Symphony No. 3 “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea”

This was an immense work that took an extraordinary effort to complete. I’d like to thank my kids for their inspiration to write it, my wife’s support, and Dr. Eric Alexander from Boise State University.


This work was in essence built to tell the story of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” in the form of a large symphonic work. I still remember watching the 1954 movie adaption of the classic Jules Verne tale and what a great adventure it was. I have my children’s love of the RMS Titanic and all things related to the sea to give me the inspiration to write this  grand work.

There are many leitmotifs present in this work. Each major element of the work receives a theme, which will be described here in more detail. Ensembles that perform this work are encouraged to do what they want to tell the story, whether that be with some narration, a photo display during the work, or whatever else comes to mind. I hope you enjoy performing this work as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The Hunt for the Sea Monster 1-68/ Captain Nemo 69-78

The opening theme, representative of the ocean, is presented in a double reed choir. Considering the expensive nature of these instruments, cross-cueing has been provided to assist bands without the financial capabilities to use these colors. As “The Hunt for the Sea Monster” progresses, special care should be taken not to let the individual entrances be noticed. Quite the opposite, in fact (such as in John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean). Rehearsal number five is meant to create the auditory illusion of the Nautilus passing by in the darkness of the ocean. From here, the music picks back up, steadily building to a fantastic fortissimmo with the low brass and horns stating Captain Nemo’s Theme. As a trombonist, I have to back off many times in my professional ensembles to meet the need of the music. Rehearsal Nine is not that spot.

Journey of the Nautilus 77-186

The horns drive the motor of the 12/8 time signature through this part of the story. The instrument playing the main theme should strive to keep the mood light. In my impression, Nemo was trying to build something great, and positive when he built his submarine. The music should reflect as such.

The rapid ascending chromatic scale of m. 86 is there as tonal “bubbles rising to the surface.” This figure comes back many times throughout the symphony, and the performers are encouraged to think of them in this fashion, in particular to keep the beat steady and quick. The more difficult passages have been broken up into individual hockets for ease of performance.

Keep m. 152 joyful and exuberant to make for a good comparison to Nemo’s lament of his family. The character at rehearsal eighteen is much different.

Captain Nemo’s Family 187-239

In stark contrast to the good feelings we receive from our own Journey of the Nautilus, we must see the reason behind it: Captain Nemo is a man in anguish from the loss of his family. The strain must be felt throughout this section, and soloists are urged to find the tone necessary to convey these thoughts and feelings. The theme of the ocean returns at m. 231, and paves the path back to reality that we feel when we return to the Nautilus theme that returns at m. 240 (bring out the snare drum at this section).

The Beach Chase 264-374

Prior to The Beach Chase, the story goes that the Nautilus becomes stuck on a reef. Nemo allows Ned Land and Conseil (Prof. Aronnax’s assistant) to go on land nearby to collect specimens. While on land, they are chased by the locals back to the Nautilus, which is where this movement gains it’s inspiration. Performing ensembles are urged to spend some time getting used to the ⅝ and ⅞  time signatures that are constantly circulated throughout this portion of the music. There is a necessity for a drum set during this movement (much from my appreciation for Yanni Chryssomallis and his influence in my works), and we even have a solo section for tenor saxophone and Eb clarinet. Soloists are encouraged to learn to play the solos written, but do not have to. This movement ends quietly before the attack of the giant squid.

The Giant Squid 375-507/ Nemo’s Family 508-555

This section has some key transitions. They are outlined as follows:

  • The attack of the giant squid m. 375-397: The squid’s main theme is presented by low brass and horns.
  • The crew prepares for battle m. 398-455: the militaristic aspect of this cut-time section should have a building action feel in the music. Make a point to keep it very crisp and secco.
  • The fight between the crew and the squid m. 460-507: ensure the band keeps the energy up throughout this section, The death of the squid is evident at measure 508.

After this, Captain Nemo falls into a deep depression. His family’s theme is brought back, which additional substantial swells from percussion and a forlorn countermelody starting at measure 534. The leitmotif of the ocean returns, as if to claim another victim. Afterward, a lonely high tessitura horn solo echo’s the ultimate sadness that Nemo lives with to the end of his life.

Land is Sighted 556-end

As the Nautilus now wanders the ocean aimlessly, an opportunity presents itself to Ned Land, Prof. Aronnax, and Conseil. They take a boat that ultimately leads them to their rescue. This part of the symphony is very much a happy ending. There are some musical challenges to take note of:

  • The “rescue” melody presented by the horns at measure 588 is quite high. If necessary, have the trumpets play it as well, if your horn section is unable to perform it well. 
  • The trumpets have some very high notes in this section as well. If I have done my job correctly, I have written their part with enough rest that the high concert Cs will be available to their use.
  • There is a false ending at measure 632 (I enjoy a good prank). Ensure the molto ritardando is dramatic, but do not delay in returning to A Tempo at measure 632.

If you have any questions, I can be reached by my email:

Length: 25′

Grade Level: 5

Perusal Score: click here