The profile video at the top of this page was created by Aileen LeBlanc for Public Radio International’s “Living on Earth.”
In summer 2005, the cicada calls to mate were exceptionally strong, with 20-30 second waves of overlapping sound energizing Carolina and Georgia nights and into the days. I recorded the cicadas in my backyard in South Carolina, and the shape of their phrases caught my attention. They start slowly, get faster and build in volume, reaching a peak, and then a downward glissando carries the sound to quiet. I took the length and arch of that phrasing as the detail as well as overall shape for Call of the Cicadas.
Then I asked myself, “What would ‘Mr. Cicada’ sound like if he had a whole orchestra, like I have, to sound his mating calls?” I enjoyed enlarging those sounds to the full range of the orchestra, using harmonics and tremolos behind the bridge in the strings, along with piccolos, clarinets, and xylophone, and later bringing in the low register with double basses and low brasses, as well as lots of percussion. Cicadas like the summer heat, and pitch bending in oboes and bassoons projects the wavy air of extreme humidity and high temperatures.
This 6-minute composition is ideal for an educational concert. Children and families enjoy hearing the recordings of cicadas, imitating them, and listening for those details in the music. The educational performance can also serve as a preview to a performance of entire Symphony in a full concert. “Call of the Cicadas” is also an excellent concert opener and works well as part of a program inspired by the earth.
For information about the complete symphony, see Symphony No. 1: Living Breathing Earth.