Sweet Home Alabama

November 7th, 2012 § 0 comments

This weekend, the Hartford Symphony turns our ears to the sounds of the Electric Guitar concerto Gee’s Bend.

Composer Michael Daugherty talks about the quilts of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and how he took inspiration from these miraculous examples of American traditional folk art:

Daugherty says about the piece:

“My composition is a patchwork of various crosscurrents: I intertwine American guitar rock and southern folk music with contemporary classical music to create a colorful and unique tapestry of sound.

 The first movement, Housetop, takes its name from a popular quilting pattern often used as a point of departure by the Gee’s Bend quilters. In my Housetop, winding melodies are framed by striped syncopated grooves, patterned triadic chords and Jimi Hendrix-like psychedelic guitar riffs colored with fuzz box and distortion.

Grandmother’s Dream is a slow blues which expresses the memories and feelings of 
generations of Gee’s Bend quilters who have endured poverty and hardship, but hope for a better life to come through their creation of inspired quilts. I utilize lush string chords, bowed cymbal and vibraphone and ringing crotale [finger cymbals] to produce a vision of quilts made of faded remnants and scraps of clothing worn by loved ones. To remind us of the hard labor endured by generations of Afro-American workers in the fields of Gee’s Bend, the guitar’s dream-like, soaring melodic lines, colored with delay, phaser and compression, evoke a painful cry for hope and salvation.

Washboard is my homage to the quilting bees of Gee’s Bend. Using quilting methods passed from generation to generation, the unique quilts by the Afro-American women of Gee’s Bend are often created collaboratively in quilting bees.Washboard is another kind of quilting bee for singing, soulful woodwinds, scrappy washboard and guitar playing ‘southern blues’ licks.

“The final movement is a blazing virtuosic ‘tour de force’ titled Chicken Pickin’. The title refers to a southern style of plucking the guitar strings made famous by guitarists such as Bo Diddley, Chet Atkins, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Duane Allman. The title also alludes to the fact that most of the residents of Gee’s Bend continue to inhabit small, modest farms where their ancestors were once slaves. For most Gee’s Bend quilters, the singing of African-American spirituals and an active church life are important parts of the gospel of inspired quilt making. To honor this tradition, I have threaded spirituals, such as Swing Low, Sweet Chariot andNobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen into the orchestral fabric of my musical quilt, which is dedicated to the quilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama.”

So to get your creative juices flowing, here are some of the quilts that inspired Daugherty’s concerto.


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