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Stories from Utah’s geologic and anthropological past and present are both profound and musical. Listen to the elegant music of Matt Durrant, featuring a pianist and bassoonist - presented in eleven short sections- each section inspired by specific exhibits at the Natural History Museum of Utah.
The Wall of Glass and Butterflies
I. The Wall of Glass and Butterflies
The first, and arguably one of the most impressive, sights that one sees as they enter the museum is the enormous display in the canyon area. This exhibit is literally a glass wall filled from the floor to the ceiling with many beautiful artifacts, including a large variety of colorful butterflies. This piece reflects the feelings of awe and excitement a person might feel as they enter the museum and see this display. To some extent it also seeks to depict how the butterflies are arranged in the display, suggesting they are fluttering upward.
II. Ancient Seas
Believe it or not, much of Utah used to be covered by water. You’d have to go back millions of years, but if you did you’d find large seas filled with all kinds of aquatic life. As one journeys through the museum eventually you will come across a series of maps showing the changes in Utah’s geography through the millenia, including the formation and loss of these ancient seas. This piece is a speculative representation of what the life in these seas may have been like. Imagine corals, strange crustaceans, and jellyfish floating about aimlessly in these ancient seas.
In the Life exhibit there is a large stuffed beaver. On land the beaver is a bit awkward, waddling on its stubby legs. However, in the water the beaver is incredibly fast and smooth. The music reflects this by juxtaposing a klunky waltz against a smooth and flowing middle section.
IV. The Land of Ghosts
One of the highlights of the museum is seeing the fossilized skeletons of animals from Dinosaurs to Mammoths. At the end of this exhibit is this quote on the wall:
"Most of the Western Hemisphere's charismatic large mammals no longer exist. As a result, without knowing it, Americans live in a land of ghosts"
- Paul S. Martin
I feel this statement sums up the fossil exhibits quite nicely and really sets the mood for this piece of music.
V. Lythronax Argestes (King of Gore)
While this set of pieces was nearing completion, I heard the news of a fierce new species of Dinosaur being discovered in southern Utah. The Lythronax argestes is now on display in the museum. Being a relative of the Tyrannosaurs rex and looking rather nasty itself, I wrote this music to sound like what its nickname, the King of Gore, brings to mind. The Bassoon uses a special technique to mimic a Dinosaur Roar and the music in general is jagged, relentless, and violent, much like an encounter with a hungry Lythronax argestes may have been.
This is the only piece in this set written for solo Bassoon. Its beauty is not found in harmony and fullness, but in expressive austerity. While it may seem simple, there is much musical information presented for consideration and later development. The many bones on display throughout the museum are similarly beautiful, and the empty, lifeless skeletons are also full of information about the ancient creatures who once possessed them.
VII. Geologic Time
This movement is played without pause between it and the preceding movement and begins where the piano enters. Together, Bones and Geologic Time present a narrative of the process of fossilization. Through eons of time and under the right conditions, bones can be changed from living matter into stone. The musical material presented in simple form by the Bassoon in Bones is developed and altered in Geologic Time until it becomes something entirely new, thus creating a musical representation this process.
VIII. Tectonic Shift
Utah is a geologically active state and the museum itself sits on our very own Wasatch Fault. Seismic activity can be devastatingly destructive, but one only needs to look at the Wasatch Mountains to witness the grandeur and beauty of what this activity can also create. Tectonic Shift is made up of different motives and melodic patterns that are altered or destroyed only to be presented in new ways, a representation of the ongoing creative/destructive geologic process of the Wasatch Fault.
Utah is rich with human history as shown by the many cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, and other artifacts left by those who came before. The Natural History Museum of Utah is fortunate to house a large collection of these artifacts, and it is upon this collection that this movement is based. The music is simple and chant-like giving it an ancient, almost mysterious feel and evoking images of what life may have been like for those who lived here hundreds or even thousands of years ago.
In the Rocks and Minerals exhibit there are a certain class of rocks on display which, when exposed to certain wavelengths of light, glow with all sorts of weird fluorescent colors. However, under normal light they appear to be ordinary, unremarkable rocks. This movement brings to life this contrast by pitting a quasi-baroque theme against a smooth tango. Just like these rocks are leading a double life, so is the music.
XI. Native Voices
The Native American cultures of Utah are beautifully represented on the top floor of the museum. The music for this exhibit is both tender and achingly nostalgic, perhaps representing the desire to return to the days before so much of their heritage was lost. A theme loosely based on a Navajo tune suggests that hope for the future takes the form of passing traditions on to the next generation. While much has been lost, much remains.
Matthew Durrant’s music has been performed throughout the United States at festivals, conferences, and recitals. His style is very melodic and can be thought of as neo-tonal. While his music is generally triadic in nature, its richness is expanded by borrowing from beyond the diatonic realm and employing tonality in unconventional ways. Matthew holds a master’s degree in composition from the University of Utah. He currently teaches undergraduate theory and ear training as a teaching assistant and PhD candidate at the University of Utah. Some of his works are published through Cherry Classics and Waterton Brass Music, and will soon be available through TrevCo Publishing.