The Great Sea for Contrabassoon Octet (originally written for horn choir) is inspired by the poem “The great sea has set me in motion.” This text comes from the Netsilik Eskimo Uvavnuk, a shaman of the mid-19th-early 20th century. The story goes that she saw a great ball of fire in the sky, and before she could hide from it, it hit her and entered her body. Everything in her began to glow, and she ran into her house, delirious with joy. She began to sing this song, and the others around her were struck with immediate joy. Everything that burdened them began to melt away, and they were cleaned and left joyful.
I thought this text would be a great inspiration for this work – at times grand and sweeping, and at others quietly joyful. The work is broken into sections that represent the lines of the text, from the vastness of the great sea, to the ebb and flow as a “weed in the river.” “The arch of the sky” includes a contrabassoon duet, representing the openness of the sky and the colors in it (maybe the aurora borealis). The mightiness of storms becomes intense, and forward moving, breaking into a freely, unmetered section of ecstatic joy. At the end, we “tremble with joy” as the original vastness of the opening continues, sweeping us into a place where we are unburdened and free.
Originally premiered during the 2016 International Horn Symposium with horn choir, this version for Contrabassoon Octet was written at the request of Richard Meek and John Steinmetz for premiere by Contraband, the contrabassoon ensemble at the 2022 International Double Reed Society Conference in Boulder, Colorado.
The Great Sea
The great sea has set me in motion.
Set me adrift,
And I move as a weed in the river.
The arch of the sky
And mightiness of storms
And I am left
Trembling with joy.
-Eskimo Song (Uvavnuk) – Netsilik Eskimo
and Shaman, mid-19th-early 20th century