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Westward Trek

 

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

Performance Time: 3:59  |  Grade: 2 1/2  |  Style: Contemporary

“Westward Trek” 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 first 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. 
In “Westward Trek,” composer Gary P. Gilroy attempts to create a sound track to an imaginary journey through the vast western states, over the treacherous Sierra Nevada Mountains, and into the Sacramento Valley and other areas where gold was being discovered in these beautiful mountains. In 1848 gold was discovered in the Sacramento Valley, which led to a massive migration of potential prospectors. Mining towns popped up all over the place as people poured into the area. In a short period of time the non-native population of the territory grew from 1,000 to 100,000 by the end of 1848. The California Gold Rush peaked in 1852 with $81 million in gold being extracted from the hills. Eventually, prospectors found and claimed over two billion dollars worth of precious metals. 

The journey west was extremely dangerous. Many traveled the Oregon-California Trail through Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho and Nevada. Oxen and mules pulled wagons 3,000 miles, as very few traveled by horse. The average journey was three to seven months. Many making this journey were afraid of attacks from Native Americans but that rarely happened. Far more lives were lost through diseases such as cholera, mountain fever, pneumonia and diphtheria. 

Some came by ship around the Cape Horn of Africa. These people traveled 15,000 miles in four to eight months. This was probably the safest manner of travel to the California Gold Rush but it was also the most expensive. And there was still plenty of danger involved, such as frigid temperatures, treacherous waves and high gusts of wind. Still others took the “Panama Shortcut” saving 8,000 miles. That trip only took two to three months. These people traveled south by ship and then by horse or mule through the jungle until they reached Panama City where they boarded a ship that would take them up the coast to California. Many of these folks died from diseases such as Malaria, yellow fever and cholera. Thousands lost their lives traveling west to seek their fortunes in gold. Thousands risked all they had to reach the Promised Land. 

Composer Gary P. Gilroy makes reference to the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) quite often in this exciting concert opener to signify the danger of this westward journey. An ostinato created from the Dies Irae actually provides an overall spirit to the tune that is very positive and energetic, much like that of the ambitious people who were attempting the dangerous trek. The composition opens with an energetic and relentless driving force. An occasional meter change adds or deletes a beat in the phrase in order to keep the listener guessing as to what might lie ahead, much like how the weary travelers never really knew what experiences or challenges might be waiting ahead for them. A “crack of the whip” can be heard on several occasions as the music passes through various themes. The use of dissonance is freely employed by the composer to symbolize the dangerous nature of the journey west. 

Percussion scoring for this work will employ at least seven good percussionists. The Mallets II part is the more challenging of the two keyboard parts and therefore, should have the strongest mallet player assigned to it. Percussion I, II and III are all rather challenging parts and should each have a strong player assigned. It is essential that the percussionists all arrange their instruments in a tight semi-circle facing the conductor (with the music faced directly at the conductor) where all instruments are easily reached and played with good tone. Sharing of any instrument is not ideal. The Percussion III player should use some Vic Firth Swizzle Sticks (hard felt on one end and wood stick on the other end) for much of the part. All suspended cymbal rolls should be performed with the hard felt end of the mallets while most of the other playing will need to be done with the wooden end of the sticks. The timpani part is slightly more challenging than the Percussion IV part and will need a player who can make some minor pitch changes on the timpani. This musician must also read treble clef in order to cover the chime notes written in the part. The chime part is very simple but quite important. While the player assigned to the Percussion IV part has one of the easier parts, it is important that they are aggressive at the appropriate times. A shy player on Percussion IV will certainly produce a disappointing performance of this work. They will cover the large whip (slapstick) and will also have to play the gong and bass drum at the same time with appropriate mallets.

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