To Be a Wolf… was written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Altimira Middle School in Sonoma, CA. With the assistance of their band director Carolyn Niehaus, the Altimira music students presented several concepts to jump-start the creation of the piece. Some had to do with their school mascot, the wolf, so I listened to field recordings of wolf packs howling in what is known as a “chorus howl.” The motif that first appears in the flutes and saxophones at measures 24 and 25 is based on a fragment that I heard in one of the recordings. I also chose a call-and-response element to the piece as a hallmark of wolf pack howls.
The students also came up with a form, based on a more personal element. In 2017 (one year prior to the beginning of the commission process), the devastating Tubbs Fire in the surrounding area forced widespread evacuations and school closures, including Altimira. Students and their families were among those who lost their homes or were otherwise directly affected by the fire. Ms. Niehaus’s class suggested that the piece start out with a “happy mood around school,” then a contrasting section related to the fires, and finishing off by “returning to happy, because we are a family.” The resulting contrast section in the middle (m.38), is more subdued, with open harmonies and less call-and-response so that the music can be filled back in when everyone comes together again for the final repeat of the “happy” main melody statement.
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