John Oliver, composer

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Raven Steals the Light orchestral score revised

I finished revising my orchestral score Raven Steals the Light. Having run across the score I used for the first performance in 1999 and another performance in 2005, I realized there were some clear improvements that I could make to a few sections, and so voilà, there is a clean new score. In addition, I always thought that if the story were told as part of the performance – somewhat like Peter and the Wolf – that the audience experience would be enhanced. And so now there is a narrator part to tell the story.

You can hear an excerpt below from the end of the piece (where the eagle chases the raven to the horizon) from the original award-winning recording which is published by Centrediscs.
(Any problems seeing the excerpt? Click here to go listen on soundcloud.)




My composition sets the story of The Raven Steals the Light, as told and illustrated by Bill Reid in a book of Native American tales of the same name, which he co-wrote with Robert Bringhurst. The music begins with the ‘inky pitchy blackness double fugue’ (the world before light). Raven bumbles around in the dark, to eventually discover a house with no windows or doors. Inside he hears an old man who says, ‘I have a box and inside the box is another box and inside it are many more boxes, and in the smallest box of all is all the light of the world.’ Raven decide he wants the light , but he can’t find a way into the house, so he goes upstream to make a plan. He decides to transform himself into a hemlock needle to travel downstream until he reaches the place where the old man’s daughter collects water. She will collect water at the moment Raven arrives (as hemlock needle). Then she will drink from the bucket and swallow Raven. Raven will go to her womb. The daughter will go home and Raven will be born inside the house as Raven-boy.
After much stumbling around (in the dark, remember), he will find the box of boxes with light in the smallest one. He will cajole the old man to open the boxes, against his will, one by one, until a strange light is cast. When he opens the last box, the old man picks up the ball of light and tosses it like a toy to Raven-boy who, at that instant, transforms himself back into the big black Raven. In the newly found light, the old man barely glimpses his grandson as the boy’s mouth becomes a beak and catches the light and Raven flies up out of the house through the smoke-hole.
As Raven flies into the sky, everything below is lit up, but, as Raven can now see, so can his predator, Eagle. Eagle chases Raven., Raven swerves to avoid Eagle, and in doing so, drops half the light, which breaks on the rocks below into one big piece and thousands of tiny pieces that bounce back into the night sky to become today’s moon and stars. Finally, tired of the chase, Raven drops the last piece of light on the horizon, creating the sun. The eternal Raven escapes the jaws of the Eagle and goes on to find food and new adventures in his newly illuminated world. The composition ends with the transformation of the world by light.

Listen to an excerpt from the end of the piece, as eagle chases raven to the horizon.