Smoke and Mirrors

From Wind Repertory Project
Erica Muhl

Erica Muhl

General Info

Year: 2010 / 2012
Duration: c. 6:15
Difficulty: VI (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Orchestra
Publisher: Murphy Music Press
Cost: Score and Parts (digital) - $225.00


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II
Oboe I-II
English Horn
Bassoon I-II
A Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II
Bass Trombone
String Bass
Percussion (5 players), including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Keyboard percussion
  • Snare Drum
  • Tam-Tam


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Smoke and Mirrors was commissioned by the University of Southern California on the occasion of my 50th birthday. As this occasion was, shall I say, bittersweet (let’s face it, no one wants to turn 50), I couldn’t resist the temptation to magically turn the clock back -- at least musically. While the work is entirely an expression of my style as it has developed through 2009, it contains several paraphrases of my compositions for orchestra spanning my twenty-four years at USC, from my student days in 1985 to today. These fragments have been incorporated fully into the arc of the new work, and some are quite hidden in the context. They are, however, used chronologically (i.e., in the order of original composition), and as such create a kind of compass for my compositional direction.

Smoke and Mirrors opens with a simple, forceful unison in low strings and percussion. After only a few seconds, brass and winds enter with exchanging colors that move slowly at first, but then suddenly rise to a fff rapid-fire burst in brass and percussion. Just as suddenly, the opening meditative mood returns, now alive with subtextual ideas. The brass builds again to explosive, rapid chords, this time supported by the entire orchestra. What follows this volatility is a completely unexpected scherzo; while the opening seemed to hint at something more serious, the scherzo unfolds instead lightly, dance-like, with veils of shifting color and a constant, though sometimes hazy, pulse. The scherzo is interrupted three times by jarring tuttis in contrasting duple meters, and it eventually gives way to the overpowering new beat. Faster and more determined, the final section builds slowly but directly to its climax, an extended reflection of the opening explosive brass chords, and the ensuing, dissipating smoke.

One final note: various internet-based biographies for some reason have my official birth date at 1961; well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

- Program Note by composer

The title of the work refers to an idiomatic expression implying the obscuring of truth through use of another stimulus that draws the observer's attention and misleads them. The terminology comes from the world of illusionists, who frequently employ clever placements of mirrors and theatrical effects to distract their audiences. Muhl refers to the piece as a "concert overture," although it is not part of a larger work as in the case with an opera overture.

- Program Note from Teaching Music through Performance in Band


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • California State Polytechnic University Pomona Wind Ensemble (Rickey H. Badua, conductor) – 28 March 2024 (CBDNA 2024 Western/Northwestern Division Conference, Las Vegas, Nev.)
  • Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge) Wind Symphony (Simon Holoweiko, conductor) – 29 February 2024 (CBDNA 2024 Southern Division Conference, Memphis, Tenn.)
  • Truman State University (Kirksville, Mo.) Wind Symphony (Curran Prendergast, conductor) – 28 February 2024 (CBDNA 2024 Southwestern Division Conference, Kansas City, Mo.)
  • University of Kentucky (Lexington) Symphony Band (Shayna Stahl, conductor) - 17 October 2022
  • Eastman School of Music (Rochester, N.Y.) Wind Orchestra (Mason St. Pierre, conductor) - 23 March 2022
  • Colorado Wind Ensemble (Lakewood) (Richard Mayne, conductor) – 29 February 2020
  • Truman State University (Kirksville, Mo.) Wind Symphony I (Curran Prendergast, conductor) - 18 November 2019
  • University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire Wind Symphony (John R. Stewart, conductor) 12 October 2018
  • University of Oklahoma (Norman) Wind Symphony (Dan Harbaugh, conductor) – 16 April 2018
  • University of Utah (Salt Lake City) Wind Ensemble (Eric M. Laprade, conductor) – 5 December 2017
  • University of Texas (Austin) Wind Symphony (Scott Hanna, conductor) – 3 December 2017
  • Michigan State University (East Lansing) Symphony Band (David Thornton, conductor) – 24 October 2017
  • California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Wind Ensemble (Rickey Padua, conductor) - 24 March 2017 (2017 Sutherland Wind Festival (Fresno, Calif.)
  • Eastman School of Music (Rochester, N.Y.) Wind Orchestra (Mark Scatterday, conductor) – 9 November 2016
  • University of Southern California (Los Angeles) Thornton Wind Ensemble (H. Robert Reynolds, conductor) - 26 September 2014

Works for Winds by This Composer


  • Erica Muhl website Accessed 18 April 2016
  • The Horizon Leans Forward…, compiled and edited by Erik Kar Jun Leung, GIA Publications, 2021, p. 428.
  • Perusal score
  • Wallace, Jacob. "Smoke and Mirrors." In Teaching Music through Performance in Band. Volume 11, Compiled and edited by Richard Miles, 1001-1010. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2018.