The State of Ohio takes its name from the Ohio River and the Sececa-Iroquois word “Ohi yo’” meaning “Great River” or “Large Creek.” As I’ve toured Ohio, starting with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and then living in Columbus and studying at The Ohio State University, I have had the pleasure of seeing four of the major rivers in the state, which have provided the inspiration for my Symphony No. 1 for Band: Ohi-yo’.
Each movement focuses on a different river, and takes its inspiration from the Native American etymology behind that name. The piece begins with an opening statement of the main theme set against the murder ballad “On the Banks of the Ohio.”
The music then leads into the first movement, Scioto. The name translates to deer in the Iroquois language. The opening theme depicts the peacefulness of wildlife along the river banks. As the music progresses, the theme is intertwined with the well-known fiddle tune “Big Sciota” turning the wind symphony into a bluegrass ensemble!
The second movement, inspired by the Cuyahoga River, begins with an ominous rendition of the main theme as a reminder of the great Cuyahoga river fire in 1969. The music settles on a peaceful tone as this incident eventually led to the passage of the Clean Water Act. Next, a sweeping theme takes the listener out over Lake Erie and the beautiful gorges in the Northern part of the state while intertwining the state song “Beautiful Ohio.”
Olentangy in the Delaware language means “A Knife in a Stone” or “The River of the Red Face Paint.” The third movement features the percussion section playing Iroquois celebration drumming under triumphant horn calls. The Olentangy theme is then set against the chant of the Iroquois stomp dance.
Finally, the Ohio River is represented by a Hoe-down like river song alluding to the role the Ohio River played in American Industrialization and Expansion. About half way through the movement, I bring in the 1840’s folk song made famous by Aaron Copland when it was arranged for part of his Old American Songs “The Boatman’s Dance.” The song features the lyrics “Hi-hoe the Boatman Row, Floating Down the River on the Ohio” bringing the piece to a thrilling climax before ending on a somber but peaceful note as the solo Oboe re-states “On the Banks of the Ohio.”