California Suite memorializes the songs of endangered California birds. The first movement mimics the flowing cheedle cheedle chee of Least Bell’s Vireo, which is characterized by its question-and-answer structure. The song of Belding’s Savannah Sparrow, which inspired the second movement, begins with a few sparse notes which gradually accelerate into a buzz. The third movement is a series of melodies that continuously sink in pitch, mirroring the descending call of Swainson’s Hawk. The California Black Rail’s song, which is featured in the final movement, comprises three quick staccato chirps: two high and one low.
Each of these birdsongs suggested to me a particular Baroque dance — an allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue respectively — making this work a modern interpretation of the Baroque dance suite. My hope is that California’s natural sounds course through these movements, just as the French musical style of Bach’s day courses through his French Suites.
As a young Boy Scout from Southern California, I experienced the diversity of California’s wilderness firsthand, camping among the wildlife of Death Valley, Yosemite, and Catalina Island. In the face of impending climate catastrophe, I find myself revisiting the Boy Scout mantra to “leave things better than you found them.” Just as these four birds and their beautiful music are threatened by an increasingly inhospitable environment, so too will humans — whether residing in California or elsewhere — face existential consequences unless we prioritize our ecosystem.