About this Piece
The South Pass is an isolated saddle, covered in sage and grasses, that straddles the Continental Divide in the midst of Wyoming, the least populated state in the United States. A major wildlife migration point across the Rocky Mountains, it has been traversed by indigenous people for thousands of years, and is the conduit to all five major pre-Columbian trading centers west of the Mississippi River. Historians speculate that without Euro-Americans’ “discovery” of the South Pass, the Pacific Northwest would likely have been permanently claimed by the British and the southwest would have remained part of Mexico. For the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Trails System in 2018, I composed a three-movement suite titled The Oregon Trail after the historically fraught route to the fabled Northwest. THE SOUTH PASS, is derived from its five-minute second movement, which more inclusively centers on the journey, considering all of the people making it.
THE SOUTH PASS focuses on the nexus of the landscape’s meaning, its physical environment, and the human interaction with that landscape on the arduous journey westward up to the pass, the respite at the top, and the long descent down to the Green River Basin below. The opening of the piece immerses the listener in the in the windy, dry, rocky environment as one embarks upon the climb. The main thrust of the ascent unfolds over several minutes. The contrasting music at the top of the pass is energetic. Also a wildlife corridor, the wide plateau also served, at times, as an encampment and/or a gathering place for different peoples. The indistinguishable desert shrub environment proved to be a disappointment to the later settlers moving through. The four-minute descent, is both purposeful and reflective. German philosopher, Johann Gottfried Herder said: “History is geography set into motion.” That is certainly true for the South Pass.
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