Barbara Ulman

Contemporary Classical Music
07 December 2018

One Loon's Afternoon: history of this piece

This piece was inspired by a true story. Below I describe how I came to write music about it, and then include a statement by the man who rescued the loon. There is a video of this piece on YouTube, with accurate illustrations. The paintings on the video are copies of the photographs taken of the actual rescue.

When I first heard about a loon being rescued from tangled fishing line in the summer of 2008, I wanted to share the story by writing a musical composition about it. I asked my friend Rachel Oliver to write a poem telling the tale. During the following summers, I notated the loon calls heard at my house on Rangeley Lake in Maine, next to Lake Mooselookmeguntic, (pronounced Moose-look-muh-gun-tic) where the rescue occurred. Most loon calls fall within the range of the human voice and, surprisingly, employ notes commonly used in Western music. In this piece, the actual loon calls are introduced by the flute and the clarinet, and are then modified rhythmically for the singers in order to accommodate the words and rhythm of the poem. Although ornithologists ascribe particular meanings to the various calls, I have chosen them for their melodic and rhythmic qualities rather than for their significance to other loons.

                       Rescue on Lake Mooselookmeguntic, by Allan Brown

I was heading to our dock inmy kayak. A loon wasapproaching from the south.I paused to give it passageand enjoy the moment.Instead of diving orswimming by, it approachedme. I began talking softly toit. When it got within 20 feetI noticed something in itsbeak. At first I thought it wascarrying nesting material. Asit got within 10 feet of mykayak, I realized it wasfishing line.

I was still just floating and not paddling. I took a small stroke toward the loon. When my kayakwas near it, the loon turned away and I turned in the opposite direction. We turned and facedeach other again, and this time we met in the middle — but it dived when it was within reachingdistance. It quickly surfaced and I turned so we were both going in the same direction. This timethe loon let me glide beside it, and as I gently talked to it I reached down and placed my hand onits head. The loon remained calm and didn't struggle, and for the next 15 minutes I removed thefishing line.

After I had done all I could do, the loon still had line around the lower portion of its beak. I laterlearned that loons have spike-like projections for catching fish in the lower beak. The line wasstuck on those projections. That's when I saw my friend Jim coming out of his house toward me.He thought I had a fish and needed help. To his surprise I had a loon. I asked for scissors. Hereturned to his camp as I paddled one-handed to his dock with the loon in the other handswimming alongside the kayak. Jim returned with the scissors, and his wife came with a camerato capture the final moments of the release. I held the loon's head while Jim clipped the finalpieces of fishing line. When he was finished, I turned the loon toward open water and gentlyreleased it, and it swam off slowly. When the loon was 25 yards away he flapped his wings,raised his head, and dived into the water.

We sat in disbelief for a while.




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