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Albert Ahronheim is a composer laboring in relative obscurity in Brooklyn. Joe Carl is the band director at Central Kitsap High School in Silverdale, Wash., a community of about 1,500 on the Olympic Peninsula.
Neither name is familiar, but Carl and Ahronheim might well be considered the Rodgers and Hammerstein of musical cheers, for they've left a unique—and quite recognizable—mark on amateur spectator sports. As members of the University of Michigan marching band in the mid-1970s, Carl, a sousaphonist, and Ahronheim, then an assistant to the conductor, and formerly a drum major, collaborated on a short, bouncy musical introduction to the school's traditional nonmusical shout, "Let's Go Blue!"
The tune is Carl and Ahronheim's masterwork—and only work—and can be heard at sporting events across the country. If you've seen a high school or college football game in the past few years, there's a very good chance you've heard the tune.
It's crowd-pleasing, melodic, rhythmic, catchy—and copyrighted. Nearly every time the 32-bar, 40-second tune is broadcast, Carl and Ahronheim cash in, to the tune of around $1,000 apiece in a typical year. It's not as lucrative as owning the rights to Yesterday or Misty, but Carl makes far more than he ever expected to the night he first played the tune's simple, distinctive bass line on his sousaphone inside Ann Arbor's Yost Ice Arena 10 years ago.
Casting about for a rousing handclapper to play during breaks in a hockey game, Carl, then a 19-year-old sophomore, settled on an ascending five-note phrase, repeated three times and ending with the original note played three times. (Specifically, the phrase starts with an interval of a major third, followed by three half-steps. It can be played C-E-F-F#-G.) The crowd began to respond enthusiastically, clapping along and shouting "Let's Go Blue!" in cadence with the last three notes.
George Cavender, the band director, knew a good thing when he heard it. Cavender asked Ahronheim to write a version based on Carl's original oompahs for the entire band. The resulting score—for piccolo, clarinet, alto and tenor saxophones, trumpet, alto horn, trombone, baritone horn, percussion and, of course, sousaphone—included Ahronheim's own contrapuntal melodies and chord progressions. It had its debut in September 1975, before more than 100,000 fans at the Stanford game in Michigan Stadium.
This full, jazzy version caught on quickly, and the tune was soon adopted by high school bands in Michigan and borrowed by other colleges, which simply substituted their own three-syllable cheer at the end. Over the next couple of years, renditions of Ahronheim's distinctive brassy version, which had been filed with the U.S. Copyright Office, started to pop up everywhere.
In West Lafayette, Ind., it was the "Go Purdue" cheer; in Norman, Okla., fans responded with "Go Big Red," just as N.C. State fans in Raleigh did. The tune showed up in the census of network television broadcasts taken by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), and Carl and Ahronheim were then allowed to become full members, entitled to royalties.
With their composition a staple of the Michigan band's repertoire and increasingly being heard in other parts of the country, Carl left Ann Arbor to teach music, and Ahronheim headed to New York City to write music for a living.
Ahronheim writes band arrangements for the Theodore Presser Co., a venerable music publishing firm whose catalog includes works by such serious composers as Roger Sessions, William Schuman and Vincent Persichetti. Presser wasn't above accepting Ahronheim's tune. The sheet music appeared in 1978, and the tune's popularity spread farther. A version for organ was published in 1983, intended for the arenas and stadiums.