Where the Buffalo Roam (2016/arr. 2023)

Flute, violin, and cello. 6 ½ mins.

A new arrangement of a selection from wildlife conservation suite Refuge.

Live recording of the World Premiere by Juventas New Music Ensemble (Nicholas Southwick, flute; Ryan Shannon, violin; and Matthew Smith, cello):

Perusal Score

View perusal score.

Performance score and parts available for purchase. Please direct inquiries to Nell Shaw Cohen at nell@nellshawcohen.com.

Program Note

“Where the Buffalo Roam” is a newly arranged selection from  Refuge: a narrative suite following the conservation stories of wild animals in National Parks. Each of these species offers a different perspective from which to reflect upon the National Park Service’s role in wildlife conservation and the diversity and fragility of life on Earth. I composed the piece for World Premiere by Cadillac Moon Ensemble at the Parrish Art Museum in 2016, in commemoration of the centennial year of the National Park Service.

Appearing on the official arrowhead emblem of the National Park Service and the seal of the Department of the Interior, the American bison (commonly known as the “buffalo”) is this country’s symbol for conservation and national parks. Designated as the first national mammal of the United States, bison also have an iconic cultural importance for America, rooted in their centrality to indigenous peoples and their role in early pioneer culture.

Bison have one of the most successful and controversial narratives of wildlife conservation, steeped in a history of tensions between violence and protection, oppression and collaboration, loss and triumph, and private and public interests. Through the story of the American bison, we find many key thematic threads of the greater American experience.

In “Where the Buffalo Roam,” I sought to create a highly condensed musical narrative depicting moments from the history of the bison in Yellowstone National Park. This piece is built around a quotation from the nostalgic pioneer song, “Home On the Range” (“Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam”), which was written in the 1870s by Brewster Higley and popularized by Bing Crosby and Gene Autry, among others. Through my piece, I transform a snippet of this sentimental tune through three sections to evoke a condensed glimpse of the bison’s history.

In the first section, Wild, I utilize glassy sul tasto strings and a quiet, gently rhythmic texture to envision the bison in its prehistoric state: balanced, roaming free, hunted and venerated by the Great Plains tribes. The arrival of homesick pioneers soon gives way to the second section, Hunted: aggressive scalar runs suggest the mass hunting of bison by pioneers and the U.S. Army. The near-extinction of the bison is conveyed by a sudden thinning of texture to a series of soft, eerie chords. Out of this nadir builds Renewed, culminating in a final, full expression of the “Home In the Range” melody. This ending suggests a hopeful vision for bison’s flourishing today in Yellowstone and a future in which we might someday live in balance with wild nature.

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Performance History
  • Juventas New Music Ensemble, The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, 7/16/23.

Visit the Refuge page for the performance history of this selection as part of the complete suite in its original scoring for quartet.