The Great Migration, for two horns and piano
by Gina Gillie
The Great Migration was written in the fall of 2012 on a commission from MirrorImage, horn duo Lisa Bontrager and Michelle Stebleton, for the Western U.S. Horn Symposium 2013. Using the theme of “Safari” as requested by the commissioners, I decided to write a through-composed work about the migratory cycle of the wildebeests of the Serengeti.
Each year, the wildebeests undertake an arduous journey from Tanzania to the Maasai Mara of Kenya and back. This composition portrays various scenes from their journey and seeks to capture some of the playfulness, peril and grandeur of the cycle.
The piece begins during the rainy season in Tanzania with a staccato piano motif that symbolizes the falling of raindrops and imitates the plucked sound of an mbira. During this introduction, the horns take up a playful melody and countermelody. This lighthearted beginning is followed by the rutting season during which the male wildebeests fight for breeding rights. The drive of the music increases, and various rips, heavy accents, and flutter tonguing portray the clashing of wildebeest horns and dusty scuffling of hooves. After the breeding season, the land begins to dry up from a lack of rain, and the herds begin their journey north to Kenya to find more verdant plains on which to feed.
The herds set out on their trek with a fanfarish theme imbued with determination. During their travels they will face many perils and stop for almost nothing. So driven are they to reach their destination that they will even travel by night. This nocturnal aspect of the journey is portrayed by whole tone scales which create a foreign and eerie quality.
After much traveling, the wildebeests reach their destination, the Maasai Mara of Kenya, which is green with grasses. The herds rejoice to a bouncy call-and-response theme in the horns, which dances and lilts through various time changes. The herds will graze here until the rains return which is a signal to begin migration back to Tanzania.
The journey back is extremely perilous since rivers that were dry before are now swollen with the new rains. The Mara River with claim many lives with its rapidly flowing waters and the crocodiles who have awakened for the feast. The undulating 6/8 meter portrays the swirling waters, and the glissandos and accents imitate the snaps and bites of the crocodiles.
Those that do make it across the river and back to Tanzania return home to rich grasslands and the births of the new claves. The journey has been difficult, and the final music portrays the heroic success of the wildebeests who have survived to begin the cycle anew.