In 2005 I approached the University of Oklahoma Department of Bands with the idea of composing a symphony for them.  I was very pleased when the conductors were interested in the idea.  We talked about some details, and I went about composing.  When I began the symphony, I did not have a particular program in mind.  I wanted to do my best to continue the symphony tradition, from Mozart and Haydn to Hindemith’s Symphony for Band.  I set out to write the first movement in a traditional sonata-allegro form.  As I composed the first theme (heard at the very opening), something strange happened.  It immediately suggested a story to me.  It made me imagine a young hero, leaving home, setting out for adventure.  I imagined a great celebration for the hero, a feast with dancing and the whole town coming out to see the hero off. 

These ideas reminded me of the work of author Joseph Campbell.  Campbell’s bestselling book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, speaks to the common themes found in different mythological stories: the dashing hero, magical potions, slaying of monsters and the like.  Many stories, from Homer’s Iliad to the Star Wars series and The Lord of the Rings have been based around the ideas identified by Campbell.  I studied Campbell’s writings a bit more, and decided to base the piece around three specific episodes.  After this, the piece then was written very naturally.

The Festival for the Departure, then, is the hero’s call to adventure.  Many characters are there, the hero, his family, friends, town folk, etc.  There is a celebration for the hero: many bid him good luck, a wise wizard gives him a warning and a magic amulet, and the hero is introspective with feelings of excitement and foreboding.

Campbell describes a very meaningful experience for the hero.  After a hero sets off, he must endure some very difficult experience before the adventure proper begins.  This is generally some life-altering event, where the hero finds the inner strength to overcome the trial ahead.  Campbell uses the Biblical imagery of Jonah, thus The Belly of the Whale.  This central movement is cast in an AABA form.  After a weary introduction with dissonant chords, a tragic melody is introduced in the oboe.  A solo clarinet then repeats this melody.  The middle section (B) is then is where the hero finds the strength to go on.  The music is defiant and almost violent, ending on a dissonant chord.  The melody returns, almost as a memory, and the movement ends with the chords from the opening.

In the final movement, the hero faces the Road of Trials.  This movement is more of a narrative form, following the hero as he encounters different obstacles and battles various monsters.  The work builds to a climax, it seems the hero has overcome all.  A theme from the first movement appears, but a low repeated note cuts this off.  Just when you think you have defeated the largest monster, another appears!  A new battle ensues, and after a long struggle, the hero triumphs.  The work ends with a period of quiet reflection for our hero.

            This work was partially funded by a grant from the Humanities and Arts Research Program at Mississippi State University and a Composer Assistance Grant from the American Music Center.  I gratefully acknowledge this support.