Program notes from my April 3, 2022 concert at Providence College:
Dark Nights and Sheltered Gardens
Music and Arrangements by Tom Swafford
Sunday, April 3, 2022
Tom Swafford, violin and composer
Rachel Hanauer, soprano
Yoon Chung, piano
Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground (Blind Willie Johnson, arr. Tom Swafford)
Tom Swafford, violin
Bonnie George Campbell(Scottish folk song, arr. Swafford)
Sheltered Garden (text by H.D.)
Shady Grove (Appalachian folk song, arr. Swafford)
Rachel Hanauer, soprano and Yoon Chung, piano
Yoon Chung, piano
Bluegrass Tango and Quiet Lament
Tom Swafford, violin and Yoon Chung, piano
Tom Swafford, violin
I wrote Corona Etude in April, 2020, during the first coronavirus lockdown.Inspired by J. S. Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas, I began experimenting with string crossings and seeing what kinds of effects I could get by placing the finger on one string and leaving the other strings open.I came up with a gradually ascending melody which gives the piece a hopeful feeling, with perhaps some underlying uncertainty, much like the times we are living in. The piece is on my album, Bound to Go Away, released in 2021.
Blind Willie Johnson was a guitarist, singer and evangelist who performed on street corners and churches in Texas. He recorded Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground in 1927. He is regarded as a master of the gospel blues guitar. He used a pen-knife on the guitar strings to create a sliding effect and his vocal style is reminiscent of the way hymns were sung in African-American churches at that time. The title comes from first lines of the hymn, Gethsemane, by Thomas Haweis.In 1977,Johnson’s piece was included on a golden record that was placed aboard NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts and sent into space as a representation of life on earth for any extraterrestrial civilizations that might encounter it. Both spacecrafts have entered interstellar space and are now between 11 and 14 billion miles from earth.
Chaos Magicians is a transcription of an improvisation I recorded last spring; it was one of a set of improvisations recorded in between takes for my album “Bound to Go Away.” The piece was totally free, without any pre-planning, but I was conscious of creating clear ideas and repeating them, and creating a musical dialogue between the high and low registers of the violin. When improvising, I’m much freer with pitches and rhythms since I am not limited by what I can notate. This made the transcription process quite challenging. It was also difficult to re-learn what I had transcribed; it was almost like learning a composition by someone else.
Upshift is inspired by the three against four polyrhythms of West African music, which I was introduced to at Tufts University, and I further studied at U. C. Berkeley when I attended Ghanaian musician C. K. Ladzekpo’s West African drumming class.I chose this title because the piece reminds me of a car racing down the road, revving its engine and shifting to an ever higher gear.
Ifound the Scottish ballad Bonnie George Campbell in my family’s folk song book around 2003, at the beginning of the war in Iraq.I made this stark, sparse arrangement to emphasize the song’s tragic story, which seemed very relevant at that time. It was selected for the Songs of War and Peace concert presented by Music Northwest in Seattle, and premiered by countertenor Steven Bryant and pianist Jane Harty.
H.D. (the pen name of Hilda Doolittle) is a highly influential modernist poet.Her early works, which eschewed excessive use of adjectives and metaphors, and focused on the clarity of the image, are considered among the first Imagist poems. H.D.’s poems were rediscovered in the 1970s and valued by feminist poets particularly for their questioning of gender roles. Sheltered Garden, written in 1912,uses the image of a manicured garden, as opposed to a natural environment, to illustrate the feeling of being trapped in the traditional role of a woman at that time. The text has a clear emotional arch, and a variety of rhythms and phrase lengths (a trait also valued by Imagist poets); this lends itself very well to a musical setting.
Shady Grove is a traditional Appalachian song from the early 20th century popularized by folk singer Jean Ritchie, who learned it from her father. She later recorded it with Doc Watson and it became a staple of his repertoire.Watson’s version uses the words “bound to go away” instead of “bound for shady grove” at the end of the verses.My brother-in-law Dan introduced me to this version and this arrangement is in memory of Dan.
