Blue Ridge Lights
(1111-1110-mandolin hp pf 2 perc - strings (one on a part)
Winner of the 2015 Dean's Prize, best chamber piece, Indiana University
The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina lies the unassuming Brown Mountain, which has long been a source of mystery and intrigue. For years, witnesses claim to have seen mysterious floating lights rising from the base of the mountain. In order to explain the phenomenon, people have long since conjured up campfire ghost stories about murder, missing persons, war, and other such variations on similar themes.
In 1922, after receiving numerous reports of phantasmal light sightings, the U.S. Geological Survey sent geologist George R. Mansfield to investigate. Mansfield tried to find a scientific explanation for the lights. He also considered various natural phenomena like will o’ wisps, St. Elmo’s fire, and marsh gas as possibilities. The investigation concluded that the apparitions were merely headlights from trains and automobiles; however, these findings have neither squelched the folklore surrounding the lights nor explained the sightings that occurred before the existence of automobiles.
I composed Blue Ridge Lights around the notion of the ghostly orbs, which are depicted by a series of rising gestures in the ensemble. From there, I constructed the main sections with abstractions of the various explanations for the lights. For instance, to portray the various legends, I began with a haunting tune with a ghostly character; however, the tune transforms into something stark and sinister later in the piece. On a smaller scale, flittering lines represent will o’ wisps, while grumbling moments in the brass section portray dyspeptic marsh gas. Driven by a motor rhythm, the final section characterizes the humdrum conclusion to the 1922 study. To tie the piece to the Appalachian region, I included a mandolin in the ensemble and shaded moments in the piece with a subtle tinge of bluegrass.