On January 23rd, 2010, the Champaign-Urbana Symphony presented the premiere performance of Cahokia by Brian Baxter. This piece was selected as one of the winners of the CUSO’s Fanfare Competition to celebrate the orchestra’s 50th anniversary season.

The composition, Cahokia, employs minimalist techniques in its structure. At the outset is a gesture for harp that spans almost the entire range of the instrument. It involves four ascending placements beginning with the left hand, then right, then crossing the left, and finally the right before descending in the same fashion. The placements are wide, an octave or more, and the whole gesture is to be executed rather rapidly. This gesture occurs repeatedly, perhaps 6 times, and therefore, consistency becomes an issue. By changing the notation a bit, I was able to execute this musical idea quite reliably and also maintain its integrity. I took off the lowest F, which was doubled in the orchestration anyway, and restructured the hand positions thereby making this gesture playable in three instead of four moves (left, right, left). The conductor didn’t notice the difference and I didn’t hear any complaint from the composer. This same material appears at the end in reverse order and my changes were again successfully applied.

In an ensuing rhythmic section, Baxter had unnecessarily doubled a repeated note in the left hand that was also being played by the right hand. This was a distracting use of the left hand. By freeing the left hand, I could then focus on the rhythmic flow with complexities that demanded complete attention. In the midst of this passage was a page turn. Being disengaged, the left hand could now gracefully turn the page without disrupting the performance.