top of page
Image by Weston MacKinnon

La Gruta:The Bat Cave

2023 • Grade 2 Band • 3'

Let students experience the collective Bat Colony and compose their own Bat Themes!

Commissioned by the Miamisburg Middle School Band (Ryan Wintersheimer, director)

About the Piece

La Gruta is a hidden gem in Panama that awaits the truly adventurous. Boat is the preferred way to travel in Bocas del Toro, but La Gruta lies deep at the heart of Isla Colon, accessible only via bike. After braving the ride on the rugged road that cuts across the island, we dropped a coin for entry in a wooden box at the roadside and followed a humble path to the cave mouth, greeting a small statue of Nuestra Señora de la Gruta that stands outside. We waded into the water, left the sunshine, and entered darkness. As we trekked through a series of caves, we heard rustling and chittering overhead. The circle of our flashlights revealed groups of bats huddling together for an afternoon nap or flying to a new perch. Deeper into the caves, we exclaimed in awe at hundreds of bats gathered on the ceiling—a quivering mass of black fur and wings and yawning mouths.


This piece is inspired by our exploration. At the beginning, we hear a curious entrance into the cave, with only a hint that bats are here. The recurring “Colony Theme” announces each group of bats. In between, “bat themes” composed by student musicians and edited and orchestrated by the composer highlight individual bats against the colony, capturing each bat’s unique personality, mood, and movement. Finally, we see the colony in its immense glory and hear the bats fly into the open sky.

Commissioned by the Miamisburg Middle School Band (Ryan Wintersheimer, director).

Image by Clément Falize

From the Composer

Writing "The Colony" Theme

In this short video, I share how I shot videos of the bats in La Gruta and observed their flight paths to create the Colony Theme that unifies the work.

Create Your Bat Theme

optional composition extension / standalone composition activity

As part of the original commission for La Gruta: The Bat Cave, I created step-by-step guides to teach students how to compose their own “Bat Themes.” Each of the bat themes in the final work were composed by students in Ryan Wintersheimer’s band. I assembled, edited, and orchestrated these ideas.

You can purchase this composition activity to do with your ensemble as a whole band or in small groups. It can be done in conjunction with learning La Gruta for performance or as a standalone activity. Students will learn more about the musical “ingredients” and formal structure for La Gruta and have new tools for creating their own ideas. Students can share their final products through audio/video recording or live performance. Some possible ideas for sharing:

  • The whole band or student groups can perform several “bat themes” at a concert (possibly before performing La Gruta) and talk briefly about the composition experience. Drawings of their bats may be included in the concert program or projected.

  • Using their phones, students can create their own videos of their work-in-progress and the final product. They can share these digitally with the school community and their families.

  • Students can share their melodies as part of recruitment activities for the band program.

Samples of this activity and recommendations for implementing it in the classroom are included with the score & parts for La Gruta. The full activity can be purchased separately in print or digitally.

By January 2024, you can find videos and photos from the bat caves, and a short video from me illustrating how I created the Colony theme for La Gruta here on my site.

Please share with me if you do this with your students—I would love to see what you create!

bottom of page