Canyon Music

Canyon Music

Canyon Music

for brass choir

Program Notes

  1. in the Arctic half-light of the canyon
  2. rocks from the basement of time
  3. haunted by waters

Canyon Music was commissioned by the Millar Brass Ensemble of Chicago, Bruce Briney, conductor. They premiered it in 1986, with Gail Williams of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing the extended horn solo in the last movement.

The titles for the three movements of Canyon Music are taken from the closing paragraphs of Norman Maclean’s novella, A River Runs Through It, one of the most moving pieces of fiction I have ever read.

A River Runs Through It is an astonishing book that somehow manages to weave a convincing tapestry out of such disparate threads as fly fishing, familial love, Scotch Presbyterianism, and the majesty of nature. At the same time it provides deep insights into the essential isolation of human lives, even lives bound together by ties of blood and affection.

Canyon Music is not a narrative tone poem, and does not deal in any way with the plot or the characters themselves. Instead, I have taken these wonderful phrases and tried to express musically the images and associations that they evoke in my memory and imagination.

I do not generally like to give detailed technical information in program notes, preferring to invite performers and listeners to interpret the music in their own way, according to their own fund of memories and experiences. Accordingly I will mention only the most basic formal elements. The first movement is through-composed, and the second is organized as an introduction and toccata, with the toccata more-or-less in rondo form. The last movement is a large-scale ternary form in which motives from the first two movements return in different guises.

Canyon Music is dedicated to my father, E.C. Satterwhite, in honor of the camping and backpacking trips we shared as often as our often divergent lives allowed.

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