World On Fire
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In the summer of 2018, both of my parents retired, sold their house and most of their things, traded their cars in for a mini van, packed it full of camping gear, and set off to explore the National Parks of the Western USA. They spent months driving from park to park, enjoying their newly-found freedom, and admiring the vast and beautiful landscapes. Not long into their trip, they began to be chased by clouds of smoke from wildfires. They were evacuated from several parks and had to drive hundreds of miles to avoid the smokey haze. There were so many fires raging, and the smoke was so thick, that they had to head for the safety of the coast.
"Every year since 2000, an average of 73,200 wildfires burned an average of 6.9 million acres in the USA. This figure is nearly double the average annual acreage burned in the 1990s..." (National Interagency Fire Center). Those who live in the areas of the wildfires have seen, felt, and breathed the impacts. Though wildfires are a natural part of a forest's ecological health, it is devastating to learn that 85% of these fires are started by humans (not from natural causes). Sources of these fires range from fireworks to cigarettes to electrical sparks to campfires to arson. We are destroying the earth at an alarming rate, and unless we act immediately, future generations will struggle to prosper.
With all of my commissioned works, I want the music to be unique and personal to the organization that commissions it. Countless residents of Oregon and the Western USA have felt the impact of these wildfires — losing trees, homes, and loved ones (not to mention the larger ecological costs). “World On Fire” seeks to envelop the listener in the sounds of a raging wildfire and its aftermath, and bring awareness to the severity of our destructive lifestyle.
“World On Fire" opens with two melodic themes that recur throughout: 1. an ascending Lydian scale (a major scale with a raised fourth scale degree) and 2. the “forest” theme, first stated in the horns and cellos. The sweeping lines of the opening soar over a mountain scene, flying above the trees, until an electrical burst sparks a fire that slowly grows and consumes the forest. I’ve employed a non-traditional “fire" effect with the crinkling of paper (which was once a tree), as well as raw, cacophonous blasts from the orchestra. As the fire dies, the English horn, bassoon, harp, and strings (instruments made of mostly wood) weep for the loss of life as the embers crackle. The music descends in falling gestures until it arrives in the lowest and darkest colors of the strings. Flashes of lightning in the distance and the gradual return of the ascending scale give way to a full-on rainstorm — nature's attempt to reclaim and repair the destruction.
I am so grateful to Elizabeth and Justus Schlichting, James Paul, and the Oregon Coast Music Festival for making this commission possible. May “World On Fire” remind us of our vital responsibility to protect the earth for generations to come.
Paper Crinkling Technique:
For the best results, please use 20# copy paper (paper that is intended to be recycled is preferred so that we aren't creating waste!).