The Trumpet of the Swan

Eudora Welty is generally acknowledged one of the nation’s greatest writers. Her short stories are especially admired, and the set entitled The Golden Apples is one of her finest and has had great influence on subsequent writers. The Trumpet of the Swan is based upon two of the stories from that set, entitled “June Recital” and “The Wanderers.” The Golden Apples is an unusual collection of stories, in that it is cyclical; all of its stories deal with a fictional Mississippi small town, Morgana, and with the same characters, but from different perspectives.

Those who are familiar with The Golden Apples will already be introduced to one of the central characters, Virgie Rainey, and with the influence which Miss Eckhart, the music teacher in Morgana, had upon her and her classmates. The last story in the cycle, “The Wanderers,” shows Virgie, now older, dealing with the loss of a loved one, drawing strength from the land she loves and from the people in her past—particularly, in ways she could never have foreseen, from her music teacher.

Miss Welty’s beautiful and powerful prose-poetry impressed these images on my mind as I was looking for a text for this work, which was commissioned by Millsaps College to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Millsaps Singers. As an alumnus of Millsaps and a former member of the Singers, it was a deeply moving experience to be asked to compose for that occasion. The text appealed to me with every shade of meaning, for it expressed the panoply of feelings I had upon being asked to write for my home college, home town, home people: namely, feelings of grateful remembrance of early teachers (my “Miss Eckharts” were “Pop” King, Virginia Hoogenakker, Louis Pullo, Mary Taylor Sigman, and “Miss Sara,” Mrs. N. T. Baggett), of love of family, of love of the land, of dealing with a sense of loss, and finally of finding the serenity to learn how, as Virgie does in the towering final lines of Miss Welty’s book, to come to peace with the great rhythms of the constellations and planets (the “wanderers”).

This work is dedicated to the memory of Alvin Jon King, beloved founder of the Millsaps Singers. It received its premiere in Jackson, Mississippi, on October 29, 1985 by the Millsaps Singers and the Jackson Symphony Orchestra, Timothy Coker, conducting.

The allusions in this work to Beethoven’s “Für Elise” are entirely deliberate, for, as Miss Welty tells us, that was Virgie’s piece, her musical signature, which she played wherever she went. Rather than give a detailed analysis of what to expect in the music, I would prefer to ask the listener to follow Miss Welty’s words and to sense how the music amplifies the feeling they contain. But listen also for how the music creates its own subtle patterns of tension and release which give it a meaning simultaneously independent of yet married to the words. For those who prefer some advance notice of the musical events about to unfold, let me add that the work is a large rounded bar form (AAB), each of whose segments is introduced by the dramatic material which opens the work.

Program Notes by Samuel Jones