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Songs of Solidarity

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Joe Samuel

Joe Samuel


General Info

Year: 2020
Duration: c. 12:20
Difficulty: IV (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Joseph V. Samuel
Cost: Score and Parts (digital) - $70.00


Movements

1. My Soul's Still Free
2. Hold On
3. Dance for Victory


Instrumentation (Flexible)

Full Score
Part A

  • Soprano
  • Alto
  • Tenor
  • Bass

Part B

  • Soprano
  • Alto
  • Tenor
  • Bass

Percussion not formally specified, but options could include djembe, drum set, cajon, snare drum, field drum, etc.


Errata

None discovered thus far.


Program Notes

An exciting and meaningful three movement work including several traditional Black songs for wind ensemble with flexible instrumentation, Songs of Solidarity is a musical portrait of the racial reconciliation still much needed in our society.

- Program Note by publisher


“I cannot write the songs of your people and you cannot write the songs of mine. But what we each write alone, we can sing together in solidarity.”

The tragic and horrifically unjust death of George Floyd in May of 2020 spurred a renewed call to end racial injustice in America. As of this writing almost three months after the event, protests are continuing across the country and long overdue changes are slowly being made to our laws, our culture, and our hearts. At one of these protests in San Antonio, my wife asked if I had any musical reaction to these events. Songs of Solidarity is a response.

This piece is a musical picture of the racial reconciliation much needed in our society. It is based on several traditional Black songs, along with a phrase from the Battle Hymn of the Republic and an original tragic march theme. Each movement paints different pictures of the experience of Black Americans and endeavors to portray some of their suffering, courage, strength, and hope through the music.

The total of all sales of this piece will be donated to organizations such as the Equal Justice Initiative. I suspect that the Black composers of some of the tunes used here never received due credit or compensation for their creativity and this is a way that we can help remedy this injustice.

Songs of Solidarity is written for two quartets of SATB instruments plus percussion. The movements may be played separately for programming purposes but are most effective when played as a set. It is recommended that each quartet sit on opposite sides of the stage with the percussionist in the middle. The ideal percussion instrument (if only one can be used) is a Djembe, but the director and percussionist have the freedom follow their own creative preference with the instrumentation and rhythmic nuances.

I. “My Soul is Still Free” begins with my original theme of tragedy and hope, and with the quartets musically segregated. The music then introduces a traditional South African Zulu theme, sometimes called “Siyahamba” or “We are Marching” because of the words written for it by an early 20th century missionary. A theme based on a Black American “prison song” follows in the A choir, while the B choir sings of the tragedy of oppression. The movement ends as both choirs begin to work together with hope as the Zulu song is played in a building musical celebration.

Historical note: After the Emancipation Proclamation, Jim Crow laws were enacted throughout the South, including a vagrancy law that made it a crime not to have a job. Black men, who were often barred from getting jobs because of segregation and prejudice, were arrested for vagrancy, imprisoned, frequently “leased” as forced hard laborers to former slave owners, and had to endure conditions often worse than slavery. To keep their spirits up, they would sing tunes while working like the prison song here – though at a much slower tempo to match the rhythm of their sledgehammers and axes.

II. “Hold On” is a traditional Black spiritual song of endurance and faith in the midst of oppression and suffering. This arrangement is in a slow blues feel and should be played with much pathos. The percussion part should be played with brushes. The final solo may be played by any player and may be improvised.

III. “Dance for Victory” is a unique and exciting piece fusing several different styles and is based on two great American songs in the historical fight for racial equality. The first section has a “jazzical” feel in asymmetric 5. The second section is reminiscent of gospel praise music in Black evangelical churches, where musicians and congregants alike often dance wildly under the influence of the Holy Ghost. This whole movement is a dance celebrating both the victories that have been accomplished and those that are yet to come through faith.

I hope that the performance of this work will provide a meaningful experience for musicians of all races, ages, and beliefs, as we work together for the solidarity of all humankind.

- Program Note by composer


Performance Notes

Performance notes, Movement I: The solos marked ad lib such as in mm 31 and 76 may be played as written or improvised by any player in the A choir. Any one S or A player can let loose and improvise from mm 111 to the middle of 114 at the director’s discretion. The percussionist may change instruments to something with a more piercing sound (such as a field or snare drum) from D to F.

Performance notes, Movement II: A drum set could be very effective for this movement, especially beginning at S. The tempo can be played faster than indicated if the players can play it cleanly, with the rhythms played as two eighths or single trills if double-tonguing is not possible.

mm 163. The glissandos should be played as fast as possible, ending ideally an octave higher and on the downbeat of mm 2 at pp. Instruments that can bend a single note upwards (such as a trombone) should.

mm. 220. The scoops notated beginning at S can be played as scoops, “wahs”, or 2-3 note grace notes depending on instrumentation and the director’s discretion.

AA – BB can be a bit of a “free for all” celebration. It should be played as fast as reasonably possible. Also, it can be played as written, or players can improvise the solo parts where notated with cue-sized notes. It can be repeated additional times for more players to have the opportunity to solo (the director has complete freedom with what players solo where in this case), as long as each repetition builds in intensity and joyousness from the previous one.

I really want conductors to have as much freedom as they want with instrumentation (especially percussion) and I'm interested to hear what they come up with. Because of the improvisatory options available in some parts and the fact that the percussion part could work with a variety of options (drumset, cajon, toms + snare or field drum, etc.), as well as the challenges of effectively directing a small social-distanced ensemble, I view this as a collaborative effort between myself and the director -- where they can take as much or as little freedom as they wish.


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