• Notes for Kilimanjaro Suite

A four-movement work for symphony orchestra by Jeff Rapsis.

Our summit photo from Jan. 10, 2015.

What does it sound like?

Here are links to .mp3 files of all four movements. Enjoy!

https://soundcloud.com/user-563482119/1-kilimanjaro-rapsis
https://soundcloud.com/user-563482119/2-kilimanjaro-rapsis
https://soundcloud.com/user-563482119/3-kilimanjaro-rapsis
https://soundcloud.com/user-563482119/4-kilimanjaro-rapsis

The Story:

In January, 2015, I was part of a group that reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

At 19,431 feet, it's the highest point on the African continent, and one of the world's great destinations.

As we squinted into the sunrise and had our picture taken, I was thrilled to be there. But I couldn't help but wonder...

For years, I'd read accounts of how climbing Kilimanjaro would be a life-changing experience.

People described returning from the mountain with a new outlook or a fresh perspective. It was as if some kind of rapture had taken place.

At the summit, while I was exhilarated, I didn't feel any kind of rapture. I kept waiting for it, but it never came.

Coming down the mountain, and then returning to civilization, I wondered if there was something wrong with me.

Did I miss something? What just happened here? Or more specifically, what didn't happen?

The music of the Kilimanjaro Suite is my exploration of my experience on the mountain.

Eventually I did find meaning, but it wasn't what I anticipated.

Going there, I expected some kind of grand catharsis or revelation. Hey, we're talking Mount Kilimanjaro here, after all.

But the mountain wasn't about to grant that to me so easily.

Only much later, upon reflection, did I begin to discern the message of the mountain.

Perhaps the mountain was telling me my life didn't really need changing, at least not right now.

More importantly, the mountain was telling me if my life did need to change, it was up to me to change it.

The mountain wasn't going to help. It was just there, like always—at least in the time mankind has known it.

So that's the message. Make your own change. That's what I got.

The Kilimanjaro Suite is a four-movement work for orchestra that use the arduous nine-day trek to the summit as a foundation for personal introspection.

Without the experience of the trek, I would not have had the reflections I had afterwards.

Below is a compendium of materials I've written about the piece that might be of interest. Enjoy!

And if you have questions, don't hesitate to contact me at jeffrapsis@gmail.com. I'd be delighted to hear from you.

M O R E    I N F O R M A T I O N

Story in New Hampshire Magazine published February, 2017:

Mountain Envy /With respect to Mount Washington, it’s no Kilimanjaro

Press release from New Hampshire Philharmonic about the 'Kilimanjaro Coincidence,' or how the Kilimanjaro Suite came to be written.

MONDAY, JAN. 9, 2017 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Faith Wilson • (603) 647-6476 • faith@nhphil.org

How a chance phone call led to the creation of a new work for symphony orchestra


A 'Kilimanjaro Coincidence' prompted Granite State musician to compose score for N.H. Philharmonic

DERRY, N.H.—When composer Jeff Rapsis joined a group trekking to the summit of Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro, he wasn't thinking about music.

But just before leaving in January 2015, he got a phone call—one that eventually led to him writing a large-scale symphonic suite about the mountain.

The Kilimanjaro Suite, a four-movement work for orchestra, will receive its world premiere by the N.H. Philharmonic concert on Sunday, Jan. 22.

The premiere, under the direction of conductor Mark Latham, will be part of the Philharmonic's annual 'Trip to the Oscars' concert at 2 p.m. at Stockbridge Theatre, Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H.

Rapsis, who specializes in creating new music for silent films, was preparing for the ten-day Kilimanjaro trek two years ago when he received a call from Philharmonic trumpet player Val Zanchuk.

"Val asked if I would act as emcee for their upcoming 'Oscars' concert, due to my work in film scoring," Rapsis recalled.

Rapsis, a Bedford, N.H. resident, said he couldn't do it, but joked that he had a really good excuse—that he'd be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

This surprised Zanchuk, who knew of Philharmonic Music Director Mark Latham's extensive family ties to the peak.

Latham was born near the mountain in what was then British East Africa (now Tanzania), where his family served as British medical staffers for two generations.

In 1926, his grandfather Donald Latham was the first Englishman to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro after Germany ceded it to Britain following World War I.

