Color of the Spirit


for English horn, viola, and contrabss (2009)

NOTE: This work is meant to be performed with all players reading from the score. Print should be 17" x 11" for best visibility.



Cindy Thompson - Oboe
Kay Buskirk - Viola
Daniel Racer - Contrabass


English Horn, Viola, Contrabass


The Apostle
Strength of the Sould
Lily of the Valley
When Old Becomes New Again

Program Notes

Color of the Spirit
Music to Five Paintings by Tillier Wesley (
I. The Apostle
II. Strength of the Soul
III. Lily of the Valley
IV. When Old Becomes New Again
V. Untitled

How the work came to be:
As a classical musician, I have always enjoyed the combination of the visual arts and music. There are quite a few musical compositions based on paintings with the most famous work being, Pictures at an Exhibition, by the 19th Century Russian composer, Modest Mussorgsky. This musical work was based on the art of Russian artist, Viktor Hartmann and musically depicts an imaginary tour of an art collection. The paintings of Hartmann that Mussorgsky used in his composition are, sadly, long gone. I have performed this work many times, and have never viewed even a reproduction the paintings. So, I began to envision a work by a composer friend-of-mine based on the works of an artist friend-of-mine—for a modern day Pictures at an Exhibition! When I asked my composer friend, Dan Racer, if he would write a chamber work based on some of Tillier’s paintings and the Lily of the Valley hymn, he immediately agreed.

Dan never met Tillier. Dan has little knowledge of Native American customs and culture—although he did some research and asked many questions! It has been interesting and fascinating to watch Dan’s approach to his own music through Tillier’s paintings. Thanks Dan, for taking on this project! In early 1997, my husband and I first met Pam and Tillier Wesley at the Wichita Mid-America Indian Center’s art market. We became good friends over the years, meeting and catching up with each other at Red Earth Festival in Oklahoma City, the Wichita show and the art show at Haskell University in Lawrence, Kansas.

I remember in particular how Tillier loved to talk about his paintings and show you the symbolism that he used in each one. His eyes would sparkle and he would use his hands to help describe things. Those hands, with the little fingers that curved outward. (Being a string player, I always noticed his fingers when he talked!) He would say, “If this painting doesn’t sell, I’m going to add ‘this or that’ to this part of the canvas.” Was any painting really ever finished? He was also a man who loved God and served in his church. After Tillier’s death, Pam mentioned to me in a phone conversation that one of his favorite hymns was “Lily of the Valley”. Our piece, Color of the Spirit, has elements of this hymn tune throughout.

Our performance is based on friends coming together to present a gift of music to friends. You might find a better group of musicians to listen to tonight, but I don’t think you’ll find another concert where the joy of music, art, friendships and love are more present.

We hope you enjoy!

Kay Buskirk, viola

About the work:
The work Color of the Spirit is a work based on five paintings by Tillier Wesley. Each movement is based around a particular painting and certain elements of the painting. The thematic material heard in the opening of the movement is based around notes that represent the birth date of the artist (G, G#, A, C, C#, D & E). This opening theme is used throughout the piece and is associated with the butterflies that appear in each of Tillier’s painting. I knew from speaking with Tillier’s wife Pam, that butterflies were an important part of Tillier’s paintings and wanted to find a way to represent them throughout the work. This is the common thread of each movement.

In addition to the butterfly theme, I tried to find different things in each painting that I could represent musically. In The Apostle the butterfly appears alone in the left side of the painting. This is represented in the beginning of the work with the butterfly theme stated by the Viola alone. After the Viola finishes this theme, the English Horn plays a more ornate version of the theme while the Double Bass accents with percussive effects. As the movement continues, the theme becomes more intricate representing the ornate dress of the figure in the painting. Finally the movement fades away at the end with a brief quote of the hymn Lily of the Valley played by the Viola. This represents the “drag” that extends from the back of the figure off to the left of the painting as if it has no end.

The work Strength of the Soul was the inspiration for the second movement. When I first saw this painting, I noticed that many of the things in the painting where duplicated in threes. I decided to focus on the grouping of threes and on the animals represented in the painting. The first theme heard in the movement represents the Kingfisher birds tied to the body of the figure. The theme is rhythmically in unison, moving quickly. This is meant to represent the agility of the bird. This theme is repeated three times in this movement. It is followed by a contrasting theme each time. The second theme is a slow theme played by the Double Bass. This theme represents the bear. While the bassist performs this theme, the other performers chant the word “Nokose” which is Creek for bear. The third theme of the work is presented by the Viola. This theme represents the horse. The performers chant the Creek word for horse (Cerakko) during this theme. The work concludes with a short coda that is meant to represent the Koshare (clown) that is near the bottom left of the painting.

The third movement, Lily of the Valley is based on an untitled work. The movement is based completely off of the hymn of the same title. Each instrument represents an element of the painting. The English Horn represents the lily through its use of the hymn tune. The tune is ornamented to give it an improvisatory feel. The Viola represents the butterfly in the painting through trills and quickly fluttering lines. The Double Bass represents the figure in the background standing still, calmly looking forward. The movement concludes with a brief canon of the hymn tune.

When Old Becomes New Again is the basis of the fourth movement of the work. The title of this work gave me the inspiration for how the movement would be written. Each theme in this movement is a variation of a theme from a previous movement. The movement opens with the Double Bass playing the butterfly theme from the first movement upside down. The movement also contains parts of the horse and bear themes from Strength of the Soul. The quick moving lines throughout the movement represent the butterflies seen near the bottom of the painting. The movement ends with the inverted butterfly theme in two part canon. This represents the three dancers pictured in the middle of the painting with one leading and two following.

The final movement, Untitled is based both off of Tillier’s final painting and a story surrounding it. I was told that as he worked on the painting he was ill. As he would come to a place where he could not paint, he would cover the painting so that each time he returned to the painting it would be fresh. This movement is a representation of that story and Tillier’s succumbing to cancer. The work begins with a jarring “death” theme. This represents the lightning and skull in the upper parts of the painting. As the movement progresses, the Bass plays a slow set of arpeggios which gradually become faster. This represents time running out. As this line accelerates, the Viola and English Horn play versions of the butterfly theme that gradually become slower and further spaced apart. This represents the slowing down and eventual end of his work. The final statement of the piece is the Lily of the Valley hymn tune. I added this to represent the small painting of a chorus of angels that appears at the right of the figure in the painting.

Daniel Racer


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