Prairie Music

Information on the Badlands National Park:

September 10, 2019

BTW, those pictures I took 10 miles outside of Elkhart, OK,  in the Rita Blanca National Grasslands on the way to Santa Fe, NM are the lost icons of the Great Plains transformation from raw natural resources to vast ranch homesteads. The once natural environment supported the ancient culture of the hunter-gatherers that thrived over 2,000 years ago. These deserted icons in the grasslands are the leftover infrastructure from cattle ranches that ravished the land with overgrazing to maximizing profits from slaughterhouse sales.

September 6th, 2019

Looks like I am tapping into the climate change zeitgeist with plans, some controversial, to return bison to the plains:

August 30th, 2019

The 100th meridian runs from pole to pole, 100 degrees longitude west of the prime meridian in Greenwich, England. It cuts through six U.S. states forming a partial boundary between Oklahoma and Texas. Moving west from the Mississippi, one leaves the lushness of the great river valley and enters the arid and dry prairie. This is where I began to draw inspiration for an orchestra work entitled, Prairie Music. The movements are descriptive: A Cloudless Sky, The Restlessness of Wind, Ghost Dance, and Thundering Hooves. It will all come to a head when I serve as an artist-in-residence at the Badlands National Park in March of 2020. Immersed in the culture of this part of our country and all of its history, I will, for the first time in many years, work in isolation, living and breathing the music while and teaching the children in the nearby rural schools about deep listening in nature. You can listen to some excerpts from some of the music I have already sketched out: a section from Ghost Dance, The Restlessness of Wind, and Thundering Hooves.

The Artist in Residence program at Badlands National Park was founded in 1996 and is open to all professional artists who are US citizens.Writers, composers and all visual and performing artists are invited to interpret this wind-swept environment through their work. The program provides time for artists to get away from everyday responsibilities to focus on their surroundings and their medium while interpreting the unique themes of Badlands National Park. Artists will translate the meanings and significance (themes) of Badlands National Park into artistic expressions within their chosen art medium.

Badlands National Park has a strong commitment to area youth, particularly in our local rural school districts. Therefore, all artists in residence are required to present a minimum of four sessions in a local school (or schools) to introduce students to an aspect of art and its interpretation of their Badlands home. Additionally, artists must be willing to interact with park visitors on site and possibly give a presentation to the public or park staff on his or her medium, interests and experiences.

July 12th, 2019

I have traveled many times through the prairie from the midwest to the southwest and each time I am overwhelmed by the scale of the landscape; a landscape  that gradually, almost imperceivably, changes from lust green to golden brown moving east to west. In 2018 I gave a short talk entitled The 100th Meridian West  as an introduction to the September 15th Out of Our Minds Chamber series concert, Wild & Western in La Crosse, WI.  Learning about both perspectives on how the land was to be settled brought awareness of the contrasting forces that permeate the great plains and I know it will be the foundation of contrast in my music.  

These pictures were taken 10 miles outside of Elkhart, OK,  in the Rita Blanca National Grasslands on the way to Santa Fe, NM.  Here vanishing point on the horizon appears to be endless and stretches of grass surround you.     

The wind is constant, ranging from gentle whisps to an incessant force of varying degrees.  When, suddenly  the wind is still for a few seconds, the sonic background of chirping and clicking emerges from the omnipresent crickets and grasshoppers. 

Here the grandeur of cumulonimbus clouds is made even more resplendent against the broad  sky that is vast and wide.      

Distances are deceiving and the scale is so vast.  Time unfolds on a larger scale and the time it takes to approach a distant object is always underestimated.

The 100th Meridian West (I gave this talk as an introduction to the September 15th Out of Our Minds Chamber series concert, Wild & Western.

This evening we are listening to music that depicts two different views of the American West, two contrasting visions:  The Romantic legend of the cowboy and the heroic endurance of immigrant settlers. The Romance of settling the west is part of the continuing promise of the American Dream. But, as always, the Dream has a price.

