Larry Mitchell and I have been friends for a long time! I worked with him as a graduate assistant at Central Missouri State, just before he landed the Director of Bands spot at South Dakota. When all his friends wanted to honor him with a composition, I was thrilled to take on the task. Larry told me his only concern was that the piece be accessible to small school bands - a community of musicians very important to him and the musical makeup of his home state. And so we agreed that the composition be written on the Grade 3+ level.
As I have done in the past, I wanted to imprint the music with the locality in some way. When we all think of South Dakota, most of us gather our impressions from movies - The state is either covered with snow, like in "Fargo" - which incidentally is in the OTHER Dakota, or is covered with buffalo like "Dances with Wolves", or is the site of Mount Rushmore, where Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint spent harrowing moments escaping the villains across the nose of Abraham Lincoln in "North by Northwest". When I was a boy, South Dakota meant Deadwood - and Wild Bill Hickok holding two Aces and two eight's!
In addition to all the obvious attributes of South Dakota, I did discover in my research that - in the "unusual facts about" category - South Dakota is home to the largest naturally heated indoor swimming pools in the world, Evans Plunge, heated from natural mineral springs; The Black Hills was one of the sites considered for the permanent home of the United Nations; the largest and most complete fossil of Tyrannosaurus rex was uncovered near Faith in 1990 (named "Sue," the remains are currently on display at the Field Museum in Chicago); and three U.S. Navy ships have been named U.S.S. South Dakota in honor of the state. However, I didn't pick any of these Trivial Pursuit answers, as entertaining as they may be, to motivate my thinking about this piece.
Rather I centered on the diverse geography of the region and choose to compose a piece inspired by my impression of the landscape itself. The land is the foundation of the state. Before any man-made structure interrupted the horizon, the land was always there. The plains, the prairie, and the badlands. And in honor of that land, so goes this music. ~ D.R.H.
- Composer: David R. Holsinger