Solo and Chamber

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Catalpa for Solo French Horn, Didgeridoo, Piano, and Ethnic Percussion (2010) - 8'

Commissioned by J.D. Shaw for the 42nd International Horn Society Symposium, July 2010


Premiere: July 23, 2010 - 42nd International Horn Society Symposium
Queensland Conservatorium; Griffith University
Brisbane, Australia
J.D. Shaw, Horn


Program Notes:

The Catalpa was a ship famous for its role in removing Irish prisoners from the penal colonies of Western Australia. The British began to colonize Australia in 1787, but the land was harsh. Few settlers freely chose to travel halfway around the world to an unexplored land that needed so much work to attain reasonable yields. Convicts were among the first arrivals to Australia and soon were joined by many more as England used transportation to what was a barren continent as a part of its war on crime and dissent. The Catalpa was purchased specifically to remove remaining Irish prisoners from the island in 1876. After countless attempts and close calls both on land and at sea, the men were finally on their way home. The ship encountered numerous obstacles in its return, requiring numerous stops throughout Central and North America before finally arriving in New York.

In the 1950s, the story was used in writing a controversial folk song of the same name. A portion of the text is as follows:

A noble whale ship and commander 
Called the Catalpa, they say 
Came out to Western Australia
And took six poor Fenians away

You kept them in Western Australia
Till their hair began to turn grey
When a Yank from the States of America
Came out here and stole them away

Now all the Perth boats were a-racing
And making short tacks for the spot
But the Yankee she tacked into Fremantle
And took the best prize of the lot

So remember those six Fenians colonial
And sing o'er these few verses with skill
And remember the Yankee that stole them
And the home that they left on the hill


My version of Catalpa uses melodic concepts from the original folk tune in combination with musical styles from different parts of the world, loosely depicting various cultures they encountered on their journey. The piece begins and ends with the sound of the didgeridoo, reflecting both the presence and memory of Australia in the minds of the prisoners. After a brief piano introduction, the horn begins the initial statements of melody used throughout the rest of the piece. Eventually, the percussion joins the horn and piano for a more driving and virtuosic variation of the melody. After the final climax, the piece fades back to opening melodic and harmonic concepts eventually leaving just the didgeridoo voice to fade away into the distance.

Catalpa was commissioned by J.D. Shaw: An incredible teacher, an unforgettable mentor, and a great friend. It has been an honor to work with him over the past few years.