So 112 years ago the Wright Brothers made the first successful airplane flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. A while back I wrote an oratorio about their process and I even had a composer who was working on it, but then we kept having our planned meetings go strangely awry—buses that were an hour late and the like—so I have actually never heard the music she wrote for it. Anyway, here is a taste of my attempt to capture their voices.
Finding Wind/Kitty Hawk Tango Baritone/Wilbur
When I sought for a safe place to practice
To learn the aeronautic riddles of flying,
They sent me to stand on a stretch of sandy land
In Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
The abode of mosquitoes and buzzards,
A clime either roasting or raw,
A suitable location
Fraught with vexation:
I found it at Kitty Hawk.
I desired to make tests meticulous
In winds exceeding fifteen miles an hour,
Even quicker gales are here ubiquitous,
Enough to make a bold man cower.
The sand drives forth like an army
Over the hills and the flat.
The winds that rattle the tent
Are grand for experiments
But you’ll want to hold onto your hat!
If you desire a wind continual,
A place for vying with your flying machine,
The unbroken wind of the Kill Devil Hills
Will shrill and splinter your dreams.
I pity you, sir, for a coward,
If you dislike the picture I draw:
A land riddled with erosion
Betwixt Sound and Ocean:
Where I build my camp at Kitty Hawk?
How the Birds Rise Tenor/Orville
Consider the owl,
The predator of night,
Who glides through the darkness,
Keeping the field mouse in his sight.
And then he dives down
Without disturbing the air.
The mouse is carried aloft
And never knew the owl was there.
And I am left to ponder
Mother Nature’s wonders:
How the owl glides,
How the stars sing,
How the birds rise.
Now consider the gull,
The scavenger of day,
Who sails across the morning
And her flying is play.
How she turns on a wingtip!
How she soars without a care,
Calling out her jubilation
Carried on ascending air.
And I am left amazed
At Mother Nature’s ways:
How the gull soars,
How the sand stings,
How the birds rise.
Now with the wind I sing,
I will learn to fly
As the owl glides,
As the gull soars,
As the birds rise.