American Sketches (2015) for solo guitar
I. The Cowboy's Lament
II. Motherless Child
III. The Bird Song
IV. Little David and his Harp
V. Uncle Joe and the Ladies

Duration: 15'

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North America has been the meeting point of a variety of folksong styles, brought to its shores by ethnic groups from all around the globe. The majority of what we identify today as American folksong though can be grouped into two main traditions. The first and foremost of these is comprised of the British ballads and songs of English, Scots, Irish and Welsh settlers. As these spread throughout the country, the distinctive traditions of the Northern Yankee, the poor Southern whites of the mountain regions and the Western cowboy were born. The other main line of American folk music comes from the West African slaves with their own musical traditions as well as their transformations of the Southern white songs they encountered.

My American Sketches draws on this rich and varied resource, with each of the work's five movements being based on a melody from the American folk song repertoire. Most of the main lines of the tradition are represented here, starting with the Western cowboy in "The Cowboy's Lament", the lyrics of which sum up the brooding thoughts of the lonely cowboy figure who "knows he's done wrong". I have nonetheless chosen to set this tune in a rather defiant and clangorous way. "Motherless Child" is one of the great Negro spirituals, here using the tune as recorded by Paul Robeson in the 1930's. "The Bird Song" is much lighter in tone, and is based on "The Three Ravens" from Ruth Crawford's Nineteen American Folk Tunes and "The Bird Song" from English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians collected by Cecil Sharp. "Little David and his Harp" is another spiritual--an ode to the Biblical figure of David who battled the giant Goliath and embodies the slaves' dreams of liberty and freedom from oppression. Finally, the suite closes with "Uncle Joe and the Ladies", a rousing fiddle tune/reel based on "Hop up, my ladies" from Alan Lomax's Our Singing Country.