Blues Obscured is a lament I wrote in 2018, shortly after the death of my mother, Marilyn. The piece is based on a four note blues figure, (D- C sharp- C natural-B flat-B natural) which goes through a lot of alterations. The blues tonality becomes more and more apparent throughout the course of the piece.
I wrote Bluegrass Tango and Quiet Lament in 1993, shortly after losing my dad, Dwight. I realized when putting this program together, this has many tonal similarities to Blues Obscured and I think having written them so close to the death of a parent has something to do with it. The lament section uses a jazz chord progression that has been heavily altered; with the ballad-like violin melody above it. It is modeled on the last movement of Messiaean’s Quartet for the End of Time.The “bluegrass tango” section is a fun romp that is only tangentially related to bluegrass or tango music. The rhythm in the piano chords is slightly reminiscent of tango, and the violin’s bending into notes is a nod to fiddle music.
I composed Morning Train while playing on the subway platforms during morning rush hour in New York City.It is inspired by the “Hoedown” movement from Aaron Copland’s ballet Rodeo, which is itself a transcription of the fiddle tune, Bonaparte’s Retreat.I met my wife, Molly, when she heard me playing Morning Train and she walked down the subway platform to see who it was!
Tom Swafford has been active as a violinist and pianist in a wide variety of genres including jazz, pop, folk, experimental music and musical theatre, as well as classical music.He has composed for orchestra, string and wind ensembles, choir, and solo instruments.He studied composition with John McDonald at Tufts University, and received a PhD in composition from UC Berkeley where his principal teacher was Olly Wilson. He did post-graduate composition studies in Amsterdam with Louis Andriessen.
Tom recently moved to Providence after spending 13 years in New York City. He presented many concerts of his music at New York venues including Roulette Intermedium and The Stone. His 11-piece ensemble String Power released its debut album in 2015. Tom recorded and toured Europe in the group Kef, with bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz and guitarist Aram Bajakian. His musical theater piece, Bad Actor, was performed at The Tank (NYC) in 2017.
During the summers from 2012-2019 Tom was the house musician at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park. From 2008 to 2020, Tom played his violin daily on subway platforms and other locations in New York City.Tom had many wonderful experiences while busking. He met his wife Molly while playing on a subway platform! More information at www.tomswafford.com
Rachel Hanauer isa soprano, performer, stage director and music educator in RI. Her favorite roles have included Elle in the one-woman opera La voix humaine, Johanna in Sweeney Todd, and Jenny in Sondheim’s Company. She sings on the roster of Collegium Ancora, a professional chamber choir in Providence. As a director of opera and theater, she has directed The Diary of Anne Frank, Hans Krasa’s Brundibar, Menotti’s The Telephone, Barber’s A Hand of Bridge, Vaughan-Williams Riders to the Sea, Alice in Wonderland & Gift of the Magi. On her Spring 2022 calendar, Rachel will be performing Lori Laitman’s In Sleep the World is Yours and directing Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre at AS220, will co-direct and sing in Ned Rorem’s Three Sisters Who are Not Sisters at Contemporary Theater Company, and direct The Hatmaker’s Wife by Lauren Yee at The Arctic Playhouse. She has also directed for the Newport Children’s Theater, the CCRI Opera Workshop, and the Providence College Opera Workshop. She teaches voice & music history/theory at Providence College, RW & CCRI. www.rachelhanauer.com
Yoon Chung received his Bachelor’s degree in piano performance at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He received his Master’s degree in the same field at Rice University and Artist Diploma at the Longy School of Music of Bard College.
His teachers include Zalina Gurevich, Christopher Harding, Brian Connelly, and Leslie Amper. He received further musical instructions from Anton Nel and Ann Schein at Aspen Music Festival and from Sandra Wright Shen at Brevard Music Center. He has received additional music instructions and coaching from Peter Takács, Elisabeth Pridonoff, Levon Chilingirian, members of the Danish String Quartet, Vadym Kholodenko, and Peter Serkin.
Yoon currently serves as a faculty member at Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and Music School, Providence College, and Brown University, teaching piano, chamber music, and music theory. He also composes in his spare time, and he received composition instructions from Daniel Crozier, Bright Sheng, Paul Schoenfeld, and Paul Brust.