Ad astra per asper—Program Notes

            This work was written especially for the Medical Arts Symphony of Kansas City. The title of the work is the state motto of Kansas, which translated means “to the stars through difficulties.” I am a native Kansan, and feel strongly about my state.  Although my work does not follow a specific story or program, it does depict some impressions of my home state and its origins.  The work is meant to celebrate the Sesquicentennial of the Kansas Territory (established in 1854).  When writing the work, I was inspired both by the marvelous wide, open spaces of Kansas and the turbulent times of our country while the Kansas Territory was organized.  On the eve of the Civil War, the fight for the identity of the territory was vicious.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act did not resolve the greater issues of slavery in the entire nation, and led to the ‘bleeding Kansas” years, when pro and anti-slavery groups fought violently.  Indeed, the Battle of Black Jack, which took place near present-day Baldwin City, is considered by many to be the first battle of the Civil War.  It is the first recorded battle between organized military forces on opposite sides of the slavery question.

My piece is cast in three large sections.  The first part begins with a spacious opening introduction, followed by kind of wash of sound that leads to a main theme presented by the strings and woodwinds.  This melody gradually climbs to a climax, and portions of the opening are revisited in a sparser texture.  The middle section of the work is more dissonant than the preceding material.  If the first section is the wide-open spaces, then the middle section is a reaction to the ‘difficulties’ from the Kansas motto.  Two aggressive brass fanfare sections alternate with harsh themes in the strings and woodwinds.  This leads into the third section and a restatement of the main theme.  The theme ends this time on an unresolved dissonant chord.  After this final difficulty, we are in the clear.   Fragments of the main theme dance over a lush string texture.  A final wash of sound leads to a coda: the stars.

This work was funded in part by a Composer Assistance Program (CAP) Grant from the American Music Center.  I gratefully acknowledge this support.

JB