The 100th meridian runs from pole to pole, 100 degrees longitude west of the prime meridian in Greenwich, England.  It cuts through six U.S. states forming a partial boundary between Oklahoma and Texas. Moving west from the Mississippi, one leaves the  lushness of the great river valley and enters the west, the land of the arid and dry prairie.

In the late 1860s after the Civil War was over, the Union Pacific Railroad succeeded in connecting the two coasts by rail.  What a better way to ensure ridership and use of the rail than to have the US government encourage settlement. The Homestead Act of 1862 was providing settlers with 160 acres of public land. This act led to a massive influx of new and inexperienced farmers across the Great Plains.

Two men of this era, William Gilpin and John Wesley Powell had opposite views of how the settlement of the west would unfold.

What began as the Great American Desert evolved into a golden promised land from the oratory of Gilpin and the broadsides of land companies and the railroad companies who would profit from the influx of settlers. The scene was set.  The Indian Wars had been won and the land was safe to occupy.    

“Indian Land for Sale, Get a Home of Your Own, Easy Payments, Fine Lands in the West, Irrigated,  Grazing, Agricultural Dairy Farming.”

“Nebraska, The Garden of the West, 50 Million Acres Grain and Grazing Land”

John Wesley Powell, the famous explorer who successfully navigated through the Grand Canyon, on the other hand, made the most significant contribution in understanding the geology of the west. He was opposite in character than Gilpin.  He was an unassuming  scientist. Trained as a U.S. soldier and geologist, he was an explorer of the American West,, The most important document was Powell’s Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States. Powell was successful because he studied the science of the land and contemplated the best possible use of the resources in the west. 

Because he knew that access to water was important, he proposed that regions of the west  be designated a “commonwealth” for the purpose of regulating its water usage, which would remain under federal control without regard to state lines.

In contrast, William Gilpin,   interpreted the idea of a Manifest Destiny with a passionate vision. He resisted methodical factual investigation and introduced fantasy into geography and his influence in the American government’s inter policy ultimate had a negative effect.

Well there isn’t much rain out west.  There is not enough rain to grow crops and so additional water has to be brought in.     So, the odds were strongly in favor of failure for the homesteader that borrowed money to farm.  It took a super man to survive and two thirds failed and because the homestead act provided no government loans, often the banks and large corporations ultimately owned the land and controlled the water.  Now fast forward to the 1930’s: 

By 1934, an estimated 35 million acres of formerly cultivated land had been rendered useless for farming.

The Dust Bowl was the name given to the drought-stricken Southern Plains region of the United States, which suffered severe dust storms during a dry period in the 1930s. As high winds and choking dust swept the region from Texas to Nebraska, people and livestock were killed and crops failed across the entire region and many farming families left on a desperate migration in search of work and better conditions.

The worst dust storm occurred on April 14, 1935. News reports called the event Black Sunday. A wall of blowing sand and dust started in the Oklahoma Panhandle and spread east. As many as three million tons of topsoil were estimated to have blown off the Great Plains during Black Sunday.

Roughly 2.5 million people left the Dust Bowl states during the 1930s. It was the largest migration in American history.  So, what began as a land rush resulted in many defeated people leaving. 

But who stayed and toughed it out? 

The immigrants:  We know they were a from diverse ethic groups.  Just listen this list of towns in Kansas alone. 

French Swiss  Neuchatel

German Swiss  Bern

Swiss    Geneva

German  Humboldt & Berlin to name a few

Swedish Stotler

Norwegian  Norway

Italian  Arma

English   Victoria

Bohemian/Czech   Prag & Pilsen

Irish   Emerald

African-American  Nicodemus

Danish  Denmark

Austrian   Everest

Most had come so far and journeyed for so long that there was no going back.

They had to adopt to new agricultural methods and crops, to survive and they probably attended a church that duplicated ones they left behind in Europe.   So, their flexibility and faith sustained them.