Three Spirituals for Orchestra

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            Hailstork is an American composer, educated at Howard University, the Manhattan School, and Michigan State University, where he received his PhD.  He has taught at various American universities, and is currently a member of the faculty of Old Dominion University in Virginia.  His reputation for technical prowess, directness of expression, and stylistic accessibility for a variety of audiences has garnered him widespread recognition and awards. He has been designated as a Cultural Laureate of Virginia. While often employing distinctly contemporary compositional techniques, he is equally comfortable writing music leaning to conservative, even popular tastes. Active in a wide variety of genres, including concert band literature, he often employs material relating to African-American traditions as points of departure.  His wide span of musical compositions ranges from symphonies, opera, and a violin concerto to “Springtime for Two Elephants” for two tubas.

            Three Spirituals for Orchestra aptly demonstrates his mastery of melding traditional music into a contemporary musical language.   The first movement, based upon “Everytime I Feel the Spirit,” illustrates an approach that reminds one of Aaron Copland’s approach to Mexican music:  While the traditional tune does appear clear and easy to apprehend, the composer then employs fragments of it to weave a rhythmic, syncopated, and often disjoint musical fabric, adroitly and artfully manipulated.  The well-known campfire song, “Kum Bab Yah” is the apt subject of the bluesy second movement, and, as in the first movement, Hailstork demonstrates his complete mastery of orchestration—even matching the best of Broadway arrangers.  Finally, a jazzy “Oh Freedom” is the basis of the last of these immensely appealing settings of traditional spirituals as the basis for sophisticated orchestral excursions.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2017 William E. Runyan