Today, several features on Kilimanjaro sport Latham family names, including "Stella Point," named in honor of Latham's great aunt Stella, the first woman to reach the summit.

Latham's grandfather Donald also discovered and photographed the mysterious leopard carcass near the summit, which would go on to inspire author Ernest Hemingway's story 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro.'

"So when Mark heard I was going to Kilimanjaro, he was enthusiastic enough to meet some of us for dinner just before we left," Rapsis said. "Mark shared scrapbooks from his family's time in Africa, including one album that had the original photographs of the snow-bound leopard high on the mountain."

"I wasn't sure, but there was something already giving me a Kilimanjaro-sized shove in the direction of music," said Rapsis, whose day job is Associate Publisher of HippoPress, a weekly newspaper. He is also on the faculty of UNH-Manchester, where he teaches in the Communications Department.

Rapsis and his group went on to climb Kilimanjaro, successfully summiting Africa's highest peak (19,341 feet) on Jan. 10, 2015.

Along the way, they passed Stella Point, named after Latham's great aunt, and saw other features named after family members, including Latham Peak, a secondary point on the mountain.

And while on the mountain, Rapsis was surprised to find music everywhere.

"There was always singing in the campsites, and on the trail some of the porters would spontaneously break into old Protestant hymns such as "How Great Thou Art," but sung in Swahili."

"And there was the mountain itself, which seems to make its own kind of quiet but majestic music," Rapsis said.

Returning to New Hampshire, Rapsis met with Latham and discussed Kilimanjaro's musical possibilities.

"It seemed there was something there that I wanted to capture in music, but I wasn't sure what it was," recalled Rapsis, who creates full-length film scores by improvising in real time rather than writing music out.

Rapsis was also beguiled at all the Latham family connections to Kilimanjaro, which he felt were more than just a coincidence.

"If I was going to put something together on this scale, it seemed that circumstances were conspiring in a way that I couldn't refuse," Rapsis said.

Originally, the Kilimanjaro piece was intended as a modest orchestral essay depicting the African landscape in musical terms.

However, one problem Rapsis had was that his time on the mountain, while exhilarating and rewarding, was not "life changing" in the way described by so many other Kilimanjaro climbers.

"I wondered if there was something wrong with me," Rapsis recalls.

Eventually, the work grew into a multi-movement piece that grapples with the search for meaning when an experience offers no obvious lessons.

The piece also addresses the issue being a white American visitor in Africa.

"As the music grew, I didn't want it to become an ersatz Lion King-type score," Rapsis said. "So the piece, in part, is an attempt to get beyond all the clichés about Africa, musical or otherwise, that I've carried with me my whole life."

Latham encouraged composition of the Kilimanjaro Suite as part of the Philharmonic's aim to work with local musicians and reach out to the communities the orchestra serves.

The Philharmonic, whose roots extend back to 1895, is today a community orchestra comprised of local New Hampshire musicians from a wide variety of backgrounds. Its ranks are filled by teachers, students, business owners, and music lovers—all skilled performers selected for their ability and passion.

Based at Stockbridge Theatre in Derry, the Philharmonic maintains a full season of concerts, with programs ranging from classics to cutting-edge collaborations.

Under Latham, the Philharmonic has commissioned new works such as the Kilimanjaro Suite, and also frequently works with other groups such as the Pinkerton Academy choirs.

Latham scheduled the Kilimanjaro Suite for performance at the Philharmonic's upcoming annual 'Oscars' concert—the same concert Rapsis was asked to emcee two years ago.

Rapsis completed the four movements in the summer and fall of 2016. The Philharmonic began rehearsing the music in November.

The four-movement work, which lasts about 30 minutes, will be performed in its entirely at the Oscars concert on Sunday, Jan. 22.

"It's appropriate, because most of what I've done until now is essentially film music," said Rapsis, whose credits include scoring the feature film 'Dangerous Crosswinds' (2005)—music which was played and recorded by Philharmonic musicians.

"I really appreciate the willingness of Mark and the musicians of the Philharmonic to work with local artists," Rapsis said. "Like climbing Kilimanjaro itself, the process of putting together this score wasn't easy. But it's been well worth all the effort."

