Bird-like: five scenes for sinfonietta (or chamber orchestra)
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Bird-like is a continuous series of five musical scenes for sinfonietta, or, optionally, chamber orchestra (single winds, with a small string section). Each scene is inspired by the motions, behaviors, and physical appearances of a chosen species of bird or birds that might be seen in the greater Kansas City, Missouri area. The scenes are also informed by the writings and drawings of bird species by John James Audubon. In this piece, I highlight what might be perceived as the most “human” characteristics of each examined bird species, in an attempt to draw attention to the human tendency to anthropomorphize what cannot be easily understood. The introductory scene depicts the flock, with its rapid, capricious shifts between furious motion and repose. The second scene, “Turkey Vultures,” represents the view from the ground of distant, circling buzzards, and the associated detached menace of such an image. The third scene, “Nuthatches and Woodpeckers,” is made up of bombastic sounds and off-kilter rhythms, representing the relentless energy of those birds as they search for food. The fourth scene, “Cardinals and Cowbirds,” begins with a hymn interlude, and is directly inspired by my interpretation of Audubon’s writings about these two species. Audubon characterizes cardinals as birds that inspire faith and security, and cowbirds (or “cow-pen birds”) as birds that challenge the perception that nature exists separate from malice. The fifth and final scene is a reprise of the introductory depiction of the flock, which rapidly proceeds to the music’s conclusion. In addition to the extra-musical imagery and content associated with this piece, I structured each scene on simple, clear musical structures, each with some representational purpose according to the scene. This transparency of structure is meant to occasionally remind the listener of the logical underpinnings of the work, and thus suggest the tension between human emotional investment in our assumptions about nature and the actual, more mundane truth behind the objects of our observation.
Table of Contents
Instrumentation -- Performance notes -- Key for text indications -- Movements: The flock - Turkey vultures - Nuthatches and cowbirds - The flock: reprise