Program Notes: The Summoning of the Sun

The Summoning of the Sun [1999]
for percussion ensemble

This short work is the sixth section of a much larger composition, Northern Lights, a community composition written for the city of Mackay, in central Queensland, as part of the first Queensland Biennial Festival of Music in 1999.

At the time, I had been back in Australia for only a few months, after an absence of almost 18 years in the USA. The last three years of that time I had lived in Seattle and had grown to love its rugged landscapes, its tolerance of multicultural diversity, its unrelenting rain and feeling of being close to the earth. Part of this may have been due to the fact that I lived quite close to a Native American ceremonial site at Discovery Park, high above the banks of the Puget Sound. On several occasions, I caught various rituals and performances there. One morning, at dawn, I experienced the welcoming of the Sun, a ritual traditionally enacted at the end of the long gray winter in the Pacific Northwest.

A legion of drummers, each with two drums, surrounded the site, and began to pound out a constant throbbing rhythm, broken by odd accents. Slowly, as the volume and intensity rose, I realized that those accents were now coming closer together to form a kind of terrace of contracting riccochet-steps. The sound of this thunderous 'drumming circle' began to enfold and spiral around the site, as the drumming grew to a frenzy to scare away the last vestiges of a tired and ragged winter.

Northern Lights brought together several sun-rituals from Pacific cultures in an hour-long performance in the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Mackay at dusk late one Sunday afternoon in July 1999. Appropriate for such a tropical location, the church-walls opened onto gardens surrounding the church. Mid-way through the work, at the appointed time, these walls were opened to reveal some two dozen rock drummers encircling the audience inside the church.

The ruckus was so thunderous that not only did it scare off every shrieking bird in the church grounds, but set off several car alarms. The police arrived to check out this unusual disturbance, but were pacified by the Mayor who happened to be in the audience.

The Summoning of the Sun, lifted directly from a single page of this score, can be performed by any number of drummers, surrounding an audience, over any duration of time. Try to listen 'inside' the music, to catch the accents as they contract and merge together to create other acoustic patterns within the resonance of the performing space.

Copyright, Vincent Plush, 1999