For symphony orchestra
Duration: 14 minutes
Written: June-August 2015
Amargosa, meaning “bitter water,” is the name given to both the seasonal river and the desert region along the western edge of the Nevada state line. Directly west of the Amargosa desert lies the expanse of Death Valley; the Amargosa River, when running, eventually empties into the alkali sink at Badwater.
The Amargosa is a foreboding, challenging, and beautiful landscape, one that has beckoned many throughout the years in their search for routes west, for trade, and for gold. Its history is filled with native tribes, horse thieves, miners, farmers, explorers, grifters, and financiers; of those that have attempted to settle and stay in the region, only a select few have had any success. Ironically, its most long-standing resident is also its tiniest – the Devil’s Hole Pupfish, which measures less than an inch long and is likely the world’s most endangered fish species.
Visiting the Amargosa is, in many ways, like a journey outside of time. Stillness and quiet are two of the most immediately noticeable characteristics upon entering the region. After a moment, an impressive, yet unsettling respect takes over for the sublime environment that surrounds you. The Amargosa is quick to show you how insignificant and valuable you truly are.
Melodic elements for this piece incorporate aspects of transcriptions of Paiute and Shoshone songs likely sung in the Amargosa and surrounding regions. Some of these transcriptions of tribal elders were made before 1930; these elders were well into their eighties at the time and had learned the songs from elders before them. Therefore, the transcriptions are a record of songs that possibly reach back to the 18th century in the span of only two generations from the transcribed performance. These transcriptions were found in the following books:
Pietroforte, Alfred. Yokuts and Paiute Songs and Culture. Healdsburg CA: Naturegraph Publishers, Inc., 1965.
Steward, J. H. Ethnography of the Owens Valley Paiute. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1930.
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