi with what my heart was telling me to write was at times incredibly daunting, and in many cases emotionally exhausting. This piece was totally transformative for me. There were times when I was listening to it and just tearing up. I feel very grateful for being able to be a part of this.”

Posted by berg in High School, Marching Band on Monday May, 14, 2018 at 09:09PM

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