I wrote this piece for Sergio Carolino’s group Mr. SC and the Wildbones Gang as one of the many new pieces being written for the group about myths and legends, and decided to base it upon the legend of John Henry, the American folk-hero. Having been moved by this story at multiple stages in life, I have understood it variously as an ode to the power of human determination, a cautionary tale about clinging too desperately to a particular practice in a constantly evolving world, and an allegorical demonstration of the prices and benefits of ambition. It was by this last reading that I was particularly inspired in the composition of the piece.
The program of the piece abstractly follows John Henry’s portent birth, the state of his occupation, the machine’s challenge against his livelihood, his race against said machine, and his victory, which ultimately leads to his death.
I feel that trombones, bass trombones, tubas, and drums, are uniquely suited for playing a piece based on this material, given both the kinetic power and mental imagery of the legend, and so I tried to bring out these qualities throughout the piece. I drew idiomatically upon African American musical traditions (since the story itself has African American origins), and melodically upon a traditional John Henry folk song.
Solo parts included: Trombone 1A, Trombone 2A, Trombone 3A, Trombone 1B, Trombone 2B, Trombone 3B, Bass Trombone 1A, Bass Trombone 2A, Bass Tromone 1B, Bass Trombone 2B, Bass Tuba, Contrabass Tuba, Drum Set, Al. Drum Set