instrumentation: 2-2-2-2/4-0-3-1/timp, perc (3 players), acoustic guitar (amplified)/strings
premiere: Des Moines Symphony Orchestra, Joseph Giunta, Music Director, Des Moines Civic Auditorium, Des Moines, IA on 10/19/2002
commissioned: Des Moines Symphony Orchestra, Joseph Giunta, Music Director
(First movement of Symphony to the Prairie Farm)
Ghosts of the Grasslands portrays the prairie in winter and is a sonic reference to the tragedies of the prairie, including the Native American genocide and ecocide. With directives such as “low, rumbling, thundering, searching, remote, across open spaces,” the entire piece consists of a chant-like elegy. The tension between homesteader and indigenous people, as well as the melancholy of the plains and prairie, is evoked through soaring string lines, acoustic guitar and percussion sounds involving gourd rattles, native prairie grass bundles, pow wow-style bass drum effects, lone whistling and clattering buffalo bones. At the end of the piece, each percussionist plays squeaky toys to create prairie dog barks. This represents a symbolic protest against the systematic destruction of the prairie dog on the plains.