for winds and brass

Emily Doolittle

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for winds and brass

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Composer Emily Doolittle

Year of Composition



ca. 11'

Student Difficulty

Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-ed1r1


The bobolink, also known as a “reedbird,” is a small New World blackbird which breeds across much of North America and migrates up to 12,500 miles each year to winter in central South America. Its song is fast, bubbly, and metallic, and could perhaps be described as sounding a bit like an old-fashioned modem. The song heard live is too fast and high for human listeners to really understand its complexity, but when you slow it down it becomes apparent that the bobolink voice is rich in overtones, with the intervals of major and minor thirds and perfect fourths, as well as major triads, jumping out prominently. The frequent appearance of consonant intervals and triads, combined with the repetition, variation, and occasional development of what sounds like musical motifs (called “elements” in birdsong terminology), means that parts of the song sound like fleeting bits of human music. However, the way the bird combines the intervals and triads, the way it juxtaposes motives, and the overall structure of the song is very unlike most human music.

Each movement of Reedbird is based on a direct transcription of the slowed-down song of a different bobolink. I’ve then expanded each transcription in a way that draws on both human and bobolink developmental techniques. Of course, the timbre of the orchestral winds is quite different than that of the bobolink, and the transcriptions are at about one eighth of the speed the bobolink sings. But I like to imagine that if Reedbird were sped up to bobolink speed, the bobolink, too, might find that it sounded somewhat familiar and somewhat strange.

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