(Note: Each Sunday I receive a wonderful post from one of our greatest musical composers, Rick Sowash. I became a huge fan of Rick over ten years ago when I discovered his gorgeous Santuary at 3 am album. The below is Rick’s post for Sunday, March 29, 2020 as we head into Spring in the midst of the great virus. Rick is a fabulous writer as well as musician so I include his entire post below with photos added by me. It’s nice to know in this time of dis-continuity in our world and life, there are some things that continue … like Rick’s Sunday posts, and Spring.)
Thanks for your continuing interest in discovering my life’s work. It means a lot to me. In fact, these days, writing and sending out these mpFrees is the most meaningful aspect of my work as a composer.
Spring is upon us, coronavirus notwithstanding. The forsythia, the daffodils, the greening tips of tree branches, the birds — they are impervious to what all is going on with us, their human neighbors. And a good thing, too.
That’s why, today, I want to share the “Spring” movement from my first piano trio, “Four Seasons in Bellville,” which I finished in 1977. It’s one of the most delightful pieces to have come through me.
Bellville, Ohio is the village in north central Ohio where I fell in love, courted, married and lived for twelve years. Our children were born there. I loved Bellville during those years.
Countryside Around Bellville, Ohio
I was 27 years old in 1977 and it was one of the best years of my life. I worked as a house-painter off and on for most of that happy year and had plenty of spare time. I earnestly tried to create a musical style that would express my immediate environs: Bellvillle, Ohio, a village of 1500 souls, surrounded by fields and forests.
This challenge — to express my immediate location — inspired me. I thought that music composed in rural Ohio ought to sound notably different than music written in the rural parts of, say, Nebraska or Vermont or Hawaii. No one had ever attempted such a thing in Bellville, Ohio! I was a pioneer!
I undertook to become a regionalist composer. We have regionalist writers and painters — Willa Cather, Grant Wood — but you don’t find the term used as regards American music. A regionalist composer? Do we have any?
Certainly! It’s just that we’re unaccustomed to labeling them of them as such.
— Charles Ives’ programmatic pieces express his Connecticut.
— Gershwin’s melodies express the energy and jagged skylines of New York City and the same could be said of some of Bernstein’s and Copland’s works.
— Oklahoman Roy Harris’ Third Symphony captures the vastness of the Great Plains.
— Ferde Grofe’s dear, old Grand Canyon Suite conjures that region perfectly.
— Aaron Copland assumed the role of regionalist for multiple regions: he caught the Midwest in “The Tender Land,” the West in “Rodeo” and “Billy the Kid,” New England in his “Suite from Our Town” and the Blue Ridge Mountains in “Appalachian Spring” (oh, I know the story of how he didn’t name that piece until after it was completed but listeners everywhere will always envision the Appalachians when they hear that music).
Each of these composers evoked particular American landscapes. Their best-loved regionalist works have found a place in the hearts of music-loving audiences all over the world. The one piece of American music which all my French friends know is “Rhapsody in Blue.”
I studied these works and my first piano trio, Four Seasons in Bellville was the best result. The tunes are lyrical and abundant, the harmonies lush and rich, like the fabled soil of Richland County, Ohio, where Bellville is located. The topsoil there is sometimes eight feet deep! The best vegetable garden we ever had was in our backyard in Bellville. It was pure dirt. Hardly a pebble to be found in it. To my ear at least, this quality can be heard in the music.
This trio is a four-movement work, of course, one for each season. Today I’m sharing only the Spring movement. Some fine June day, three months from now, I’ll share the Summer movement. Some fine October day, six months from now, I’ll send you the Autumn movement. The Winter movement will wait for winter. Hopefully, our world will be in better shape by then, who knows? We must hope.
Music about Spring must suggest color, movement, burgeoning energy and romantic love. Think of what’s happening out there, right now, beyond our windows: wild flowers, refreshing rains, filmy, yellow-y, breeze-tossed branches and bubbling streams. I think you’ll find reminders of such things in this music.
To hear “Spring” from Four Seasons in Bellville, click here.
To see a PDF of the score, click here:
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this music, so feel free to reply if you’re inclined. But replying to these mpFrees is not a requirement or even an expectation. I’m just glad to share my work.
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March 29, 2020