Menagerie of Endangered Creatures:
Blue, Vanishing (2021)
Performed by Ina Zdorovetchi, harp
© 2021 BLACKBURN ARTS (ASCAP)
Menagerie of Endangered Creatures is a part of Luke Blackburn’s (b. 1992) Menagerie Series, a collection of multimovement “docu-compositions” originally based on Camille Saint-Saëns’s Le Carnival des Animaux. Each suite within the collection considers the world from the perspective of various creatures or plants, usually native to the local environment where the piece is premiered. The series embodies the principle of conservation as an artistic practice by raising awareness of endangered species, promoting ecological preservation, and introducing audiences to their natural world.
Blue, Vanishing was commissioned by the Lyra Society, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit promoting harp education, after Blackburn was named winner of their 2021 Costello Composition Competition for his “very witty and imaginative” harp writing in Menagerie of Spectacular Creatures: Insecta (2020).
The initial inspiration for Blue, Vanishing came from Blackburn’s research of the Cyclargus (=Hemiargus) thomasi bethunebakeri (commonly known as Miami Blue), an endangered butterfly native to south Florida and the Florida Keys. Upon further investigation, Blackburn discovered that within the United States, fully one third (8 out of 24) of the endangered butterflies listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are a sub-family of Lycaenidaes called Polyommatinae, or “Blue” butterflies. This list includes the Miami Blue, El Segundo Blue (Euphilotes battoides allyni), Smith’s Blue (Euphilotes enoptes smithi), Palos Verdes Blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus palosverdesensis), Mission Blue (Incaricai icarioides missionensis), Mount Charleston Blue (Icaricai [Plebejus] shasta charlestonensis), Lotis Blue (Lycaeides argyrognomon lotis), Fender’s Blue (Icaricia icarioides fenderi), and the Karner Blue (Lycaeides melissa samuelis). Additionally, the United States has seen the extinction of at least one member of Blue sub-family in the last hundred years, the Xerces Blue (Glaucopstche Xerces).
Menagerie of Endangered Creatures: Blue, Vanishing score cover.
Designed by Luke Blackburn (2021).
Together, these Blues are more than twice as endangered as any other butterfly family in the United States. Karner Blue butterflies are even considered the “rarest butterfly in the world.”
Each movement of Blue, Vanishing is meant to paint a certain period in the existence of these butterflies. The first movement (Prelude) is meant to represent the “before”—before humans and global warming wreaked havoc on their native habitats over the last century, a time when Blues were unharmed and free to thrive. The second movement (Critical) confronts the current state of these butterflies as critically endangered. Even with the assistance of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and tireless efforts by conservationists, these butterflies remain rarely seen and extremely fragile. The final movement (Kaleidoscopic, referencing the collective noun for a large gathering of butterflies) explores what the world could be like if we did our part to protect these endangered creatures. Building from nothing, a broken melody begins to emerge. The pitches B–A–C (“back”—meant to represent the great efforts of butterfly conservationists who work to bring these creatures back to their historical numbers) continue to repeat, each time evolving into something more substantial, musically referencing the original rhythmic component from the prelude, as the endangered butterfly species begin to return to their former glory.
Luke Blackburn (2021)