Harmony - String Orchestra Piece

HARMONY - Program Notes, O'Connor
Musicians For Harmony, an organization founded in response to the tragic events of 9/11, asked me to compose a chamber orchestra piece for their September 11, 2006 concert in New York City . I have composed "Harmony" for this remembrance concert, an 11-minute long composition that will feature my violin performance along with The Knights Chamber Orchestra.

What I wished to do in composing this music was to reveal a more Middle Eastern tonality to my style which is derived from American folk fiddle music. Making this connection between Appalachia to Near Asia is not as remote an idea as one might assume. For years I have discovered possible origins of folk music from the South of the United States that could reveal deeper roots from the Mediterranean. A possible further source of culture, style, and sound that ultimately may have played a part in the development of Appalachian culture we recognize today.

In the days of the first American settlements in the 1500's and through the early 1600's, Spanish and Portuguese ships deposited slaves who in many cases escaped, or were left behind on American shores. A good percentage of these people were possibly African Moors, Iberian Muslims, Berbers, Moriscos, and Arabs from the Ottoman Empire as well as the black slaves from Angola and West Africa. The final expulsion of the Moors from Portugal in the early 1600's came at the same time that Portuguese ships began making routine voyages to Virginia and the southern coastline, the original homeland of an American people that are known as the Melungeons.

These Melungeons who have inhabited Appalachia from the beginning of the European settlement days and possibly before, are known as a tri-racial isolates (Red, Black and White). There is a growing body of evidence that many of the "black" origins of these people are of Mediterranean decent, too. The culture of Appalachia resonates with these theories, from their quilt making, to the Jews harp, from playing the bones with the fiddle, to circle and square dancing.

As I become more and more familiar with American music in my own musical journey, I also learn that the music I like so much has many layers.  It exposes mystery in its origins when one cares to peel back these layers. It is likely these Middle Eastern cultures play more of a role in American fiddling (and American music in general) than previously thought. It has now been discovered that nearly every one of the bluegrass music pioneers, the patriarchs of the style, are identified as Melungeon people. These genealogical discoveries were mostly revealed in our generation, an era possibly more sympathetic to accepting mixed race backgrounds compared to a history of racism in the South.

For much of my own American music, I look for the ingredients of humanity intersecting as much as possible, creating an even more universal language made possible by a vast melting pot of culture, a unique gathering and mixing of peoples from around the world.

In "Harmony" I use descriptive phrases printed in the score to indicate the temperament and journey of the music. "Reaching Out" begins the piece with its inviting and inquisitive drones. Through out the piece there are several interpretations of the material with canonic and fugal writing. These sections are named "Welcome Canon," "Dance Fugue," "World Fugue," "Awaken Canon." Other sections are dances "Little Voices Dance," and "Awaken Dance For All."

The music of "Harmony" is based on the same material constructed in a slow tempo in the beginning, a moderate tempo in the middle of the piece, and a fast fiddling tempo near the end. In the fast tempo, there is a section that I call "Harmony with Modulation and Counterpoint." It represents a fast pace world full of changing keys and different dialogues that are not connected to one another musically, but somehow coexist, finding ways to compliment each other, while providing another kind of harmony and unique rhythm for each other. This section finally encompasses three independent voices, each played aggressively but grooving together at the same time.

American music for me has constantly been a journey. A bit of a mini-me musicologist as a youngster with my own tape recorder, I went around to festivals, fiddler's contests, and back porches across the South during the summer months. Eventually I learned who I was musically by embracing all of the peoples who brought music here to this place. This constant exploration for me is an ongoing self-discovery of who we are.

When I explore the seeds of American music, fiddle music, blues, Cajun, bluegrass, Appalachian… what comes back to me (and what I hope is revealed in my music) are many conversations… many voices blending as one.  

With hope in heart and music, I contribute "Harmony" on this painful day of remembrance.
Harmony - String Orchestra Piece

O'Connor performs the world premiere of "Harmony" in NYC, 2006

updated 3 years ago