Native American Influence in Andrew Downes Music


Song of the Prairies: 
SATB soloists, semi-choir of high voices, full chorus and orchestra.
15th April 1989
Alington Hall of Shrewsbury School 

Symphony No.4 for Concert Wind Band (including Native American Flute)
9th December 1997
Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham

Concerto for Native American Flute and Strings

25th March 2003
Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham
Birmingham Conservatoire Music Xtra Festival

New Dawn: oratorio for SATB soloists, chorus, symphony orchestra including guitars
18th February 2000
Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham

Have you performed in any of these works or come to watch? Please share below!

Andrew Downes' Native American Flute purchased in New Mexico and the inspiration for the composer's Concerto for Native American Flute and Strings.

An account by his wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on August 15th, 2019

Also see Education Resources on Native American Culture by Paula Downes

Part 1: 

Song of the Prairies

Symphony No.4 for Wind Band (including Native American Flute)

Concerto for Native American Flute and Strings

Andrew has always passionately believed in the Native American philosophy of life: that we belong to the earth; the earth does not belong to us and it is our duty to preserve it.

His first work which embraced this philosophy was Song of the Prairies, a large choral and orchestral work, which he composed in 1988. It is a setting of the great 19th century poem, The Prairies, by William Cullen Bryant (1774-1878). Andrew wrote in his score that the work is "dedicated to the expression of the beauty and power of Nature and is at the same time a passionate protest, mingled with nostalgia, at man's appalling treatment  of his natural heritage".  The work is scored for soloists, semi-chorus (high voices), SATB chorus and orchestra (including a large and unusual selection of percussion instruments). In the middle section of the work the music reflects the composer's anger over the callous and sinister attitude of those who ride rough-shod over our world for their own ends. The work is extremely moving.  Andrew was thrilled to be asked to write it for the Shrewsbury School Sixth singing weekend for singers from all over the UK under the direction of John Rutter. 

Song of the Prairies
received its 2nd performance in 1991 at Birmingham Conservatoire:

I am delighted that our daughter, Paula, and Paul Trippett have been working on a new typeset score for this work.

In 1995 Andrew was invited to take part in a Composer's Symposium at the University of New Mexico and was commissioned to compose a Sonata for 8 Horns for the University Horn Octet. He gave talks, took part in discussions, and attended performances of his Songs from Spoon RiverSonata for 4 Horns and his new Sonata for 8 Horns. I went with Andrew on this amazing trip. During our stay Dr James Lowe (who was responsible for the commissioning of the Sonata for 8 Horns and played in the Octet himself) and his wife, Margaret (who later commissioned Andrew to write his Sonata for 8 Flutes) took Andrew and me round Albuquerque and its environs.  We particularly loved Sky City, a Pueblo Indian Village, invisibly set in the mountains, having an unobtrusive effect on its natural surroundings.  Every rock is sacred to the Poeblo Indians. 

They have an old bus which they use to drive tourists up to the village.

Above: Andrew Downes looking at Poeblo Indian pottery in Sky City.

Below: Kokopelli, the Poeblo Indian God and flute player.

We were totally amazed by the Chihuahuan Desert, the Sandia Mountains and all the Native American culture, so much so that Andrew asked one of the Pueblo Indians, whose name in translation is Andrew, if he could order a Native American Flute from him. The flute duly arrived at our house with instructions on how to play it.

Andrew Downes' Native American Flute.

Andrew first wrote for the instrument in his Symphony no.4. This work pays homage to New Mexico, each movement describing a different aspect of the State. Movement 3 features the Native American Flute conjuring up a lone player in Sky City, the Pueblo Indian Village which blends into its mountainous setting without altering the look of the landscape. Here is the opening and close of the movement:-

Then Andrew completed his Concerto for Native American Flute. I felt very privileged to play in the first and second performances. The premiere took place on 25th March 2003 in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham, England, as part of the Birmingham Conservatoire Music Xtra Festival. The soloist, Rebecca Massey, who learnt the instrument especially for the occasion, was accompanied by the Strings of the Central England Ensemble, founded and led by our daughter, Anna. The conductor was Richard Laing. 

The second performance by the same musicians took place in St.Saviour's Church, Hagley, Worcestershire, on 6th April 2003. The Birmingham Post critic was very complimentary the day after the premiere:
'Typically for this composer, it conveys a sense of some huge, pervasive spiritual force.'

