Endangered! (!!!)

I’m a little stunned. Tonight was the world premiere of “Endangered!” (Yes, the title includes an exclamation point, as a little inside joke.)

To catch everybody up to date… The Seattle Youth Symphony has a program called the “Endangered Instruments Program.” It’s a program to encourage middle school kids to play instruments that might not be the first instrument they consider — oboe, bassoon, French horn, etc. Every year, the kids in this program — all 100 of them or so — give a concert. It consists of Beatles songs arranged for bassoon quartet, the theme from Raiders of the Lost Arc played by a trombone quintet, the theme from Brahms First Symphony played by a French horn ensemble, and so on. In the past, the kids have never gotten a chance to play together as an ensemble — and there’s little reason to wonder why. I mean, how much rep is there for oboe, bassoon, French horn, trombone, and tuba — and nothing else? Not much. Maybe for good reason, you might think!

Being the orchestra’s Composer In Residence, I was asked to write a piece that all of these 100 kids from a dozen schools could all play together. They’d get the parts a week or so ahead of time, but the only chance they’d have to rehearse would be at the concert itself. So it had to be pretty simple.

I wrote a 2-3 (depending on the final tempo) minute piece called “Endangered!” Here’s the program note:

“Endangered” was composed for the following odd instrumentation: oboes, bassoons, French horns, trombones, euphonium, and tuba. When I worked with the players, I asked them what they wanted to play. The French horns wanted to play trills, the tubas wanted to play the melody once in a while — things you don’t always hear them do. Since this was their piece, I did what they asked. The result? Well, to me it sounds a little like dinosaur music, with all of those low instruments bunched together on the bottom, and a lone high instrument (the oboe) on top. Thus, I give you “Endangered!” — partially because it’s for the Endangered Instruments Program, but partially because “Dinosaur!” was just too corny of a title.

So, the first and only group rehearsal was tonight (in front of the audience), followed immediately by the world premiere. I don’t know how they did it, but the kids pulled it off beautifully. Seriously, I was blown away. To be honest, I was scared that it would all crash and burn in a spectacular train wreck due to a lack of rehearsal, but I was totally wrong. They nailed it.

When it ended, the crowd — all parents, mind you — jumped to their feet, cheering. Part of it was the visual of seeing a huge ensemble of 100 kids — 20 of them bassoons! — but these parents were clearly proud, and for good reason. The parents were extremely nice, saying things like “that’s the best piece of music I’ve ever heard at a middle school band concert,” but really, the success is due to those kids.

Here are some photos…

What’s that in the distance? Is that a grove of aspen trees? No, it’s just two dozen bassoons.

You haven’t really heard “We All Live In A Yellow Submarine” until you’ve heard it played by a tuba trio.

One of the more diligent players looks over his part before the performance.

They’re taking the “stage.” (Okay, it’s a middle school gym.) Just about to give it a go…

Walter Cole, who runs the program, saying a few words before he conducts the Big Premiere!

And… there they go!!!

It’s over — and Walt looks as relieved as I was by how well it all went.

Proud parents. They should be!

And here’s a completely unrelated picture of two bunnies playing by Green Lake here in Seattle the other day.

Again, congrats to all of those kids on a great concert, and thanks to Walter Cole for putting the whole thing together! Next up: Sunday’s West Coast Premiere of “Antiphonal Dances…”


Anonymous says

those bunnies are really cute.

thomas says

I vote to hear a recording. I've always wondered what would happen if you put 20 bassoons, some tubas trombones French horns and oboes on stage.

terrific bands says

looking forward to more posts

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