Russian River Is a piece I first composed for my own children in 2006. After the Covid lockdowns, I simplified it so it would be more accessible for a middle-school orchestra.
Russian River is a dramatic piece that describes the Russian River in Northern California. This river flows through the coastal mountain range. It empties into the sea at Jenner. Sea lions love to lie on the sandbars. The river is wild and is prone to flooding. Many people enjoy rafting on the Russian River or taking part in triathlons there. It comes out near Fort Ross, which is where Russian fur traders used to hunt Sea otters for their pelts.
My family used to vacation in the areas around the Russian River. I enjoyed visiting and eating clam chowder at a little restaurant in Jenner.
The music starts with dramatic descending 16th-note passages. These passages could be a waterfall at the head of the river. Then the lower strings bring in the main theme. Each violin section joins one at a time as the river gets bigger. The dynamic range grows to show the growth of the river.
Russian River is fiery and dramatic. The parts are rhythmically independent but not difficult to play. Students will enjoy the drama and some of the special effects as themes are passed from part to part.
I recorded a string quartet version with my children at a high school concert. You can watch it at the link below to get an idea of what the piece sounds like. Then you can decide whether this piece is a good fit for your students.