Devil’s Thumb

Orchestra (3333 4331 timp, 3 perc, hp, str)
Duration: 11 minutes

Commissioned by the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra

Premiere: August 2013, Boulder, Colorado

About Devil’s Thumb:
Across a series of craggy ridges on the eastern edge of Colorado’s Front Range where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains, the Flatirons of Boulder are made up of dozens of rock formations. Estimated to be between 290 and 296 million years old, these rocks were shaped into their present position between 35 and 80 million years ago when bedrock was lifted, shifted, and skewed during the erosion of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains.

I grew up in a house built into a hill on Juilliard Street, nestled beneath the Flatirons. Devil’s Thumb, a rock that jets out atop Bear Peak above South Boulder, was a marker in my youth. It was a symbol of the grandeur, severity, beauty, and powerful presence of Boulder’s natural surroundings, a symbol of the adventures of my childhood, and a symbol of home. I left Boulder in 1998, and Devil’s Thumb’s meaning, its symbolism, continues to evolve for me.

As time passes, communities shift and change, and Boulder’s evolution over the last four decades is palpable–its energy feels different than the Boulder of my youth. There is delight, comfort, and dissonance in this town for me, as it holds memories of poignant formative experiences: my sisters and I growing up together, the foundation of my musical education, my mother and father both passed away here.

More recently, 2012 was a rough year for Colorado. While we Coloradans who have moved away experienced both the spate of wildfires and the Aurora theatre shootings through the distant filters of media, we wept and ached with the people of our beloved home. Within the despair, fear, tragedy, and pain generated by these events, there also remained unity, resilience, kindness, and hope.

On visits home to Boulder I make time to marvel at Devil’s Thumb. It is solidly grounded on a mountain. It is heavy, severe, and difficult to climb. It is also in motion–reaching upward, stretching, it soars, it flies. Devil’s Thumb, formed over millions of years, is nature’s evidence of struggle, of growth. This rock sings, beautifully, powerfully, elegantly, a music of our collective presence in Colorado, and in Boulder, this magical place.

Devil’s Thumb was commissioned by the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra for the Click! Commissioning Program, with premiere performances conducted by Michael Christie on 8-9 August 2013, in Boulder, Colorado.