Paul Lovatt-Cooper: Where Eagles Sing
Paul Lovatt-Cooper was born in Alderney, 1976. His parents were both Officers in the Salvation Army, so Lovatt-Cooper was quickly immersed in the family tradition of brass banding. Whilst at school, Lovatt-Cooper began learning the drums, and after he started proving his talents for percussion, was invited to play for the British Open Champions Kennedy’s Swinton Band. His career as a percussionist grew and grew, until he became Principal Percussionist with the Williams Fairey Band. In 2003, Lovatt-Cooper left the band to join Black Dyke band as a percussionist. He also did a lot of soloist work with a range of different brass bands.
As well as a performer, Lovatt-Cooper is also a celebrated conductor, winning the coveted Roy Newsome Conductors Award at Salford University. He has worked with some of the finest brass bands in the UK including the Brighouse and Rastrick Band and the Black Dyke Band. Currently, Lovatt-Cooper is the Director of Music at the television and media company Factory Transmedia. He is also the Managing Director of his own music company PLC Music. As you can imagine, Lovatt-Cooper is in high demand all over the world as he is a ‘triple threat’ – composer, conductor and performer.
As a composer, which is perhaps what he is best known for now, he has had his music premiered in some of the most prestigious concert halls in the world. His compositions have earned him commissions from different ensembles and soloists from around the world. His music is not only confined to concert halls either, Lovatt-Cooper’s music can be heard in a variety of different contexts on television shows and radio stations.
Lovatt-Cooper studied at the University of Salford, under brass and wind band composer, Peter Graham. He has composed some very famous brass band pieces, which have often been selected as test pieces for contests. He has composed some contemporary brass band favourites including, Canzona Bravura, Where Eagles Sing and Vitae Aeternum.
Commissioned by Philip Biggs for the Great Northern Brass Arts Festival in 2006, Where Eagles Sing was composed for and premiered by Black Dyke Band. The work received its premiere on the large stage at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall. Although largely known and celebrated for being a work for brass band, there is also a wind band version of the work (for the purposes of this blog references will only be made to the brass band original).
As the title suggests the inspiration for this work was clear to Lovatt-Cooper:
“The inspiration for this piece came from a recent trip to Florida and to the Bird Sanctuary in Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. I was lucky enough to be in the audience to see the rare bird’s show where I witnessed some fabulous looking and endangered birds that were trained to perform different tricks that wowed the audience.
The highlight for me was the conclusion of the show where the most awesome sight greeted us as an American Bald Eagle soared over the audience. That particular breed of Eagle has been a very rare bird of late. With so few numbers, it nearly became a member of the sad group of animals that are extinct.
The host of the show took great delight in informing the audience that the fantastic creature is now officially safe and no longer classed as endangered. This made a great impact on me as the Eagle is an amazing bird, huge in size and power and yet so graceful in flight.
When Philip Biggs invited me to write a piece for the Great Northern Arts Festival, I had no doubt about my inspiration and wanted to create a piece that paid homage to the American Bald Eagle. This piece is everything associated with the Eagle; bold, powerful and graceful and now free to soar and sing in the American homelands.”
Where Eagles Sing is in three main sections which each represent the three ways that Lovatt-Cooper described the Eagle in the work – bold, graceful and powerful. The work is completely played through and lasts around 4.5 minutes.
Beginning with three thuds from the bass drum the the upper band open with an ascending arpeggio before uniting on a dotted rhythm. This is answered by the lower band and percussion before repeated once more. This opening sets the bold scene for the Eagle to start its flight across the band and audience.
From a flourish of trill from the lower band, the texture thins to create a magical sound between the cornets and tuned percussion. The fast moving semiquavers act as the flowery accompaniment to the melody which is played by the rest of the band. The united band are suddenly stopped in their tracks by another bass drum thud, however the cornets push through and the lower band melody is heard once more.
The band unite once more and the cornets pass the semiquaver accompaniment over seamlessly to the euphoniums, whilst they play part of the melody. The trombones lead into this next section, which sees cornets take over the bold melody. The texture is much thinner here as the cornets are only supported by the complicated euphonium line. This turns into a somewhat cornet chorale, with only the basses adding any sort of support down below. This melody begins to slow down as the soprano cornet soars in and shows how graceful the Eagle can be.
The percussion create a climax for the whole band to come back in, which sees use of the timpani, tam-tam and crash cymbals. The lower two halves of the band take separate melodies, which Lovatt-Cooper interlinks cleverly throughout the band. Each melody embellishes the other which creates a fluid melodic sound regardless of where it’s coming from in the band.
The soprano and euphonium play two octave jumps that both emphasise the upper range in both instruments. This leads to the lower band playing a rich hymn like sequence which starts to build tension for the final section of the work.
Led by a pedal note from the basses, a driving rhythm and tempo is set by the cornets and snare drum. This exciting shift in style and tempo builds up to the climactic final section. The main melodic kernel is then pronounced by various sections of the band before a bass thud which sets the cornets off on a fast-paced scalic venture. The same thing happens again, the variation of the top section changes each time, creating excitement within the music. The same happens again for a third time before the band unite for the final time before exploding into wonderful brassy colour.
Inspired by the cornet accompaniment at the start of this piece, although this time a third higher, the fast-paced accompaniment leads into the band playing the main melody together, with the percussion accentuating different corners of the melody. The snare drum signifies the band coming near the end of the piece. The soprano plays a soaring counter-melody, whilst the band begins to build up to the final few bars.
The last bars are highlight driven by percussion, in particular the bass drum, timpani and snare drum. The lower band build the foundation and the upper band play a fanfare-like motif. The tempo begins to slow whilst the band play out four big chords. The band then suddenly drop out as the percussion build the climax up in one bar before the final tonic chord is heard. This powerful ending perfectly compliments the boldness and gracefulness of the Eagle flying around the band.
Now a bandroom favourite, Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s scintillating Where Eagles Sing is a bold and powerful statement that is a perfect concert opener or ending. The rich textures and spine-tingling dynamic contrasts makes this one of the composer’s most popular works for brass band. The explosive ending truly symbolises the freedom of the now not endangered American Bald Eagle, and long may it soar!
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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