White Heron Dance

White Heron Dance

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Scoring & Instrumentation
electroacoustic - audio
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Audio file
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1. Entrance
2. Song
3. Union
4. Exit

The original White Heron Dance (Sa-gi Mai) is a Japanese religious rite held at Yasaka Shrine in Tsuwano, Japan. Every summer, on July 20 and 27, dancers dressed as white herons perform an elegant dance at certain locations in the town. The ritual was begun over 600 years ago, intended as a prayer for good harvests and to wipe out epidemics.

The Japanese Noh Theater performer Mayo Miwa, with whom I study the music and chant of Noh, suggested the ancient Japanese Shinto ritual to me. Inspired by the Japanese ceremony, I created my White Heron Dance to be a ritual in sound in which a human being experiences a moment of union with nature in the form of a Great White Heron.

Mayo Miwa taught me the song used in the Japanese ritual, and in the middle of my piece you can hear her recorded voice singing the original song from the shrine. At first she sings it in simple folk style, and then in the elaborate Noh recitational style. The text to the Japanese song is disarmingly simple, as the words of folk songs tend to be. In English translation: “Something landed on the bridge --- it’s a bird. ---Which bird? Oh, it’s a heron. ---Yes, it’s a heron, a heron crossed the bridge. The bird is wet with gentle rain. Yes, it’s a heron, a heron crossed the bridge.”

White Heron Dance has four sections: Entrance, Song, Union and Exit. The Entrance music gradually builds in intensity over 5 minutes; then we hear the heron’s raucous voice. The soft, gentle Song follows, inviting the heron to communicate. The tension heightens into the Union, and we are for a moment overwhelmed by the sounds of nature – herons, hawks, eagles, songbirds, frogs, crickets. Then the heron flies away, the sounds of nature disappear, and the Exit takes us back where we came from.

In my recent computer music I use ProTools and GRM Tools plug-ins. Sometimes I create sounds from scratch with Csound, and often, as in this piece, I start with recorded samples of natural sounds. For the Great White Heron sounds I have to thank the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for audio field recordings. For eagles, song thrushes, wing flaps and the like I thank Freesound.org. All these individual collectors will be listed on my website.

White Heron Dance was premiered on May 17, 2017 at the National Opera Center in a concert of computer works produced by the Association for the Promotion of New Music (APNM.) Mayo Miwa adapted Noh theater choreography to the electronic music and danced at the premiere. The second performance took place on July 14, 2017 at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, produced by the New York City Electroacoustic Music festival, with Mayo Miwa as dancer and new video created for the piece by videographer Tom Barratt.

--Alice Shields


The loudspeakers should be flat-response appropriate for the playback of classical music, and should powerful enough to fill the entire hall with fortissimo sound. There must be absolute separation between stereo tracks A and B on the loudspeakers, with no bleed-through on the opposite track. Track A should be heard from the audience's left; track B should be heard from the audience's right. The performance space should have acoustics appropriate for classical music.

First Perfomance




Text Language - Non English


Text Source/Author
Sa-Gi Mai folk song, Japan, c. 1400 C.E
Title Number
Ensemble Type
solo audio or video fixed media
Music by women
computer or live sound for performance or art installation


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