The Philharmonic's annual "Trip to the Oscars" concert will take place Sunday, Jan. 22 at 2 p.m. at the Stockbridge Theatre, 5 Pinkerton St., Pinkerton Academy, Derry N.H. Tickets are $12 to $50, with discounts available for Pinkerton Academy students. For tickets and information, visit www.nhphil.org or call the Stockbridge box office at (603) 437-5210

For more information about the Kilimanjaro Suite, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

Program notes for New Hampshire Philharmonic World Premiere on Sunday, Jan. 22 at Stockbridge Theatre, Pinkerton Academy, Derry, N.H.

LONG VERSION

Kilimanjaro Suite program notes

When I joined a group trekking to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in January 2015, I wasn't thinking about music. But while on the mountain, I was surprised to find music everywhere. There was singing in the campsites. Many of our Tanzanian porters were born-again Christians; on the trail, they would spontaneously break into spirituals or even familiar Protestant hymns, often sung in Swahili. Also, I had brought my own musical baggage of tunes associated with Africa and mountains. And there was the mountain itself, which seemed to make its own kind of slow majestic music.

I returned home sensing that Mount Kilimanjaro was rich with musical possibilities, but I wasn't quite sure how to capture them. One issue was myself. Many climbers say Kilimanjaro is a life-changing experience—that it transforms a person forever. While I found Kilimanjaro exhilarating, I didn't feel it was life-changing. I kept waiting for that rapture-like moment, and it never came—not at the summit, and not afterwards. On the way home, I wondered if something was wrong with me.

I finally realized that maybe Kilimanjaro was telling me that my life didn't need drastic changing, which was important. And also, if my life did need to be changed, it was really up to me to change it. The mountain wasn't going to do it for me. The music of the Kilimanjaro Suite describes that journey—the physical trek up the mountain, but also the unexpected intellectual and spiritual journey that came from climbing it. I had to throw overboard a lot of stuff before I found personal meaning in my Kilimanjaro experience, and this music describes that process.

In putting together the piece, I didn't want it to be some kind of ersatz Lion King music—a white American's idea of Africa, with jungle drums and Tarzan calls. Instead, the idiom of Western classical music is used throughout, which is my own natural language, especially as employed by composers such as Carl Stalling, who created the scores of Warner Brothers cartoons that defined my childhood. Technically, the piece is built on a harmonic structure in which the music of the mountain encompasses and supports all other melodies.

This piece was the result of Philharmonic music director Mark Latham's extensive family ties to Tanzania and Mount Kilimanjaro. Mark, who comes from a family of British medical doctors stationed in colonial British East Africa, shared his family scrapbooks prior to our departure, and was very generous in encouraging me to capture something of my Kilimanjaro experience in music. I am indebted to him and everyone at the New Hampshire Philharmonic for their commitment to local music at all levels.

I: Arrival at Londorossi Gate
The piece opens with the music of the mountain, to be heard throughout the score. We then hear the “Kilimanjaro Song,” first in the oboe, a celebratory anthem sung by groups throughout a trek. We then begin to hear scraps of other tunes about Africa and mountains that have been in my head since childhood, all of which are eventually driven out by the mountain music, which clears the decks for what's to come.

II: On the Trail / Shira I to Shira II
This music, the “slow movement” of the score, is meant to convey a sense of a long day on the trail trekking between camp sites on Kilimanjaro. Typically, we'd trek for five to seven hours, and then have ample time at camp to rest and relax. The time is needed to acclimatize to the lack of oxygen at the mountain's higher altitudes. A day on the trail spins forward slowly and steadily, and is conducive to contemplation.

III: Barranco Camp Site / The Breakfast Wall
When departing from Barranco Camp Site, the “Breakfast Wall” is a 1,000-foot cliff that trekkers must scramble up first thing in the morning—hence its name. Putting your hands and feet on just the right rocks to haul yourself up is a strenuous physical and mental challenge. This is reflected in the music, which shifts rapidly from key to key, building to a sense of exhilaration as we near the top.

