My symphonic suite Roundings was commissioned by the Amarillo Symphony to celebrate its 75th anniversary. The suite was premiered movement-by-movement throughout the anniversary season, and it received its first complete performance on April 8, 2000, by the Amarillo Symphony under the baton of its music director, James Setapen.
Each movement of Roundings takes its point of departure from one of the public murals created during the Depression era under the auspices of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The five central movements are descriptive of familiar images representing the development of life in earlier times leading to modern day Texas. The outer movements add historical and philosophical context. Throughout the entire suite the solo cello is used to introduce all but one of the movements. The title of the suite refers not only to the circular motions depicted in each of the murals, but also to the large cycles represented in life itself.
The Prologue (“Hymn to the Earth”) sets the stage for all that follows. A disarmingly simple piece, it consists entirely of slow chords which move in whole steps. These chords set up relationships which are explored in each of the following movements.
“Windmill” depicts the motions of the wind, the wheel and pump which harness the wind, as well as a calling out for water.
In “Oil Well” the shape of the main theme, constantly reaching for successively deeper pitches, mirrors the actions of an oil rig. Sounds such as iron pipe and chains add to the description of drilling. The middle section suggests the upward flow of oil once the oil-bearing layer has been reached.
“Locomotive” commemorates the importance of the coming of the railroad to the establishment of a community in inland portions of the United States. The music describes the sound one hears at the depot as a passenger train approaches, comes to a halt, empties its passengers and cargo, then departs, slipping into the distance.
“Lariat” paints a picture of an old cowherder bragging of his skills with the rope to his younger colleagues, as fragments of cowboy songs, and eventually two complete songs, are sung around the campfire.
“Plow” quotes an old Presbyterian hymn tune, entitled “Dresden” (“We plow the fields”). It also utilizes the celebrated Dresden Amen. The movement presents three statements of the hymn tune, each varied from the other. The second statement portrays the repetitive physical labor of plowing, and the final statement uses expanding and contracting instrumental voices, as well as the recorded sound of an old tractor, to illustrate the coming of mechanized farming.
The Epilogue (“To Every Thing There Is a Season”) portrays the spirit of the famous passage from Ecclesiastes, “The wind blows south, the wind blows north, round and round it goes and returns full circle.” (Eccl. 1:4-6.) Interruptions in the brasses proclaim the message of the Preacher (“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!”), but eventually even this admonition is seen itself as vanity, and what remains is an abiding faith in the mystery of life itself, and of its Source.
Program Notes by Samuel Jones