“Origins” from “California Collage”


When I began the long process of composing “California Collage,” I started with “Origins,” which musically describes the conflict between the Native Americans and the Spanish missionaries when they arrived in California.  Initially, I envisioned “Origins” as a work for two pianos without chorus.  In this form, it was awarded a prize in the Music Teachers Association of California Composers Today State-wide Competition. I performed this work several times with Virginia Bigelow.  Later, I transformed the score to include full chorus. 

This piece involves two themes. “The Snowflake Song” is from the Mono Paiute people of central California. It symbolizes timelessness, the importance of nature and the flow of changing seasons. The Spanish religious song, “El Cántico del Alba,” or “Song of Dawn,” was sung at daybreak in the missions and communities throughout California during the years of Spanish rule (1697-1821.)

The interplay of the themes portrays the clash between these two cultures in the early years of California settlement. The ”Snowflake Song” begins in a peaceful context with snowfall depicted by light flurries of descending patterns on the two pianos. The Spanish song emerges abruptly, interrupting the tranquility of the “Snowflake Song.” Exemplifying growing tensions, both themes develop in dissonance and complexity against a persistent drumbeat. After the cataclysmic climax of the piece, the mood quiets and the themes interact as they build to a harmonious chorale and are played simultaneously. This suggests an optimistic reconciliation, although it was never achieved, especially for the Native Americans. The enduring drum beat octaves at the end of the piece represent the continuity of Native American cultures to this day.

In the next post, I described “Journey for Gold,” the second movement of “California Collage.”