IV: Overnight to Stella Point and Uhuru Peak
The long overnight slog to the summit begins at 11 p.m. and continues through to sunrise. The cold night seems endless as we move in lockstep up innumerable switchbacks, planting our trekking poles, then leaning forward and taking one step at a time. The mind wanders; we stop every half-hour, but only briefly. We continue up, nothing but darkness around us, broken only by the cones of our headlamps. The mountain music continues, unrelenting, as the hours pass. After a final push, we at last reach Stella Point on the upper rim; skies begin to lighten and the pace quickens. With great anticipation, we near the summit, expecting some kind of closure, only to find...

—Jeff Rapsis

Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire native, is a silent film accompanist and composer who specializes in creating live musical scores for movies made prior to the introduction of synchronized sound. He is also co-founder and associate publisher of HippoPress, the state's largest weekly newspaper, and is on the faculty of UNH-Manchester, where he teaches communications. For more information on Jeff's music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

SHORT VERSION

Kilimanjaro Suite program notes

When I joined a group planning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in January 2015, I wasn't thinking about music. But while on the mountain, I was surprised to find music everywhere.

There was singing in the campsites. On the trail, many of our porters would break into spirituals or even familiar Protestant hymns, often sung in Swahili. And there was the mountain itself, which seemed to make its own kind of slow majestic music.

The Kilimanjaro Suite is my attempt to reconcile my own pre-conceived ideas about Africa and African music with what I found on the mountain. It's also about my own spiritual journey inspired by the peak, which was one I didn't expect.

While some people say climbing Kilimanjaro is a life-changing experience, I didn't feel that at all. Perhaps my life didn't necessarily need changing—and if it did, the mountain wouldn't do it for me. I had to do it myself. The mountain didn't care. It would be there regardless of whether I climbed it or not.

So the music is not only about a trek on Kilimanjaro. It's also about shedding baggage and clearing the decks of all the junk that accumulates in one's head, and striving to find that clean well-lighted place that Hemingway wrote about.

I: Arrival at Londorossi Gate
The piece opens with the music of the mountain, to be heard throughout the score. The balance of the movement depicts the shedding of cultural baggage to clear the decks for the spiritual journey and meaningful reflection to come.

II: On the Trail / Shira I to Shira II
This “slow movement” is meant to convey a sense of a long day on the trail trekking between camp sites on Kilimanjaro. A day on the trail spins forward slowly and steadily, and is conducive to contemplation.

III: Barranco Camp Site / The Breakfast Wall
The Breakfast Wall is a 1,000-foot cliff that trekkers must scramble up first thing in the morning—hence its name. This strenuous physical and mental challenge is reflected in the music, which shifts rapidly from key to key, building to a sense of exhilaration.

IV: Overnight to Stella Point and Uhuru Peak
The long overnight slog to the summit begins at 11 p.m. and continues to sunrise. The night seems endless as we move in lockstep up innumerable switchbacks, one step at a time, the steady rhythm continuing through the night. The mind wanders, we take rest breaks, and then continue. After a final push, we at last reach Stella Point on the upper rim; skies lighten and the pace quickens. With great anticipation, we near the summit, expecting some kind of rapture, only to find...

—Jeff Rapsis

Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire native, is a silent film accompanist and composer who specializes in creating live musical scores for movies made prior to the introduction of synchronized sound. He is also co-founder and associate publisher of HippoPress, the state's largest weekly newspaper, and is on the faculty of UNH-Manchester, where he teaches communications. For more information on Jeff's music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

PIECE FOR N.H. MAGAZINE
Published in February 2016 edition of New Hampshire Magazine.

FIRST PERSON

You can take the boy out of New Hampshire...

...but you can't take New Hampshire out of the boy

By Jeff Rapsis

My training for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro began with childhood trips to Clark's Trading Post and Storyland.

But it wasn't physical training. It was psychological.

Like many Granite State families, at least once each summer we'd head north to the White Mountains, where we'd stay in motels (some with COLOR TV!) and visit all the attractions.

And we'd do it while being awed by the biggest mountains we'd ever seen. We'd motor through Franconia Notch and crane our necks out the windows of the Ford station wagon at the craggy cliffs of Mount Lafayette and Cannon Mountain.

Wow! This was nothing like Pack Monadnock or the Uncanoonucs, mundane hummocks which marked the modest horizon of our humdrum southern New Hampshire lives. These were real mountains—the kind you'd see in movies, and which books were written about.

