for The Paul Winter Consort
(saxophone, cello and percussion), orchestra, choir, narrator, masked
characters and dancers
by Eugene Friesen (Orchestrations by David Spear)
a one-hour concert work for orchestra, choir, narrator and instrumental
soloists. Drawing on literature set in various grassland regions
of the world (Australia, the savanna of Africa, the steppes of Mongolia,
and particularly the American prairie) the piece features the recorded
sounds of creatures such as the African elephant, the buffalo, coyote
and prairie chicken. The narration includes humor, descriptive language,
Native American story and earth science.
Grasslandia begins with Coyote (a comical masked character in grey
fur and black high-top sneakers) making his way through the symphony
orchestra in a parody of the first humans in the tallgrass, and
ends with the rhythmic uniting of Black Elk’s mighty prayer,
“Paint the Earth on Me,” with the hymn, “Praise
God From Whom All Blessings Flow.” In between are musical
features for the Consort soloists, large-scale ensemble pieces,
accompanied narration, traditional Native American music scored
for the soloists, orchestra and choir (including the traditional
“Eagle Dance”) and a healthy dose of comic relief by
an assortment of masked characters in the guise of prairie creatures.
Grasslandia was commissioned by a consortium of three, Cowley County
Community College in Arkansas City, Kansas, The Salina Arts and
Humanities Commission in Salina, Kansas, and the Fairfield Symphony
in Norwalk, Connecticut. The piece was premiered in 1997 at the
Flint Hills Music Festival in Winfield, Kansas and given a second
performance at the Smoky Hill River Festival in Salina, conducted
by Gary Gackstatter.
In 2006, Grasslandia was performed at Symphony in the Flint Hills
by the Paul Winter Consort with the Kansas City Symphony and Chorus
under the direction of Tim Hankewich.