for wind ensemble
2018 - Duration: ca. 8 min
Difficulty: Grade 4.5
Instrumentation: picc, 2 fl, 2 ob, 2 bsn, 3 cl, Bcl, 2 alto sax, tenor sax, bari sax, 3 tpt, 4 hn, 3 tbn, euph, tba, 3 perc (vib, mar [4.3], glock, 2 sus cym, ride cym, crot, chimes)
Railroad Elegy is an homage to three constant facets of my early life: the concert band, railroad tracks crisscrossing the barren landscape of southern Wyoming, and my grandfather, Kay L. Ebbeka, in whose memory this work is written. My grandfather, a lifelong Wyomingite, worked for the Union Pacific Railroad for 44 years before he retired. He passed away in December 2017.
Kay, or PaPa as he was known to me from the moment I could speak, was a quintessential prairie man, a man of few words but great depth of feeling. This hidden sentiment rarely showed itself, but the times I sensed it the most (besides all of the stubbly-faced hugs) were when he would play the piano. He had no formal training, but taught himself to play piano, accordion, harmonica, and guitar, all by ear. He could read some notes but preferred to bang out the chord progressions without the aid of any music, often hitting a wrong note but soldiering on regardless. A fixture of our twice-yearly visits to my grandparents’ home in Laramie, Wyoming, was PaPa, idly sitting down at the piano and meandering his way through the Great American Songbook, smoothly segueing from “Camptown Races” to “Oh Susanna” to Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” to Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog,” even to “Jingle Bells” if he picked up on a melodic similarity.
PaPa was also a railroad man through-and-through, a mode of transportation that is no longer the main form of travel but still provides most of the U.S. with its groceries and textiles. The death of the elegant train system, the original backbone of the American West, was on my mind while writing this piece, and so it became an elegy for the railroads as well. Open chords built on fourths and fifths and slowly undulating melodies evoke the rolling plains and mountains of Wyoming, and the chugging of the UP trains endlessly hauling freight from one corner of America to the other. The music is unsettled, searching for something—which it finally attains in a folk-like melody, of my own composition, near the end of the work. I imagine that PaPa might have liked this tune, and maybe even added it to his catalog.
This work is dedicated to PaPa, with love and admiration of a life well-lived.