American Ballads, Settings of American Tunes for Orchestra (1976)
American Ballads is the result of a Bicentennial Commission by the Queens Symphony Orchestra through grants from the New York State Council of the Arts and the U.S. Historical Society. It seemed logical to continue the paraphrases and instrumental comment on our musical heritage that shaped my career though the years. My “American Salute” is the most widely known example of this aspect of my writing. I purposely selected American “chestnuts” because of obvious immediacy and familiarity, and therefore a challenge to hopefully enhance them in orchestral transformation. However, there are also extra musical and personal reasons for the choice of materials and approach.
I was born and grew up in Queens, and in my early schooling the sound and image of “America The Beautiful” moved me, and still does. "The Star-Spangled Banner”, so difficult to sing, instrumentally has to me a kind of classical strength – perhaps all drinking songs (which this originally was) do. “Jubilo” is an extroverted freedom song from the Civil War period by a prolific and widely sung composer of that time, Henry C. Work. “Taps” has a strange, simple finality expressed through a few basic notes. “The Girl I Left Behind Me” is a jaunty type of marching tune from colonial times obviously derived from “The Old Country.” Among its uses was a satirical taunting of “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne on his defeat at Saratoga – hence the “Saratoga Quickstep”. “We shall Overcome” has its roots in gospel, but it has become a national hymn of hope and inspiration. Folk and popular expressions transcend national, regional, ethnic, and social origin; they voice the sound of people, and in that sense are universal.
The scoring is for conventional orchestra and was completed February 7, 1976. The individual movements are performable alone, and their order as a suite is interchangeable at the conductor’s discretion.