Celebration of a Life

Released on September 30, 2016

for flute, cello, and piano


On July 14, 2016, I began a Facebook post with this: “My dear, sweet, little baby girl, my parakeet, Shadow, my friend and companion for over six years left this world today.” As a composer, it was natural for me to think about writing a piece for Shadow. Rather than try to capture my grief, I wanted to create a musical memory of Shadow at her best. I decided to tell her story from when she first entered the world to a time roughly six months to a year after she became part of my life.

Shadow loved my piano playing. She would fly to my shoulder when I played, then work her way down my arm (while I was still playing!) and onto the keyboard. She seemed to like rhythmic music with heavy chords the best and I would improvise this kind of music for her. The work, “Shadow”, includes a lot of rhythmic sections and heavy chords. Shadow would approve.

When I improvised for Shadow, I would sometimes begin by playing a very simple pattern with alternating fingers and hands. Let’s call this a “clockwork” pattern. I added this pattern to the composition. You will hear the clockwork used near the start of the piece, in the middle and at the very end.

In the piece, Shadow is represented by the flute. She has a very specific theme that appears throughout the piece, but only fully emerges near the end. I don’t think you’ll miss it. After getting familiar with her theme, listen again and see if you can find all the variations used.

Although the music tells Shadow’s story chronologically, time is compressed and expanded. Events that took minutes are sometimes longer than events that took months.

Here is the story:

  • Shadow enters life as an egg (piano introduction).
  • She hatches.
  • Once free of her shell, she takes a moment to rest (cello solo).
  • Like all babies, her life is focused on eating and sleeping (cradle music).
  • She fledges (piano solo).
  • Shadow’s personality begins to emerge (first instance of Shadow’s theme).
  • She notices some changes coming.
  • She is placed with her cohorts—other young parakeets who now form her flock.
  • She (and the flock) move to a pet store.
  • This is where I come in. I see Shadow and fall in love with her (piano solo).
  • My wife sees her, too, and is also smitten (cello added).
  • Shadow is very playful with us (flute added).
  • She doesn’t realize things are changing for her again (music changes from major to minor).
  • The store clerk chases Shadow around the cage with a net.
  • Shadow is caught!
  • Her wings are clipped and she is packed in a small box.
  • We take her home.
  • We release her into her new cage. She goes into a corner and doesn’t move.
  • We talk to her. She won’t move but will eat seed from our hands.
  • She finally begins to respond!
  • She gains confidence and begins to explore her new home.
  • Her full personality emerges (Shadow’s theme).
  • Shadow and I learn to communicate with each other (the piano takes over the theme and the flute improvises over it).
  • The music foreshadows that she will not always be with us. For now, she is a happy bird (final trill), with her flight feathers re-grown and her vivacious personality in full force.

This piece is dedicated to everyone who has lost a beloved pet.