Here is the recording of the first movement of that performance:


The first American performance of this work was given at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation Church in Phoenix, Arizona, by Alexander Viazovtsev (alto flute) with the Fine Arts String Orchestra, conducted by Warren Cohen, on 6th May 2007.

I loved the work so much that I arranged  it for Concert Flute, Oboe and Orchestra for my Hagley Community Orchestra. We first performed the work in this form on 24th April 2013 in St John’s Church, Hagley, Worcestershire, as part of the 2013 Hagley Music Festival.  Soloists Diane McCreedy (flute) and Nadia Accili (oboe) shared the solo part, Nadia playing movement 1, Diane movement 2 and both playing phrases as suited their instruments in the final movement.  I was thrilled with the way it worked!  Andrew joined the orchestra (on keyboard) for the performance, making it even more memorable. A very pleasing article appeared about us in our local Contact magazine:
‘Having Andrew Downes present at the concert and performing in it was very special, as was having his wife’s personal observations on the background to the Native American Concerto.’  

Part 2:

For the new millennium Andrew composed New Dawn, an oratorio using Native American poetry.

The oratorio is in Two Parts and is scored for SATB soloists, SATB chorus and symphony orchestra including guitar ensemble!
There are 6 movements: 
'A Spirit is Departing' 

'Journey' (Orchestral Tone Poem); 
'Awaiting Dawn' (Song for unaccompanied chorus) 
'Summer Dawn' 
'Kitchi-Manitou' (Orchestral Tone Poem) 

The texts are 19th century translations of traditional poetry from various tribes of North American Indians, predominantly of the New Mexico area. 
Together, the poems form a story about the life-cycle of the Earth from the death to the re-birth of a soul. 
The Oratorio is a celebration of this natural cycle, and is dedicated to all those societies and individuals who are content to see themselves as part of Mother Earth, rather than seeking to own and, eventually, destroy her.

The work was commissioned by Birmingham Conservatoire to celebrate the coming of the year 2000 and first performed on 18th February 2000 in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham, by soloists Debbie Bennet (soprano), Louise Brownbill (alto), Tom Solomon (tenor), Lawrence Broomfield (baritone), the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra and the University of Central England Chorus, conducted by Steven Lloyd.

A very pleasing review appeared in the Birmingham Post next day:

'Andrew Downes... is a prolific composer as well as a popular Head of the Conservatoire's School of Composition and Creative Studies. His musical style which often embraces traits from non European cultures, has an appealing 
immediacy and considerable attractiveness. "It's very modern, but so beautiful", was a remark I heard during the interval.
'The performance was certainly a triumph...'

A video recording was made of the first performance.

Here are some responses Andrew Downes received following the performance. 

Our daughter, Paula, having heard the work during her final year as a choral scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge, was about to embark on her PGCE course at Homerton College, when she announced: "I'm going to put on New Dawn in King's Chapel!" First she approached Stephen Cleobury, organist and choirmaster at King's College (who had been organ scholar at St John's College with Andrew, who was a choral scholar there at the same time) if he would conduct New Dawn. To Paula's delight, Stephen said yes he would conduct the performance of New Dawn

Having studied music as a choral scholar at Cambridge (Trinity College), Paula had a lot of contacts. Her choral scholar friends made up most of the amazing choir and she had a number of instrumental scholar friends who formed the fantastic orchestra.  Paula herself sang the soprano solo role along with Timothy Mead, Richard Butler and William Gaunt, who were all choral scholars at King's College.

This second performance of the work, therefore, took place in King's College Chapel, Cambridge, on 27th October 2001. Soloists Paula Downes, Timothy Mead, Richard Butler and William Gaunt with the Millennium Scholars Chorus and Orchestra and the Birmingham Conservatoire Guitar Ensemble were conducted by Stephen Cleobury.  Paula was thrilled when Stephen Cleobury said the quartet of soloists were the best he had heard!  The reviews in Cambridge Varsity Magazine was also favourable:
'...the sounds heard in King's Chapel last Saturday were ... an uplifting fusion of ethnic, jazz and traditional elements.' Jonathan Styles
'It takes American Indian poetry from the South West USA and sets them to a luxurious, rich melodic style.' Ben Ward

Here is a multitrack recording of the 3rd movement, Awaiting Dawn, recorded by Paula with her husband David Trippett


Also see Education Resources on Native American Culture by Paula Downes

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