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2018-12-01 / Shorts

Swapping Notes

Composer Rick Hirsch works with area vocalists to arrange and conduct a one-of-a-kind Beatles concert at The State.
Laura Zaks | photos by Chuck Carroll


Arranging and composing music is not only a skillset but a language — and one that arranger, composer and musician Rick Hirsch is fluent in.

Hirsch has an eclectic array of experiences under his belt, including arranging for the Penn State Blue Band, performing as a saxophonist with revered jazz musicians like Max Roach, and co-founding the 17-piece Zeropoint Big Band that has been winning the hearts of central PA jazz lovers since its founding.

“The band was formed in 2009 and we’ve been playing monthly gigs and special concerts including the Arts Festival since then,” Hirsch says. “The band rose from the ashes of the Valley Jazz Orchestra — a bunch of us from there wanted to be in this (new band) together.”

The Zeropoint Big Band is performing at The State Theatre’s annual fundraising concert on Dec. 1, which in years past has had themes like Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday and “At Last with Etta & Ella.” This particular show is titled “Beatles Go Big Band.”

Zeropoint will serve as the in-house orchestra backing up seven guest vocalists. Each will sing two or three Beatles classics in their personal style as arranged by Hirsch.

One such vocalist is Elizabeth Webb, a lover of music who has been singing professionally for more than a decade.

“For this concert, Hirsch asked us what some of our favorite Beatles songs were, and from there he composed a set list and used his brilliant mind to arrange these songs,” Webb says. “I have been performing with Rick for years off and on, and anytime I get the chance to sing with Zeropoint, I don’t think twice — they are so fabulous.”


Hirsch enjoys arranging music with different vocalists because of the creativity that goes into the process.

“I arrange all kinds of music in my professional life and always find that there is little point to (writing an arrangement) that matches the original,” Hirsch says. “I try to put a personal spin by coming at it from a slightly different angle, (but it all comes down to) the collaboration between the vocalists, the instruments and all our ideas.”

The Beatles Go Big Band concert allows Hirsch to not only work with timeless pop songs but to also put a new twist on each vocalist’s arrangement.

“I try to create a scene and setting so that (the vocalist) can sing their song their own way. If they heard Ringo on the drums or Paul playing the bass behind them, they would sing the lyrics the way the original sounds,” Hirsch says. “What I am trying to do is create a different setting that will inspire them to interpret the song in a different way that is new.”

Hirsch’s fluency in music is, therefore, also an art form.

“Arranging music is like being a painter with a palette of colors, but in my case, the colors are instruments,” Hirsch says. “You use some colors on some arrangements, some colors on others and mix, match and experiment to keep it interesting.” •SCM

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