#182– January 16, 2023


Flying Jewels by American composer and educator James David is our Composition of the Week. The work was written in 2021 after a commission by The United States Air Force Band, Col. Don Schofield, commander, and conductor.

Flying Jewels is entitled after Brian Doyle’s essay “Joyas voladoras”, the name the first Spanish explorers gave to hummingbirds.
This very short and intense “prose poem” is a lyrical look into matters of the heart of living creatures, ranging from animals to humans.
Flying Jewels has a duration of 9 minutes, and it is scored for standard wind ensemble setting with optional 2nd Oboe, English Horn, Contrabassoon and Contrabass Clarinet, and calls for Harp, Piano, Contrabass as well as 5 percussion parts.

Flying Jewels is a symphonic poem for wind ensemble that attempts to capture the joyous and hopeful spirit of a famous essay by the late author Brian Doyle. The title refers to how Europeans described hummingbirds when first encountering them in North America. Doyle’s essay muses on how intensely and passionately these tiny birds live their lives, with their hearts beating “ten times a second.” He also considers the blue whale’s giant heart, which beats as little as eight times a minute and can be heard from miles away.
Ultimately, the essay asserts the connection that all people and creatures share; we all have one heart that carries us through life’s struggles, victories, and simple pleasures. My composition deals with the themes of Doyle’s essay by depicting the heart rhythms of different creatures through various metric/tempo modulations and relationships. First is the hummingbird, flitting about with bright flourishes from woodwinds and metallic percussion at superhuman speeds. A reptile’s three-chambered heart is heart next with nods to the triple-meter dances of the Caribbean. At the center of the work is the human heart, which is a simple tune that slowly builds to a cadence at the heart rate of a blue whale; four giant chords that resound under the ocean depths. Finally, the work recapitulates each idea while gaining speed to combine all of the tempi in an exuberant and ecstatic finale.” (Program Notes by James David)

James David graduated with honors from the University of Georgia and completed his doctorate in composition at Florida State University under Guggenheim and Pulitzer recipients Ladislav Kubik and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. He is an internationally recognized composer who currently serves as professor of music composition at Colorado State University and is particularly known for his works involving winds and percussion.
James David has been distinguished as the winner of the 2022 William D. Revelli Composition Contest, an ASCAP Morton Gould Award, the National Band Association Merrill Jones Award, national first-place winner in the MTNA Young Artists Composition Competition, two Global Music Awards, and national first-place winner in the National Association of Composers (USA) Young Composers Competition.

Other works for winds by James David include:

  • Ghosts of the Old Year (2016)
  • With Soul Serene (2019)
  • Symphony No. 1 (2020)
  • Urban Light (2021)

More on James David

View the Flying Jewels’ score here

Original Brian Doyle’s essay here: