Native American Influence in Andrew Downes' Music: Part 1


Part 1:
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 A
merican Flute and Strings
25th March 2003
Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham
Birmingham Conservatoire Music Xtra Festival

Concerto for Treble Recorder and Strings
3rd December 2019
The Spanish Hall, Prague Castle, Czech Republic

Part 2:
New Dawn: Oratorio for SATB soloists, chorus, symphony orchestra including guitars
18th February 2000
Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham

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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 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:

Andrew originally employed a student copyist to write out the huge score and parts of Song of the Prairies.  The student had to work in a hurry and unfortunately there were a lot of mistakes in his copy.  Andrew wrote out the vocal score himself in extremely neat handwriting.  Many years passed after the first 2 performances, and I was constantly very keen for this wonderful work to be properly typeset for more performances.  In 2022, our daughter Paula, with her husband, David Trippett, made the most beautiful multitrack recording of the work, with Native American films from Wikimedia Commons put together by Paula, for YouTube.  Andrew loved listening to it and often said it was his favourite of his compositions.  We asked Paula's cousin-in-law Paul Trippett to  typeset Andrew's original pencil score, and Lee Armstrong also spent a long time working on it.  I then spent many months finally proofreading the score and parts, completing the work in 2023, sadly after Andrew's devastating and untimely death.

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 and other flute choir works), 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 Pueblo Indians. 

The Pueblo Indians had an old bus which they used to drive tourists up to the village:

Last photo 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 composed 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.’  

Another work strongly related to The Concerto for Native American Flute and Strings is Andrew's Concerto for Treble Recorder and Strings.  Not only are these two instruments closely associated, but in the Concerto for Treble Recorder, Andrew is influenced, in my view, by the Native American flute.  The work starts with the recorder playing alone a theme which to me conjures up the lone Native American flute player on those mountains of New Mexico.  Along with the other influences described by James Risdon in his programme note on the Recorder Concerto, to me throughout the whole work, I hear inspiration from the opening theme.

In 2017, Ondrej Vrabec, principal horn in the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor of the CD recordings of orchestral works by Andrew, told Andrew about an internationally-acclaimed, blind recorder player, James Risdon, who had suggested Andrew should compose a work for himself with the Czech Virtuosi, Ondrej's chamber orchestra.  Andrew was immediately fired up to compose his Recorder Concerto for them.


Andrew had several phone calls with James Risdon, to discuss the capabilities of the instrument, but, due to Andrew's health issues and other circumstances, he wasn't able to meet up with James.  The world premiere of the Recorder Concerto was given by James with the Czech Virtuosi, directed by Ondrej, in the Spanish Hall of Prague Castle in the Czech Republic.  We weren't able to attend, because Andrew was wheelchair bound, but Andrew and I were delighted with the recording which they sent of the performance.


Devastatingly, Andrew died before he and James Risdon met.  James was very sad about this.  During Andrew's 'Year of Remembrance', our daughter Anna organised a recording of the work with James and her professional orchestra, Central England Camerata, which she leads, conducted by Anthony Bradbury.  The recording was made on April 16th 2023 in the Vada Studios at Cookhill Priory, Alcester.  Our daughter Paula created a film of sunflower fields (Andrew's favourite flowers) for the launch of the recording on YouTube on August 7th 2023.

In February 2024, Central England Camerata, led by Anna and directed by Anthony Bradbury, gave the UK premiere of the Concerto in St Peter's Church, Notting Hill, London, as part of a new concert series by Labrador Events.  Anna advertised the concert to a lot of Recorder Societies and I spent the day of the concert handing out leaflets for the concert.  As a result, we got a good audience.

Before the UK premiere, it was suggested to us that a piano reduction of the string parts of the Concerto would make the work more accessible to recorder players.  So we asked pianist and composer, Edd Caine, to do the job.  I proofread his excellent work and sold copies at that first UK performance. 


Part 2: Oratorio New Dawn with Native American texts for SATB soloists, SATB chorus and symphony orchestra including guitar ensemble. Read more

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