Bear Dance on Ute Indian Rhythms

David Carlson

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Quick Overview

The Bear Dance on Ute Indian Rhythms has its roots in the opera Dreamkeepers, which David Carlson was commissioned to compose in 1996 in celebration of the centennial of Utah's statehood. The opera's subject is the Ute Indians, whose eight thousand-year history has been long neglected, in spite of many recent attempts to preserve nearly-lost American Indian cultures. The opera's librettist, Aden Ross, created a contemporary story based on an ancient Ute folktale which closely parallels the legend of Orpheus. The opera's joyous finale, originally with chorus, is a bear dance, from which this piece is drawn.

As part of Carlson's research into Ute culture, he transcribed songs sung to him by tribal elders; listened to Ute musical instruments such as drums, flutes, and rasps; and incorporated many of these elements into the opera. One of the rhythmic hallmarks of an Ute bear dance is that the female participants vocalize melodies in quarter-note triplets over the men's quarter-note drumbeats. Carlson used the outline of one of these songs, reworked in a Western tonal idiom, to create a chorale-like melody over the steady beat of drums.

Another component indigenous to the Ute bear dance is the rasp. In Carlson's work, an orchestral rasp is amplified to mimic the Ute original: the jawbone of an antelope, scraped with a large stick, the whole being rested upon a large resonator, such as a drum or metal washbin. Bear Dance on Ute Indian Rhythms opens with an evocation of a sunrise over the petroglyphs of Utah, followed immediately by the bear dance, the spirit of which is intended to convey the joy and wild abandon of the most important and colorful of the Ute Indians' tribal dances, celebrating the arrival of Spring. The piece was premiered by the San Francisco Symphony at youth concerts in March 2001.

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Additional Information

Composition Date 2001
Duration 00:05:00
Orchestration 3(Picc.) 2 2 2 - 4 3 3 1; Timp. 3Perc. Cel. Hp. Str.
Premiere March, 2001. San Francisco Symphony.