Every year, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, has a large bonfire. This is the Firebird Festival, where a large wooden phoenix statue is built from pallets and then set ablaze. A few years ago, I decided to turn the festival into a photo essay project, from the construction of the firebird to the day of the festival to the aftermath. Clay phoenix sculptures made by residents of the town are placed in the statue before it burns, and the status then becomes a kiln, firing those smaller birds (it’s a rebirth thing; just like the whole phoenix mythology).
I decided to make the photo essay a video, and in doing so realized that it should have backing music. I didn’t really want to pay to license some music since this was just a personal project, but I am against using media without proper licensing. So, I turned to my wife, who is a music major who focused on composition, and asked her if she could write something.
It had been years since she wrote any music, and she was not confident in her creativity at that point. That left one option to be the composer of the music: me. I sat down, armed with what little music theory knowledge I have gleaned solely from living with a music major (and with some suggestions from my ever-patient wife), and came up with a soundtrack. It wound up being a small symphony – under five minutes – in three movements. The first movement, centered around constructing the firebird, is in something approaching sonata form. The second, focusing on the festival day, is a rondo. The third movement, which features the consuming flames, is simply through-composed (but based around the Dies Irae, which can be heard in the bass). There is also an additional capo and coda, which ties the music to the theme of the rebirth of the phoenix. There, the oboe is the voice of the firebird, initially finding no response to its call, but finally getting responses as it was reborn. Yes, that’s a bit of liberty with the mythology, but it fits with the clay birds that are fired in the kiln.
No sheet music is available, but you can hear it as part of the photo essay below.