I had the great pleasure of composing a new piece for the Rockford School orchestras this spring. Directors Erin De Young and Allison Holden wanted a piece that would work for their combined orchestras: 6th grade through 10th. That’s a huge range of ability levels.
Part of the fun of this commission was that I got to work with the students as I developed the piece. We started by talking about the composition process and getting a chance to hear each group play. Then I composed three sketches for them to try out and decide which they liked best.
We decided to go with “Swampzilla”–essentially a rock and roll piece for orchestra. “Swampzilla” is a fictional “hideous marsh man with a heart of gold.” The piece starts (programmatically speaking) with Swampzilla rising from the twilight mist, dancing surprisingly well for a creature that has just risen from the fetid slough. There’s a slower section in the middle, which is the love theme for Zilla and his love, Gator Girl. And then the two lovers dance off into the evening mists.
The premiere was incredible. The combined orchestra had over 200 players packed onto the stage, wings, and the first few rows of the audience seating! The score had simplified parts for the younger players and solo parts for the very best older players. They all got to slap their strings to create a backbeat. The auditorium was packed, too, with well over 1000 people. You can hear from the applause at the end that they loved it. It’s hard not to love 200 young people rocking out a piece called “Swampzilla.”