This work is a fantasy on the well known traditional song, “Oh Shenandoah.” The most commonly sung lyrics of the original song are from the point of view of fur traders travelling thousands of miles away from the Shenandoah Valley, along the Missouri River, longing for the comforts of home. This piece is intended to take the song and rework it into an atmospheric picture of the river and the surrounding valley.

This brief pastoral solo starts as a gently flowing stream over rocks, and progressively gets more expansive, with uncertain turns, ominous cliffs and mountains, and a thick morning mist, until it feeds into the large and majestic Potomac river. In the end, the elements of the river’s birth in the mountains are still there, but it has now slowed, gained power, and become part of something new. The whole work is encased inside my own interpretation of the lyrics: a sense of peaceful nostalgia for something that is impossible to obtain.

I should also add that the backbone of the piece was inspired by the bass singer Paul Robeson’s deeply spiritual recording of the song. His non-traditional use of meter is almost unnoticeable as it is all in service to the music. The deep booming sound of his voice makes the song almost sound other-worldly. It’s definitely worth a listen.

John Whitener

Parts included:

  • Piano
  • Tuba/Bass Trombone

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