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commissioned by the Wantagh Bandwagon Association and
dedicated to the Wantagh High School Wind Ensemble,
Wantagh, New York, Mindy Dragovich, Director
Yosemite Portrait: El Capitan
Drew Fennell, composer


This piece happened because of the vision (...and great patience...) of one person: Mindy Dragovich. Mindy is the head of instrumental music and conductor of both the Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble at Wantagh High School on Long Island (just a short distance from New York City). Mindy, having conducted a couple of my pieces previously, contacted me about writing a new piece for her wind ensemble at Wantagh High School. I agreed and we decided to plan on Spring of 2007 for the premiere.

Winter of 2007 rolled around and I had nothing written. In fact, I had no idea what I was going to write, but one day I was watching the History Channel and got my inspiration. There was a show on mountain men in the old American West, and they spoke of how these self-reliant men were some of the first people to set eyes on the Yosemite Valley in California - widely considered one of the most breathtaking places in the world. My imagination was captured by the idea of being the first to see such an amazing place, so I went to my computer and searched for information on Yosemite. What I found were hundreds of pictures of the place and especially of the incredible granite rock formation which towers over it - called El Capitan. I knew the piece I was going to write.

But I had to find the right notes first - and, for me, that can be difficult. I knew what the tone of the piece would be, and I even had a sense of the kinds of harmonic structure it would take on, but I couldn't find the right melodic material in my brain. I did finally come up with some material and was able to send some pages to Mindy; but I was in the midst of the toughest creative block I had ever experienced, and I simply was not able to sufficiently complete the piece in time for a performance in the spring of 2007; so we pushed it back to December. (I guess this would be where Mindy's great patience came into play.)

I found the rest of the piece later in the year, and was really pleased to have written something that didn't sound as much like "me" as my other pieces. Yes, there are elements that are similar to earlier work I had done, but this had a different quality. I was extremely excited to have made some strides down the road of "finding my voice."

Mindy worked very hard on the piece with the musicians in her band and I was so pleased to have been able to visit for a few days and hear the premiere performance (December 20, 2007). I was very gratified to see that my imagination had helped to inspire the imagination of the students in the Wantagh Band. It was truly a worthwhile experience to be there and it was so good to see such commitment from Mindy and her cohort Dan Aviles; they are tireless, energetic educators. And it was a real pleasure to work with the musicians in the band. They did a great job with a very challenging piece of music.

Some additional information...
The original title of simply El Capitan was altered in 2012 as part of a slight overhall of the piece for publication with Bandworks Publications. This was mainly to distiguish it a little more clearly from the Sousa march of the same name. The initial intent of the piece was that it would be part of a larger suite celebrating the beauty and majesty of the Yosemite Valley. Perhaps someday the entire work, Yosemite Portrait will be born.

Additionally, some minor changes were made to scoring with the inclusion of a few (optional) instruments. Principally, the Eb clarinet and contrabassoon parts were added, as well as a synthesizer part to provide a sub-sonic rumble to the bass.

And finally, some very minor changes in scoring and notation were made just for a little more seamless performance and ease of reading.

  • Yosemite Portrait: El Capitan is published by Bandworks Publications.
    Available for Wind Band.

  • View the full conductor's score of Yosemite Portrait: El Capitan [wind band version]*.

  • Hear Yosemite Portrait: El Capitan in a live performance (complete) by the Carnegie Mellon University Wind Ensemble, Denis Colwell, Music Director (Drew Fennell, Guest Conductor) [wind band version]*.

  • Hear Yosemite Portrait: El Capitan in the live premiere performance (complete) by the Wantagh High School Wind Ensemble, Mindy Dragovich, Conductor [wind band version]*.

*Right click on the link and choose Save Target As... to download the file.

Some Pictures from the December, 2007 trip to Wantagh, NY for the premiere of Yosemite Portrait: El Capitan.
...With Principal Trumpeter Kevin Winter Rehearsing 'Ashokan Farewell' with the band ...With Conductor Mindy Dragovich
The combined Wantagh bands on concert day

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Program Notes

El Capitan, located in the Yosemite National Park in the northern part of California, is a 3,000 foot rock formation which overlooks the scenic Yosemite Valley. This piece presents some images of the great El Capitan, personified here as the Master of Yosemite.

The piece begins in the early morning. A thunderstorm has just rolled through the Yosemite Valley and the air still smells of rain. We hear the rumbling of thunder in the distance as wind washes through the valley. We see a large, mostly nondescript silhouette to the west, largely obscured in the shadow of early morning and the insistent cloud cover. Suddenly, the sun bursts forth and we see El Capitan. The colors and contours of his enormous rock face are now clearly visible as the sunlight dances over the surface of it. He is majestic and even fearsome, lording over the splendid natural wonder that is Yosemite. We survey the scene. Clear water flows freely and large pines dot the landscape climbing to the foot of El Capitan's granite face. Morning gives way to the full light of day and we now follow birds flying through the valley and dancing over the mountain. They dive and climb with ease on the wind, surveying the valley and its master, El Cap. Later, we descend once more to the valley to as the bright colors of day slowly change to the more muted tones of evening. The sun sets in the west with colors so brilliant they are barely to be believed. El Capitan and the valley below, for one final moment, are illuminated before the sun finally descends below the horizon. As the light fades from the sky, El Capitan, dark as pitch, drifts off in slumber, a hulking shadow under a clear sky full of stars.

Duration: approximately 10 minutes

Drew R. Fennell
(November 16, 2007)

  • View an unformatted text version of these program notes, suitable for use in concert programs*.

*Right click on the link and choose Save Target As... to download the file.

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Wind Band Instrumentation

1st Flute
2nd Flute
+2nd Oboe (opt.)
+2nd Bassoon (opt.)
1st Clarinet in Bb
2nd Clarinet in Bb
3rd Clarinet in Bb
Bass Clarinet in Bb
Contra-Alto Clarinet in Eb
Contra-Bass Clarinet in Bb
1st Alto Saxophone in Eb
2nd Alto Saxophone in Eb
Tenor Saxophone in Bb
Baritone Saxophone in Eb
1st Trumpet in Bb
2nd Trumpet in Bb
3rd Trumpet in Bb
4th Trumpet in Bb
1st Horn in F
2nd Horn in F
3rd Horn in F
4th Horn in F
1st Trombone
2nd Trombone
3rd Bass Trombone
Euphonium T.C. or B.C.

(5 or 6 players)
Percussion includes:
crotales (opt.)
mark tree
suspended cymbal
crash cymbals
sleigh bells
temple blocks
snare drum
bass drum

El Capitan is heavily cued and may be effectively performed without the contra clarinets and horns. There may be one or two parts for the oboe and bassoon. If necessary, and if it can be done without becoming intrusive, the long pedal sections from the beginning to measure 51 and from measure 175 to the end may be bolstered with a synthesizer or additional bass wind instruments.

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