The Road to Independence (2010)
Piccolo – 2 Flutes – 2 Oboes – 2 Clarinets in B-flat – 2 Bassoons – Contrabassoon
4 Horns in F – 3 Trumpets in C – 2 Trombones – Tuba
Timpani – Percussion (4 players): vibraphone, tubular bells, large tam-tam, suspended cymbal near crash cymbals, rainstick near bass drum, snare drum
Harp – Piano
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2010 in connection with the ARTSEDGE educational program Washington, DC
Under the auspices of the ARTSEDGE program, fourth-grade students from Fairfax County Public Schools (VA) and Prince George’s County Public Schools (MD) are treated to themed educational concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center each year. The theme of the 2009-2010 concerts was “Sounds Historic,” and featured orchestral musical compositions with clear connections to world history. The students were invited to experience how composers create music from extra-musical inspirations by designing three-part Hollywood-style storyboards. The students selected three events from a timeline of important historical events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, illustrated each, and wrote suggestions for mood, “type of music” (i.e., emotional characteristics, etc.) and instrumentation for each event. I then had the opportunity to review these storyboards, quantify their suggestions, and design and compose an original composition that reflected their ideas and input. The Road to Independence is the result. I used the students’ suggestions for mood and instrumentation throughout, and I used the students’ most-suggested events as the main structures of my piece.
I represented the events of the 1773 Boston Tea Party in the introductory section, which starts with “watery” sounds, including the rainstick and the vibraphone. To represent the evening’s events beginning at 7:00, listen for seven chimes of the tubular bells, followed by two “war whoops” as primary sources say the disguised colonists let out at that time. Then listen for quiet music representing the colonists’ silent, secretive work dumping tea into Boston Harbor, punctuated only by the splashes of the tea boxes hitting the water (represented by bass drum and suspended cymbal hits).
The main melody was inspired by, and is meant to represent, Patrick Henry’s inspired “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech to a meeting of Virginia delegates in 1774. The melody is actually a musical setting of some of the key phrases from the speech, and builds in volume and intensity as Henry’s voice did during his speech.
The B section represents the military actions of 1775 that preceded the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It begins with a marching percussion solo that represents the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and quickly moves into a longer section representing the colonists’ militia training, leading up to the epic Battle of Bunker Hill. I used the piccolo and flute to represent military fifers, always accompanied by the marching percussion sounds of bass drum, crash cymbals and snare drum. The drums play a collage of Revolutionary War drum calls actually used on the battlefield, including the Sergeant’s Call, Reveille, and the “Yankee Doodle” call. All the while, the clarinets and bassoons play a transformed version of the popular Revolutionary War melody “Chester,” composed by American William Billings. Intensity builds until loud drum and cymbal hits signal the tide of the War turning at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The finale of the piece features a re-imagined version of the Patrick Henry melody, using a different meter, fuller orchestration, and a new major key center. I used the triumphant sounds of the brass instruments to represent the colonists’ eventual victory over England, resulting in the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The very end of the music features loud clanging chimes which represent the joyous ringing of the Liberty Bell, which was heard from the tower of Independence Hall summoning the citizens of Philadelphia to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence.
My sketches and composer’s notebook for The Road to Independence are all available for viewing online at the ARTSEdge website, along with a listening map for personal and classroom use, and extensive video blogs in which I walk the viewer through my process for composition (specifically discussing my plans for this piece).
I am very grateful to the staffs of ARTSEdge, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the opportunity to compose this piece, and for all their support.