And yes, I remember reading “My Side of the Mountain,” the classic young adult adventure story, and of course I imagined it taking place out in the woods somewhere beyond Six Gun City. The White Mountains were my frame of reference for everything mountainous.

But the thing is, New Hampshire's mountains aren't really that big.

Even Mount Washington—biggest of all at 6,288 feet, and home to admittedly world-class terrible weather—isn't truly large in size or height.

Also, New Hampshire's mountains are old. Ground down by glaciers, their rounded summits lack the dramatic pointy peaks of newer ranges, geologically speaking, such as the Alps or the Andes or the Himalayas.

Yes, they have their own unique charm. But the White Mountains just aren't as visually dramatic as many other ranges around the world. This sounds like sacrilege coming from a New Hampshire native, but it's the truth.

I first appreciated this for real when I visited the state of Washington and got up close to Mount Rainier and its sister peaks in the Cascades. Returning home, Mount Monadnock looked to me like something on a model railroad layout.

Other evidence? Take my wife (please!), who first came to Keene, N.H. some years ago for a job after attending college in Fort Collins, Colorado, in full view of the front range of the Rockies.

Soon after arriving, she and a friend from Missoula, Montana drove north to see our famous White Mountains. Up they went on I-93, getting excited as they reached the foothills.

They actually got all the way through Franconia Notch before realizing: those were the mountains!

So okay, I grew up among puny peaks. But eventually, I discovered that growing up in innocent awe of the Whites had its long-term advantages.

Specifically, it was perfect training to preserve a sense of child-like wonder about the many dramatic peaks and mountains all over the globe. No matter where I went, if mountains were part of the scenery, they were always flat-out astonishing!

And that includes Mount Kilimanjaro.

Decades after my last visit to Six Gun City (alas, now closed!), seeing Mount Kilimanjaro for the first time in January, 2015 prompted the same reaction I had when sticking my head out the car window in Franconia Notch during the Nixon administration.

Wow! And I meant it. There it was—the still snow-capped peak (despite recent glacier loss) shimmering in the distance, an other-worldly site in equatorial Africa. It seemed unbelievable to look at, never mind climb.

And that sense of “Wow!” never waned. It was present throughout our nine-day trek to the summit of Kilimanjaro, an immense behemoth of a mountain that rises from the landscape like a wave that tops out at 19,341 feet. It measures about 60 miles across just by itself, covering more area than all the White Mountains, and some of the Green Mountains over in Vermont.

It was present every day on our trek, which took us through verdant African landscapes and then up to the rocky barren upper slopes, passing through several distinct climate zones. It was present when we camped each night, higher and higher, to acclimatize ourselves to the lack of oxygen at such altitudes.

And the sense of wonder was present when we reached the summit, the highest point on the entire African continent. The view from the top, with the sun rising over the clouds far below, was like what you see from the window of an airplane, only without the airplane.

I'm sure I would have been thrilled no matter what my background was. But I think my infatuation with the White Mountains at a young age has conditioned me to forever be just a little bit more amazed at the world than if I'd somehow, say, spent my school vacations skiing in the Swiss Alps.

The downside to this frame of reference, however, is that if you're not careful, it can artificially limit your ability to experience the world around you.

I once traveled around Thailand with a guy who grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey. No matter where we went or what we did, it only existed to him in reference to his hometown.

The beach at Koh Samui? Just like on the Hackensack River. That amazing tropical sunset? Just like Bayonne in mid-summer, with the oil refineries across the bay going full blast.

And there I was, high on Kilimanjaro, thinking how much the terrain looked like the barren summit of Mount Washington, only on a colossal scale, and without the Cog Railway.

I made this comparison out loud just once, to a couple also from New Hampshire, knowing they'd understand. But I otherwise kept such thoughts to myself, not wanting to be the guy from Bayonne.

And besides, nothing on Mount Kilimanjaro reminded me of Six Gun City.

The “Kilimanjaro Suite,” a four-movement score for orchestra composed by Jeff Rapsis, will receive its world premiere at a concert of the New Hampshire Philharmonic Orchestra on Sunday, Jan. 22 at 2 p.m. at the Stockbridge Theatre, Pinkerton Academy, Derry, N.H. For more info or for tickets, visit nhphil.org. For more about the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com

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