“The Bobsled” is in three continuous parts: 1) Preparation; 2) The Race; 3) Victory.
The music is based on the following description of a bobsled race:
1) Preparation: The driver of the Canadian Olympic Team starts his preparation for the race two hours before the start by walking the course for an hour and then warming up with the rest of the crew. He is eagerly awaiting the race and is in high spirits. Ten minutes before the race, he mentally visualizes the race; he has memorized every detail of the race course. When the four man team is in place for their turn, a green light goes on and they have sixty seconds to start. They take off their warm-up clothes and put their bobsled in the starting position. With one forward push and a pull back of the bobsled, they start the race.
2) Race: The four men push-start the bobsled as quickly as possible and jump in. There is a very fast acceleration as the bobsled will reach a speed close to 145 km in less than 30 seconds. The driver is in front and has to expertly guide the bobsled by using ropes connected to polished steel runners. The driver struggles with the violently shaking bobsled to keep it on the perfect racing line for straight ways and turns. At times, the driver is totally focused on guiding the bobsled and tunes out the noise of the ride. The bobsled hits a hole in the ice in one of the curves and the driver fights to maintain control. After succeeding in this fight, the driver again is in tune with the bobsled with the finish line quickly approaching. Passing the finish, the brakeman engages a metal claw which digs into the ice to quickly stop the bobsled.
3) Victory: The four man team jumps out of the bobsled, celebrating the victory of qualifying for an Olympic race. There is discussion of how to improve, but they also enjoy the thrill of a successful bobsled run.
Musically, “The Bobsled” uses two main themes throughout the composition. The first theme, representing the thrill of bobsledding and the desire to do it well, is heard during the beginning of the piece. The second theme is first heard when the music slows and two solo clarinets are featured. This theme represents the intense concentration and the love of the sport needed to successfully drive a bobsled. For the race, an unusual orchestral instrument is used—the “ocean drum” which sounds similar to a bobsled running on ice. When the bobsled hits the hole in the ice, the first theme is inverted to represent the challenge at hand. Throughout the race, the two themes are surrounded by downward pushing musical materials for obvious reasons.
The composer would like to acknowledge and thank Greg Haydenluck, driver of both two and four man bobsled races for the Canadian Olympic Bobsled Team (from 1984 to 1992), for his help and advice on bobsledding.
Commissioning and First Performance
“The Bobsled” was commissioned by and is dedicated to John Barnum and the Mississauga Symphony and was made possible as part of a Canada Council for the Arts composer residency grant.
First performance: December 17, 2005, Living Arts Centre, Mississauga, Mississauga Symphony, John Barnum conductor.