Ō‘ō

For unaccompanied flute

Duration: 8'

(2020)

Moho birds (known as Ō'ō in the Hawaiian language) were wiped off the face of the earth during the 20th century. Roughly between robins and crows in size, these animals had glossy black plumage with splashes of yellow feathering, long and thin beaks used to eat nectar, and an incredibly distinctive mating call. They also had a rough go during their last century on earth, succumbing to habitat loss, avian malaria outbreaks, over-hunting, competition from invasive species, and two hurricanes arriving within a ten-year period.

 

The last of the Moho birds, the Kaua'i 'Ō'ō, is believed to have gone extinct in 1987, two years after the last sighting of the species, when the last ever audio recording of the bird’s distinct mating song was made by David Boynton. This last surviving specimen, a male, was driven by instinct to sing into the forests in an attempt to find a female who would never come, likely unaware of the extreme state of his isolation. When this individual died, he was the last surviving animal in the family Mohoidae, meaning there was no other creature on earth like him in his final days. His death marked the only complete extinction of an avian taxonomic family in modern times, which would be akin to the last of our species dying in a world where every other human and great ape was already wiped out.


This composition attempts to have the solo flute emulate the last day of this bird’s life. While birdsong has become a staple theme in flute music, using it to explore the concepts of isolation, environmentalism, instinct, and natural acoustic phenomena seems to be a new angle on the subject, and is currently without peer in the repertoire. Ō'ō was commissioned by Emily Zuber and eleven consortium members.

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© 2021