Heartbreak In The Motherlode



Composer(s) / Arranger(s): Gary P. Gilroy

Performance Time: 4:22  |  Grade: 3  |  Style: Contemporary

“Heartbreak in the Motherlode” was commissioned by the California Music Educators Association, Capitol Section, to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of their High School Honor Band. It was premiered on January 7, 2017 at Rosemont High School, Sacramento, California by the CMEA Capitol Section High School Honor Band. It is the second of three works from A California Gold Rush Trilogy, all commissioned by the CMEA, Capitol Section and composed by Gary P. Gilroy. 

Since moving to California in 1977 as a young college student, Gilroy has been fascinated by California history. The westward movement of ambitious Americans looking to find their fortune in the California Sierra Nevada Mountains changed many lives. Gilroy’s fascination with the Gold Rush history began with a college course that required him to drive through many important Gold Rush locations while listening to pre-recorded cassette tapes detailing each area’s most important sites and features. California State Highway 49 is a treasure that runs right through many of the important towns that made history with their production of California gold. 

“Heartbreak in the Motherlode” is a passionate and soulful work for band that attempts to capture the feeling of despair and heartbreak that was experienced by many during the California Gold Rush. After a treacherous journey through the vast western states, over the dangerous Sierra Nevada Mountains, and into the hills where gold was being discovered, many found themselves more than disappointed and very much down on their luck. Many eastern towns sent their brightest young men to find their fortune in the California hills and what most of them discovered was overcrowded chaos, lawlessness, rampant banditry, gambling, prostitution and violence that was often out of control. 

Many of the immigrants ended their journey making it to the Motherlode with nothing but the shirt on their backs. They ended up in a remote region far from those they loved and far from home. They had to spend everything they had left to purchase overpriced mining equipment. And those left behind in the homesteads back east experienced great heartbreak as well not knowing the fate of their loved ones making the dangerous journey.

Far more people lost everything they had trying to strike it rich during the California Gold Rush than those who found their fortune in gold. The merchants who sold their goods to the poor miners ended up far better off than the miners. For example, Levi Strauss, a German-born tailor, went to San Francisco with the idea of selling canvas tarps and wagon coverings to the immigrants flocking to the gold country. After realizing the miners needed sturdy work clothes that could survive the abuse and impact of the gold country, he started selling Levi’s denim jeans. John Studebaker manufactured wheelbarrows for the Gold Rush miners and eventually made enough profit to build one of America’s great automobile fortunes. And Henry Wells and William Fargo, two entrepreneurial bankers, opened an office in San Francisco that was to be the start of one of America’s premier banking institutions.

The slow moving melodic lines and harmony in this composition create a feeling of despair and hopelessness. As the music moves forward Gilroy offers a sense of hope and determination. Driving lines give the listener hope that once again, resolve to more depressed and lonely harmonies or in the case of measure 27 & 28, a lone C concert in the clarinet’s low register that still moves persistently forward into a new more energetic section, again offering hope. Once again the mood resolves and turns even more passionate at measure 43 with a feeling of strong determination that marches forward in a relentless manner, seemingly, never giving up. This section grows stronger and stronger until finally climaxing at measure 81 when the intense fermata gives way to the clarinets again, this time in a cold and hollow open 5th. Once again, the opening theme of despair consumes the listener with the final bars sounding more lonely and cold than ever. The tune ends with blend of metallic percussion creating a “shiver” of the final tonality. 

Percussion part assignments should consider the following: The Mallet II part is by far the most challenging. This player should be at a very high level and follow all pedal markings with great dedication. If crotales are not available it is suggested that the player use an extra set of orchestra bells and strike the bars with a good thick pair finger cymbals. Percussion III should be a strong snare drummer who will also play important concert toms parts. The timpanist will be called upon to play chimes and also handle multiple tuning changes on some of the drums. Again, pedaling notations should be followed strictly. It is possible, in fact, to set the “sustain” pin on the chimes for much of the part. This will be very important in measure 40 and 41.

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