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Throughout Earth’s time, many myths about what the ocean contains have emerged. Mermaids, sea monsters and creatures of the unknown are expected to be dwelling under the sea. In 1721, Hans Egede, a Dano-Norwegian missionary, set sail to Godthåb, the largest city on the western coast of Greenland. On this voyage, he observed:


“[the] most terrible creature resembling nothing they saw before. The monster lifted its head so high that it seemed to be higher than the crow’s nest on the mainmast. The head was small and the body short and wrinkled. The unknown creature was using giant fins which propelled it though the water. Later the sailors saw its tail as well. The monster was longer than the whole ship.”


The deepest point ever reached by man is 35,858 feet below sea level, which happens to be the deepest known point on Earth’s ocean floor. Around 700 feet below sea level, light disappears; therefore, the rest of the journey to the bottom of the hydrosphere is in complete darkness through the unknown. To me, the ocean represents the fear of the unknown.


RIPTIDES explores the ocean, along with the fear of life and the unfamiliar. The piece begins with a call to the sea and develops into its melody, which is surrounded by a scheme of danger. As RIPTIDES continues, the energy of the piece races through this alluring quality of danger and fear, represented by a mermaid call. The music is built on eccentric percussion instruments such as the conch shell horn, ocean drums and thumb rolls on the timpani and bass drum. Decorated elements such as dissonant textures and glissando techniques are used, differing from any other piece I have written. As the frantic thrill continues to the pivotal point of the piece, RIPTIDES forces listeners to travel to the deepest parts of the unknown- of the unfamiliar. However, unafraid and confident, the listener continues their journeys farther, passing the outlet of music into their own unknown.

Program note by Ann Wilson

Please credit Ann Wilson when reproducing or excerpting this program note.


RIPTIDES (Digital Conductor Score)

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