Rodeo Queen of Heaven

Score title

Rodeo Queen of Heaven


Libby Larsen

More about the composer


Program note

"Libby Larsen's Rodeo Queen of Heaven, inspired by a wooden sculpture of the Madonna and Child in rodeo outfits, ingeniously twists plainchant into jazz and country idioms." (Anthony Burton, BBC Music Magazine)

Wandering through the Denver Art Museum a year or so ago, I happened upon an exhibit of contemporary Western Art. Amidst paintings of vast June skies, western grass pastures, ranches dwarfed in their landscapes, cowboys and any number of familiar icons of the American West was a glass vitrine which housed a hand-carved wooden, hand-painted Santo, 26 1/2 by 9 1/2 by 8 1/2 inches. The image was a Madonna and Child dressed in Rodeo garb. I walked by at first. Then I walked by again. After my fifth pass I stopped, utterly arrested by the work Rodeo Reina del Cielo "Rodeo Queen of Heaven," by Arthur Lopez.

The Madonna, serene in her appearance, held the Child, also serene and worldly. Clearly the artist knew his subject. I thought that Lopez’ audacity of dressing the subject in Rodeo regalia and surrounding their heads with halos made of lariats had caught my eye—and it had—but what really speaks to me about this work that Lopez interprets Southwestern American culture through a Mexican Christian religious icon and comes up with an object (the Santo) which speaks volumes about who we are and what we are becoming.

It hit me where I live. As a child in Minneapolis, I was a typical Midwestern kid—except my grade school, Christ the King, was full of plaster Santos, and for eight years we read, wrote and sang Gregorian chant, often singing the In Festis B. Mariae Vriginis (Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary), a 12th century Gregorian mass, for the daily mass at our church.

The Rodeo Queen of Heaven (Rodeo Reina del Cielo) weaves fragments of this mass into the fabric of this one movement chamber work. I set about to create a raucous, fluid musical Santo—a partner to Arthur Lopez’s work.

— Libby Larsen