Michigan State University College of Music Honors Competition Winner, Premiered in April 2007
by the Michigan State University Symphonic Band, John Madden, Conductor.
The title Singing Tree comes from the poem Song of the Son, part of Jean Toomer’s novel “Cane”. The African-American writer and philosopher Jean Toomer (1894-1967) is often credited with having launched the Harlem Renaissance. “Cane”, a collection of poems and short stories set in the 1920s, follows the effects of slavery and the Jim Crow south on African-American life.
In composing Singing Tree, I have attempted to express my own feelings about the past and to pay homage to my forefathers and the strife they experienced in their fight for the freedoms and opportunities that I enjoy, but that most of them never experienced.
“Singing Tree” comprises three major sections. The first of these commences with a mysterious introduction that leads to the presentation of a four-note motive while the brass players blow air through their instruments. This section depicts a tree wavering back and forth, singing as the winds blow through its branches. Although this section starts out in a calm and somewhat peaceful mood, its character is soon transformed into a series of gradually building, intense, and violent events divided by calmer sections created by the resolutions of tension. This section ends with a sustained melody whose material is based on the original four-note motive.
The second section, marked “Plaintive”, returns the work to a slow and calm but mysterious mood through a contra bass clarinet solo. This solo line eventually builds, by the addition of instruments to a climactic statement of a transformation of the four-note motive. At the end of this section there is a kind of play on this four-note motive between different instrumental choirs and individual instruments.
The third and final section, marked “Energetic”, features an extension of the four-note motive into a melodic statement, which in turn becomes the accompaniment for a more sustained melody that is harmonized with major and minor seconds. This sustained melody is derived from melodic material of the first section. The work concludes with a “fast” coda that further emphasizes the four-note motive.
-- O’Neal Douglas