Commission Project

Frontier Rising by Darryl Johnson II

Message from Darryl (youtube video)

Frontier Rising was commissioned by The Moses Lake High School Bands and the surrounding community in Moses Lake, Washington as a means of sharing the small town American story of expedition, settlement, and development. The piece is a journey of tenacity, resolve, and ingenuity that follows the sequence of rugged New World frontiers as they steadily develop into established modern communities and it uses the Moses Lake story as an archetype of this process that has been repeated throughout frontiers across the American landscape.

Many small American towns display a simple veneer that might all too-hastily be dismissed or overlooked and thus Frontier Rising seeks to reveal the vibrant history beneath that unassuming surface. Though the process naturally varies from community to community, the musical narrative depicted here outlines the classic progression of the wild frontier as it happened for a remote 19th-century territory in the Pacific Northwest.

Native Inhabitation

The piece opens with the Native American inhabitation of the land.Lightly and minimally scored, this opening theme is grounded in an earthy simplicity, reflecting the unforced and natural existence of the early inhabitants.

Settlers’ Arrival

As European settlers arrive on the scene, the music grows in brightness but also complexity. Upon discovery of new and fertile lands, the settlers began a new life alongside the existing Native American population. Peaceful and cooperative at first, these cohabitations typically resulted in contentious disagreements and clashes of culture and vision that ultimately lead to battle.

Cowboys and Indians

Emerging from a state of rising tensions, the suddenly dissonant and chromatic battle music folds into a victorious restatement of the Settler’s Arrival theme and thus begins the shift toward the development of Moses Lake as it’s known today.

Breaking Ground: The Columbia Basin Project

The first major undertaking was the completion of the Columbia Basin project which consisted of a substantial network of water infrastructure systems. This allowed for an agricultural flourish that would ultimately cement the region’s position as an important agricultural economy. Here, an open panoramic texture underscores the laying of a capacious foundation that would come to include the largest water reclamation project in the United States. It is a sparse, anticipatory setting that leads to lighter but busier agricultural music.

With Pride and Honor: Servicemen’s March

The town’s next boon was the establishment of the Moses Lake Army Air Base (later renamed Larson Airforce Base). Here, soldiers were trained in fighter flight using the P-38 Lightening Fighter and the B-17 Flying Fortress. The based also served as an important domestic safety interceptor. As to be expected, the militarizing of the region brought cultural and economic benefits to the burgeoning town. Musically, this portion of the town’s history is represented by a classic, All-American style military march complete with early century marching percussion scoring and bright, aerial woodwind effects.

Hammers and Drills: An Industrial Renaissance

Along the way, Moses Lake established a sister city connection with Yonezawa in Japan- one of the most technologically progressive countries in the world. Though originally leading with an emphasis on agriculture, Moses Lake has become a manufacturing and technology hub for companies across several industries including Mitsubishi, Dell, and more. This turn of events is depicted by factory-inspired percussion affects with short, venturesome solos passed amongst the winds and quirky woodwind and mallet runs to capture the spirit of innovation. The section slowly thickens in texture and intensity, ultimately succumbing to a broad culmination of events.


The piece ends with a large, sweeping return of the Native Inhabitation theme that accentuates the robust, original history of the land and salutes the original pioneers (amongst whom was Chief Moses- for whom the city is now named). The concluding measures take on a modern bravura and include thematic material from previous sections of the piece to symbolize the patchwork history of the city. This is a story of determination and resourcefulness. At times hopeful and rousing and at times conflicted and bittersweet, it is a sincere story and an American story echoed by small towns across the Columbian landscape. This is the rising of the American frontier.

About the Composer

Darryl Johnson II (b. 1984) is a native of Southern California. An early interest in music led him to study several instruments as well as music theory, composition, and orchestration. A lengthy background in music transcription and arranging has fostered a growing interest in diverse musical styles, yielding a fresh, personal style that comprises a patchwork of music old, new, popular, and traditional.

Today his primary interests involve bringing new music to performing groups that strikes the delicate but crucial balance necessary for music that is constructive and fulfilling for both musicians and listeners. Descriptions of his works have ranged from “fun and catchy”, to “deep and powerful”, to “rich and beautiful”. Consequently, his music has been heard in the concert hall, on the marching band field, and within the vast world of multimedia. As a composer, clinician, and speaker, Darryl Johnson II deals with an array of issues surrounding the field of music and its industry with the primary purpose of communicating the benefit, necessity, and sheer power of meaningful art.

Make a donation to this and future commissions by the Moses Lake High School Band Program. Please contact director Dan Beich if you would like to support a specific commission project or a piece by a specific composer.