Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

Hello everyone-

I adore Bach, Mozart, the Beethoven String Quartets, Messiaen, the Stravinsky ballets, plus a host of others, old and new.  Such a wealth of Western music!   But I didn't grow up in Germany, or Austria, or France, or Russia.  I grew up in America, and except for a 5 year sojourn in Alaska, in the American South.  This is one of the several pieces I wrote back in 2000 celebrating my own heritage.   You may or may not have heard the song "Shortnin' Bread", but hopefully you'll relate to it!

The pianist is the late Greg McCallum.  In 2003, he and I were invited to the Hoddesdon Music Festival in the UK, where he played the European premiere of this piece and its companion pieces.  A wonderful old man, who must have been at least 90 years old,  came up to me after the performance and said "You don't look old enough to have written Shortnin' Bread!"  I tried to explain that I didn't write the original song, just the piece based on the original song, but he wasn't having any of it.  "My mama used to sing Shortnin' Bread!"  he told everyone in sight.  "This American is much older than she looks!"  

I had almost as much fun writing this piece as I did in Hoddesdon!  The retrograde section worked out so well that I used sections of it elsewhere.  I'd love to hear what you all think!

By the way, the score was written with a very old version of Finale, so there are some things that need updating.  I'm aware of those formatting needs.

Views: 369

Attachments:

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Hi Julie,

Well, this is just a delight from beginning to end and as thoroughly rooted in Americana as all-get-out! Delightful raggy treatment of the melody, with hints of Gershwin and Ravel it seems to me. Brassy dissonances I have heard in other American music and which seem to me different from European dissonances - more of a sense of a humor is the difference I would say. Liked in particular that blues-y final chord. One question: that little interlude at bars 51-53. It seemed to spring up out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. While it sounds nice, why so short?

Thanks for posting!
Gav

Lovely piece. It's really cool. It takes the main theme of "Shortnin' Bread" and varies it both melodically and harmonically. Love the development of material. Awesome job!

So beautifully written and controlled and great music to boot. Love it.

Great stuff Jule, good study in theme development.  The break at m 51 is my favorite.

Thanks for posting

Thanks, Gav!  Where did you hear echoes of Ravel n my piece?  That's so interesting because then as now I was enraptured by Ravel, but didn't consciously refer to him in this oh-so-American piece! 

The section at 51 - 53 is just what Ingo said - a break!  It was just meant as a chance for the audience and especially the performer to catch a breath and get ready for the wild ride of virtuosity from 54 to the end!  I worked with the pianist all during the composing and when he saw the sketch for the end, even he was a bit overwhelmed!  I saw his quick intake of breath, just looking at the score, and immediately thought of a short, restful section where he could prepare himself.  ;-)

Gav Brown said:

Hi Julie,

Well, this is just a delight from beginning to end and as thoroughly rooted in Americana as all-get-out! Delightful raggy treatment of the melody, with hints of Gershwin and Ravel it seems to me. Brassy dissonances I have heard in other American music and which seem to me different from European dissonances - more of a sense of a humor is the difference I would say. Liked in particular that blues-y final chord. One question: that little interlude at bars 51-53. It seemed to spring up out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. While it sounds nice, why so short?

Thanks for posting!
Gav

Thanks to Tunio, Mike and Ingo for your feedback.  It means a lot to hear from you!

Hi Julie, thanks for the explanation of slow section, understand now. Ravel: the left hand figures starting in bar 64 is what brought him to mind -

Gav

Hello MM-

I just added the phrase "Finding an American Voice" to the title of my thread.  It was never part of the title of the piece.  Shortnin' Bread is the third movement of a three-movement set entitled "American Triptych". 

I.    Old Joe Clark

II.   Hush-A-Bye

III.  Shortnin' Bread

You might remember that I posted Hush-A-Bye on a previous post.  I'll probably post Old Joe Clark one of these days!

Every public performance of these pieces included recordings of the original folk tunes which inspired the set, and a discussion of American music, so hopefully this extensive background helped audiences understand and appreciate the music.  The Triptych was one of a group of pieces by American composers recorded on Greg McCallum's CD "Southern Quilt".  Every time anyone heard the pieces, they learned a lot (we hope) about American folk music and composers who were inspired by such music. 

https://www.amazon.com/Southern-Quilt-al/dp/B000204BYE

There is a wealth of American music on this CD including William Grant Still's "Summerland" and Rzewski's "Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues".  I've introduced both of these pieces in previous posts.  I learned more about American music that year than in any school or class!  ;-)  There's nothing like just doing it!!

What fun!  A panoply of variations on a familiar tune, but would you be so brave as to introduce a melody and do that degree of improv on a tune no one has heard before?

Hi Lawrence -

What a good question.  I don't think I'd get as much joy from writing my own theme and then writing variations based on it, not because of lack of bravery, but for a different reason altogether.  Most of my music has been based on interactions with other people - either someone has commissioned the work or someone wants to perform/record the work or someone wrote the piece that was the source of inspiration. 

For me, an important part of writing music is intimacy - with performers, with other composers, with the audience.  It's a form of communication and of understanding other people better.  The great fun of writing American Triptych was learning more about fiddle tunes and fiddlers (Old Joe Clark), lullabys and ancient legends and fear of the night (Hush-A-Bye), popular folk tunes which were really written by a famous writer (Shortnin' Bread).  I thought Shortnin Bread was a traditional plantation song - that's the way it was always billed - but I discovered through research that it was actually written by James Whitcomb Riley, in 1900!  He also wrote one of my Dad's favorite Halloween poems "Little Orphant Annie", so I was thrilled to find a musical connection to him.

Being a composer can be very isolated and also very ego-based (look at me!  look at what I can do!!) so I've always been pulled toward areas where I can celebrate other people through my music.  Look at the amazing American fiddlers!  Look at the centuries of mothers and nannies singing lullabyes!   Look at American poets and singers and folk tradition!  And above all, look at the awesome performers who bring the music to life.  I really don't want my music to just be about me. 

I've written plenty of music that isn't based on other music, but almost always I'm researching something or someone as the basis for the ideas.  And lately, I'm much less interested in "melody" per se than I am in sonority - the overall sound of a combination of notes or instruments.  More about that in another thread, when I have a block of free time.  ;-)

Thanks so much for your question!

     Aram Khachaturian born Russian went to his ethnic Armenia for melodies, then his work was not accepted for a while because it wasn't Russian enough.  I'm studying Mahler.  Many of his melodies floated up to his apartment over a local bar.  Of course we have Copland"s Variations on a Shaker Melody,  and Beethoven's ninth, and many more.  Actually I don't remember if Beethoven used someone's melody or just the words.
 
Julie  . 

For me, an important part of writing music is intimacy - with performers, with other composers, with the audience.  It's a form of communication and of understanding other people better.  The great fun of writing American Triptych was learning more about fiddle tunes and fiddlers (Old Joe Clark), lullabys and ancient legends and fear of the night (Hush-A-Bye), popular folk tunes which were really written by a famous writer (Shortnin' Bread).  I thought Shortnin Bread was a traditional plantation song - that's the way it was always billed - but I discovered through research that it was actually written by James Whitcomb Riley, in 1900!  He also wrote one of my Dad's favorite Halloween poems "Little Orphant Annie", so I was thrilled to find a musical connection to him.

 

Julie, I don't think that being a composer needs to be ego based. A lot of artists and writers do what they do because they feel they "must". Art flows through them and feels imperative. There's a poem about that which I wish I could remember.

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Sign up info

Read before you sign up to find out what the requirements are!

Store

© 2019   Created by Gav Brown.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service