Writing a winner
From M, spring 2004
Brad Stokes ('84) was so busy at work he wasn't sure he could enter the UMAA's musical cheer contest. But creating short musical pieces for commercial clients is his work. So, while waiting to pick up his son from football practice one day, some ideas began to bubble. Within moments, Stokes had worked out the opening lines of what turned out to be the winning entry. "Before my son even got in the car I had called [my wife] and sung the first six measures," he recalls. The cheer, "Go, Minnesota," was unveiled at the alumni association's birthday party on January 30 with the help of a pep band, cheerleaders, and hundreds of alumni and friends. The association sponsored the cheer contest to help mark its 100th anniversary. For Stokes, his work (he, his wife, Heidi, and Phil Aaron own Aaron/Stokes Music and Sound) is a synthesis of his interest in music, electrical engineering, and business. Those passions-each of which was his college major at one time-came together in his years at the University. Ending up with a business degree was a way to try to "see if I could knit the other interests together into something," Stokes recalls. While finishing that degree, he took courses on acoustics and other technical aspects of music and began creating sound systems and recording his own band. Heidi Stokes explains that Brad was one of the first sound engineers who also had a strong music background. "A lot of the early tech people were just that-techies," she says. "They didn't really have musical understanding." The downtown Minneapolis company does "sonic branding"-creating original musical pieces, or "signatures," for commercials, presentations, and other uses. Among their clients are local pro sports teams and national corporations. Brad Stokes is Aaron/Stokes' main audio engineer and does some production and composing, while keeping his hand in the firm's financial affairs. Amid the high-tech sound studios and industry awards (including a regional Emmy) that dominate the firm's space in the renovated Itasca Building, old college textbooks on accounting, acoustics, and music engineering-one with the yellow "USED" sticker still showing on the spine-adorn Stokes' desk. "I am one person who uses his college education every day," he says. "I'm very proud of my degree and of my alma mater." The cheer contest drew more than 30 entries from all over the country. A panel of judges selected Stokes' as the one they thought would work best with a band and arena full of fans. "Some [of the people who entered] had great talent and some had just an idea and a desire to participate," says Linda Mona ('67), a former UMAA national president and one of the judges. "But they all had an esprit de corps, a love of the U, and were having fun." Stokes' cheer has a swing beat with a musical call and vocal response that seems perfectly designed to rev up an arena packed with Gopher fans. But for Stokes, the proof that he wrote a "winning" cheer won't come until he hears it live at a sporting event, he says. "I'm never really finished with a project until I see how the audience responds." To hear the cheer, go to http://www.alumni.umn.edu/100.