ensemble: concert band
duration: 6 minutes
written: winter - summer 2015
commissioned by: Fred J. Carnage Middle School Symphonic Band
premiere: April 12, 2016
Freedom Songs was commissioned by Fred J. Carnage Middle School Symphonic Band to commemorate the school’s 50th anniversary. After talking to the school’s band director, Matt Pellas, I came to realize how significant the year in question, 1965, was for America in terms of civil rights. The school itself was one of the first integrated schools in North Carolina’s history and was named after a prominent African-American educator in the community. In addition, 1965 was also the year of the famous march where Martin Luther King Jr. led 3,200 civil rights activists in the third march from Selma, Alabama to the capitol in Montgomery. While doing some further research, I stubbled upon the political/singing group The Freedom Singers who recorded (to my knowledge) one single record of traditional African American spirituals and Civil Rights songs during the 1960s. The four African American singers were all under the age of 21 when they started recording and their youth and drive as well as the songs themselves create this incredibly powerful and exciting visceral experience for the listener. Along side Max Roach’s “We Insist”, The Freedom Singer’s album is an amazing historical document that is recorded through the medium of music.
In Freedom Songs, I try to create several “songs” that take both musical raw materials (harmonies, rhythms, etc.) and musical inspiration from songs recorded by The Freedom Singers. The piece begins with the sound of a tuning radio (made by clarinets bending pitches with their mouthpiece only) and several "channels" coming to the surface. After a while, the radio settles on a couple "songs". Theses “songs” I create cut in and out with one another was well as overlap to make one unified musical idea in the end. The piece ends with a simple chord progression that leads to, what I hope is, a joyous and ecstatic closing.