In God's Presence (with mosquitoes)
In July 2016, I spent several weeks in Alaska with nine other composers on a program called ‘Composing in the Wilderness’. The first few days were spent in Denali National Park, and then we were flown by bush-plane to a remote spot near the Yukon River where we had three days to compose something, in between getting rained on and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes.
Grey skies, wild forest on all sides and an impending deadline made the place feel strangely closed-in. So it was with great relief that I finished my composition with a day to spare (a little trio called Teklanika Twilight) and ventured down to the Yukon River itself with some of the other composers for our final night in the wilderness. We set up our sleeping bags in Slaven’s Roadhouse, right by the edge of the river. Our window faced north, and as we slept the sun had a brief nap just behind the hills across the water. It’s never really dark at that time of year. But there’s still a sunrise of sorts, as I discovered very early the next morning.
Now, the reason I write music (and occasionally poetry) is for the glory of God, and believe me, his glory was on full display that morning. I had never felt so small, and so happy to be so small. This was not at all a time of self-reflection; I simply opened my eyes and the light poured in. I had to be outside. It was so beautiful that I almost didn’t mind the mosquitoes.
© David John Lang 2016
I would like to thank Stephen Lias for organizing and leading the ‘Composing in the Wilderness’ experience, and the other Nine Wolves who joined me there in 2016. I'd also like to thank Graeme Koehne, Luke Dollman and Howard Parkinson for their suggestions while this piece was being written.
Yukon Sunrise was first performed by the Elder Conservatorium Wind Orchestra, conducted by Luke Dollman, on Friday 7 October 2016 at Elder Hall, University of Adelaide, SA, Australia.
The above recording was made by the Adelaide Wind Orchestra, conducted by David John Lang, on Thursday 22 March 2018 in the Concordia College Chapel, Highgate, SA, Australia. Ray Thomas was the recording engineer and Anne Cawrse the producer.
a free gift
a dawn I did not ask to see
flooding through the window at a quarter to four
held in amber light
filled and thrilled anew
I swim downstairs through honey-coloured air
and softly tread the wooden floor
slide back the crossbar from the door
and step outside
mosquitoes sing the morning chorus
and I wander through the grass
and turn toward the north
where heavy folds of hills and clouds
are stained with gold
and everything glows darkly in the morning light
water gliding swiftly past the bank
and dancing in the nearby creek
and softly softly tapping the treetops
the sunrise drowns itself in daylight
the overcasting sky turns ashy white
all beauty pales before the miracle of life
for what does it cost to burn the clouds?
to melt the river?
to raise the spruce?
to feed the birds and pollinate the flowers?
to wake the sleeper?
I slap my arm absent-mindedly
and leave a trail of blood
© David John Lang 2016
Inspired by the sunrise of the 21st July 2016 at Slaven’s Roadhouse, near Coal Creek on the Yukon River, Alaska.
This is music is available to