top of page

The Snake Oil Peddler  (2010)

available from Maecenas Music (UK) or Ludwig Masters (USA)

duration ca. 14:00


2 piccolos, 2 Flutes
2 Oboes, Bassoon, Contrabassoon
Eb Clarinet, 3 Bb Clarinets, Bass Clarinet, Bb Contrabass Clarinet

Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone

5 Bb Trumpets

4 Horns in F

3 Trombones

Baritone Horn

2 Tubas

Percussion: 5 Players
Keyboard Percussion: Xylophone/GlockenSpiel
TrapSet: Large Sizzle Cymbal, Suspended Cymbal, Snare Drum, Floor Tom, Bass Drum

Percussion 1: Guiro, Washboard, Small Wood Block, Tambourine, Large Triangle, Vibraslap,
Slide Whistle, Egg Shaker (share with player 2), Rachet (share with player 3)
Percussion 2: Egg Shaker, Cabasa, Tam-Tam, 5 Temple Blocks, Whip, Chinese Opera Gong,
Large Bass Drum (share with player 3), Vibraslap (share with player 1 ), Large Cowbell (share with player 3) Percussion 3: Large Bass Drum, Maracas, Large Cowbell, Crash Cymbals, Rachet, Rute

Program Note

Medicine shows traveled around small-town America though the 1800’s and even into the early 1900’s. These were often elaborate affairs with several different musical acts, perhaps a juggler or magician or comedian, and culminating in the presentation of a miracle elixir--for sale for a limited time only!--said to cure everything from baldness to death of less than two weeks. The entertainments were masterpieces of marketing psychology, preying on the fears and ignorance of the uneducated crowds to peddle what was usually nothing more than flavored and tinted alcohol. Often a shill would be planted in the crowd to testify to the miraculous efficaciousness of these tonics, which came to be known as ‘snake oil’.

It has seemed to me that all too often our politicians hark back to this dark version of the American Dream: selling the fraudulent to the ignorant. It was while claims of hidden weapons of mass destruction were being sold to the American public and the world at large that I was first inspired to write The Snake Oil Peddler. The piece begins with an utterly banal theme--a depiction of the road-weary caravan trudging slowly into town. As the crowds gather, the medicine show gets underway. The theme undergoes constant and eventually tortuous transformations, building to a fever pitch of excitement as the Snake Oil Peddler weaves his malignant spell.

The Snake Oil Peddler is dedicated to Timothy Renish, whose support of my work has been invaluable.

World premiere by the Hong Kong Wind Philharmonia, Jerry Junkin, conductor; April 4, 2010; Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall.


bottom of page