Arctic Dreams

From Wind Repertory Project
Michael Colgrass

Michael Colgrass

Subtitle: For Large Wind Ensemble

General Info

Year: 1991
Duration: c. 25:50
Difficulty: VI (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Carl Fischer
Cost: Score and Parts - Rental   |   Score Only (print) - $132.25


1. Inuit Landscape - 4:02
2. Throat Singing with Laughter - 2:13
3. The Whispering Voices of the Spirits Who Ride with the Lights in the Sky - 4:22
4. Polar Night - 4:26
5. Spring Light: Ice Floating in the Sun - 2:31
6. The Hunt - 3:16
7. Drum Dancer - 5:01


Full Score
Flute I-VI (IV-VI doubling Alto Flute; all doubling Piccolo)
Bassoon I-II-III
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-VI
B-flat Bass Clarinet
B-flat Contra Bass Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Saxophone
E-flat Alto Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-VI
Horn in F I-VI
Trombone I-II-III-IV
Bass Trombone I-II
Tuba I-II
Contra Bass I-II
Percussion (4 players), including:

  • Alarm Bell (medium)
  • Bass Drums (2)
  • Bells (string, free hanging)
  • Bongos
  • Chimes (2)
  • Congas (2)
  • Crash Cymbals (3: large)
  • Crotales
  • Field Drums (2)
  • Glockenspiel
  • Gongs (medium and large)
  • Lion's Roar
  • Parsifal bells (thick-barred Glockenspiel)
  • Piccolo Snare Drums (2)
  • Reco-Reco
  • Sandpaper Blocks
  • Sleigh Bells (2)
  • Snare Drums (2)
  • Triangles (2)
  • Vibraphone
  • Water Gongs (2)
  • Xylophone

Players blowing air through instruments



None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Arctic Dreams is a tone poem for symphonic wind ensemble, inspired by the Arctic and by the lives and legends of the Inuit (the "eskimos") who live there. I lived for a short time with an Inuit family in Pangnirtung, Baffin Island, just north of the Arctic Circle, and I was fascinated by their way of life, their humor, and their sense of mystery and wonder at the awesome nature around them. To me, the Arctic is like a great unconscious. Therefore, the title of Barry Lopez's wonderful book Arctic Dreams seemed also an apt description of this music.

In the opening section, Inuit Landscape, a solo trombone represents a lone human being calling out over a vast space amidst the sound of wind and storm. In Throat Singing with Laughter we hear the indomitable spirit of the Inuit through their sense of humor. Throat singing is a unique form of Inuit music, created by the rapid in- and out-takes of breath on fast rhythms, which incites almost continual laughter in the singers and onlookers alike. In The Whispering Voices of the Spirits Who Ride with the Lights in the Sky, we hear mysterious mutterings that make a gradual transformation into "gossamer curtains of light that seem to undulate across Arctic skies," (Lopez's description of the aurora borealis). The next section, Polar Night, is a montage of Arctic sounds (ghosts, wind, wolves), through which we hear the voices of Norwegian sailors whose boat is frozen in the ice for the winter.

In Spring Light: Ice Floating in the Sun, the winter ends and the thaw begins with the light increasing to an almost unbearable brightness. This leads directly into the next-to-last section, called The Hunt. To the Inuit, spring is literally the resurrection of life. The ominous four-month winter darkness ends and brings back the caribou, their primary source of food. Following the hunt is a joyous celebration, led by the Drum Dancer. The sculptures of Karoo Ashevak, several of which are called Drum Dancer, were my inspiration for this section.

Arctic Dreams was commissioned by James Keene for the 100th Anniversary of the University of Illinois Symphonic and Concert Bands, and to honor the retirement of my friend Jack McKenzie, dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts. I want to express my appreciation to The Canada Council for the Senior Arts Grant that enabled me to travel to the Arctic, and do research and development for this work. Arctic Dreams is respectfully dedicated to Rosie Okpik and Enukie Akulukjuk of Pangnirtung.

- Program Note by composer


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • Ithaca (N.Y.) College Wind Ensemble (Christopher Hughes, conductor) – 22 February 2017
  • University of Illinois (Champaign) Wind Symphony (Stephen G. Peterson, conductor) – 17 February 2017
  • Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) Symphonic Band (Shawn Vondran, conductor) – 10 February 2017
  • Temple University (Philadelphia, Penn.) Wind Symphony (Wesley Broadnax, conductor) – 30 November 2016
  • University of Toronto (Ont., Can.) Wind Ensemble (Gillian MacKay, conductor) – 19 March 2016
  • University of British Columbia (Vancouver) Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Robert Taylor, conductor; Jeremy Berkman, trombone) - 12 February 2016
  • Georgia State University Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Robert Ambrose, conductor) - 20 November 2014
  • Texas Christian University (Fort Worth) Wind Symphony (Bobby R. Francis, conductor; TCU Chamber Choir) – 29 March 2007 (CBDNA 2007 National Conference, Ann Arbor, Mich.)

Works for Winds by This Composer


  • "Arctic Dreams." Canadian Music Centre. Web. Accessed 2 April 2020
  • Colgrass, M. (1991). Arctic Dreams: For Symphonic Wind Ensemble, 1991 [score]. Colgrass Music: [Toronto?].
  • Hanna, Frederick (1997). An Interpretive Analysis of Arctic Dreams by Michael Colgrass. Thesis/Dissertation. Manuscript. Boston: New England Conservatory of Music.
  • Michael Colgrass website.
  • Miles, Richard B. 2000. Teaching Music Through Performance in Band. Volume 3. Chicago: GIA Publications. pp. 621-631.