Music is almost always about place for me, and this work was inspired by the most majestic place that I have ever been, Yellowstone National Park. Though not programmatic in a strict sense, its sounds and melodies reflect my time and experiences in the Park. Not all places speak to me musically, but none has ever spoken as definitively as Yellowstone.
I began the work in 1995 during the first of many visits to the Park. When I first arrived, I was so overwhelmed by what I was seeing that I associated no sound at all with the place, but after a while, I started to become aware of vague sounds and melodies. They were not clearly defined, but I understood their essence. They were made up of what I can only describe as animal cries and Indian chants, as one might expect, given Yellowstone's inhabitants both past and present.
The conception of the piece occurred during that initial visit. It was a moment that I can only refer to as an epiphany. En route from Mammoth Hot Springs to Madison Junction, I passed through Goldengate Canyon onto Swan Lake Flats when suddenly before me loomed the most impressive sight that I have ever beheld, Electric Peak. It was nothing less than a religious experience, and at that moment, I knew that I would write this piece. I turned into a pullout and just sat there, stunned by the unfathomable beauty before me. While sitting there, I slowly became conscious of a pickup and a livestock trailer sitting in the next pullout, and a second plan began to form in my mind. I did not know exactly how, but I knew that I was going to ride a horse in the shadow of that mountain. (To understand my motivation, it might be helpful to know that I come from a long line of cowboys.)
I began the piece when I returned home, but little came to me. After making no progress for several months, I finally laid it aside and went to Kentucky to begin the course work for a doctorate. Two years would pass before I returned my full attention to the piece, and for more than a year, I did not even know that it was going to be for the violin. Originally, I had thought that it would be an orchestral tone poem. The violin had never entered my mind, and when it did, it happened in a rather ironic way.
At about this time, I had become completely enamored by Anne-Sophie Mutter's recording of the Sibelius violin concerto. Though I had been a great fan of her recordings for more than a decade, this particular recording was in a league all its own. Coincidentally, one of my favorite places in Yellowstone, Dunraven Pass, is named for the same man as Anne-Sophie Mutter's violin, Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quin, the 4th Earl of Dunraven, and this set me to thinking. The violin was really the perfect instrument to explore the sounds that I associated with Yellowstone. It would be capable of expressing Yellowstone's most serene beauty and, at the same time, its unforgiving viciousness. So I settled on the idea of writing a violin concerto and dedicating it to Frau Mutter.
As fate would have it, I got a one semester job teaching at Idaho State University in the fall of 1998, some two and a half hours from Yellowstone. I spent nearly every weekend in the Park, and slowly, the piece began to materialize. Before the semester was over, I managed to write a good portion of the first movement. I also secured a job for the following summer, giving guided horseback tours in Yellowstone. I returned to Missouri during the spring and broke a two year-old filly named Jitterbug, and at the end of April, Jitter and I set out for Yellowstone. For the next five months, we made our way through more than 1,200 miles of the 2.2 million acres that is Yellowstone.
This piece is the sum of my experiences in Yellowstone National Park. It represents my deepest and most intimate thoughts and feelings about that hallowed place. I don't know whether I have successfully communicated those thoughts and feelings, but it is my sincere hope that I have given the listener a glimpse into what is surely the Garden of Eden without the tree.
Yellowstone | Dunraven | Hoodoos