Music Composed for Sikuliak Research Vessel

By Heidi Zemach for SCN

The RV Sikuliak, that new world class ocean-going research vessel that will one day be home-ported in Seward, has been commemorated in music. A recording of “The Song of the Sikuliak,” an eight-minute orchestral piece composed by UAF graduate music student Emerson Eads, with the Arctic Chamber Orchestra performing, will be played tonight (Friday) at a gala for donors of the ship, prior to the ship’s launch ceremony Saturday in Marinette, Wisconsin.

The piece, written for Mezzo-soprano, Trumpet, Percussion and orchestra, is both a celebration of the grandeur of the new, state-of-the-art ocean-going icebreaker, as well as a warning of the need for passionate stewardship of our marine environment due to the sober, important nature of its seagoing missions, researching the marine environment in a time of Global Climate Change and Ocean Acidification.

The piece was commissioned by the UAF Department of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, which will operate the ship, on behalf of the National Science Foundation, which owns it. The recording  features vocalist Marlene Bateman, Chris Rose on trumpet, Kaylee Bonatakis, on percussion, and the Arctic Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Eduard Zilberkant.

The project came about as the result of a friendship by two university chorus-based singers: Eads, and Rolf Gradinger, the UAF assistant dean of fisheries. They sang near one another, became friends, and gradually, Gradinger came to learn that Eads was also an accomplished young composer. Gradinger asked more about Eads’ composing style, listened to what he had already written, and picked up on the young musician’s enthusiasm for his work, and decided to commission him to do the piece. Gradinger, and Mike Castellini, UAF dean of fisheries, shared with the musician their passion about the new research vessel, and the kinds of research it would be doing. Sometimes, when people from two very different worlds collide, the scientific world and the musical world, beautiful things happen. Thus, “Song of the Sikuliak” was born.

Initially, Eads planned to visit the Sikuliak at the ship builders in Wisconsin along with fellow music students, trumpeter Chris Rose and percussionist Kaylee Bonatakis, to record organic sounds that the ship made to be included in the piece. They had secured a People’s Endowment grant for $5,000 for the trip, but because being on site required that they all undergo background checks and other security precautions, they could not make the visit in the time they had available. So Eads he scrapped that idea, and had to start again from scratch.

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Eads then thought he’d focus on the instruments he felt best represented the idea of the ship, its mission, and incorporate the enthusiastic, awed feeling he got from his UAF deans of fisheries friends. As ships generally are referred to in the feminine gender, he selected the mezzo Soprano voice. Marlene Bateman, who sings it on the recording, was a perfect choice, Eads said. She’s an amazing woman, who has twice summited Mt. McKinley. Her part represents Mother Earth or Mother Nature, the song of the ship, and a call of warning for environmental stewardship.

The trumpet, best known for its regal, celebratory sounds, represents the celebration of the ship’s construction and launching, and its timbre lends itself to the idea of its strength and brassy modernity. The trumpet part was written to support, rather than supplant the singer’s somber plea. Even Rose’s jazzy improvisation it is meant to be played delicately, rather than to overwhelm the rest of the orchestra, Eads said.

The percussion represents a battery of different sounds: everything from the brittle sound of ice-cracking, (joined by the strings’ percussive use of their bows), to Eads’ personal favorite, the deep creaking sound a ship makes. The “Lions Roar” is played by pulling up on a wet rag attached to a drum head that vibrates. Eads also makes use of an Ocean Drum, a large drum head filled with rice or beads that make a Ssssh-y sound when rolled around, similar to that of waves and water.

Eads was interviewed while driving to the Marinette shipyard Friday afternoon. He was hoping he’d make it in time for the evening performance, and was very much looking forward to seeing the Sikuliak in person. Seward City Officials Jim Hunt, Ron Long, Harbormaster Mack Funk, and Vice Mayor Jean Bardarson also were planning to attend the launch ceremony.
The public is invited to the UAF Seward Science Center on Monday, Oct 15, 4:00 p.m-7:00 p.m. for a celebration of the Sikuliak’s launch. Refreshments will be provided.

3 Comments

  1. Very cool!! Love this. Thanks for sharing :)

    • What an awesome song! I could feel the water and see the ship on it’s voyage as it cut thru the ice and when the singer sang it was like Mother Earth’s voice coming thru and gave me chills.
      I especially loved the horn solo.
      I am personally proud to say two of my cousins were involved with this project. The hope that springs forth from this project for the environment is so needed.
      I am a singer myself from Wisconsin and reside in a nearby town not far from where the vessel was built.
      What a blessing to the planet that a non war ship is going forth to help gather information to help the world!

      I wrote and recorded a song called The
      Environmental Blues for The Earth Society in New York City and debuted it for their Earth Day Celebration at the United Nations. This song is great!

  2. I would like to know so much more about this collaboration, so amazing and amazing.