1. Rosa Parks and the Freedom Ridershttps://youtu.be/drS8ssO25Io
2. Remembering Birmingham, 1963https://youtu.be/jK1hghrH3JM
3. I Have a Dreamhttps://youtu.be/fG0CduK2nh0
The conception of this piece coincided with the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. While I was writing this work, the news media was dominated by nation-wide protests inspired by racial injustice involving Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and others. In late Dec 2015, “Black Lives Matter” protestors made the news after several incidents with the police at airports and highways. The struggle for racial equality is ongoing and an ever-pertinent issue.
Familiar themes form the bedrock of this work, ‘We Shall Overcome’, ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’, ‘Oh Freedom!’, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’, and ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’. Throughout the work, the trombonist takes on multiple roles: a narrator, Rosa Parks, an eyewitness, a protestor and Martin Luther King.
1. Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders
The narrator sets up the scene back to 1955 and introduces Rosa Parks, a quiet elegant lady going home on a routine bus ride. Several white passengers boarded the bus, as marked by the entry of saxophones and drums. By orders of the driver, three black passengers (trombone, euphonium and horn) gave up their seats. The driver (trumpets) confronted Rosa but she refused to move. A loud tutti with the distinctive whistle marks her arrest. Next, moved by Rosa’s actions, people gradually united in the successful Montgomery bus boycott.
The freedom riders set off on their perilous journey. The riders and supporters are represented by F# major key while the white supremacists are represented by f# minor. The Greyhound bus became crippled due to slashed tires and was stopped and firebombed. Next, the Trailways bus arrived in Birmingham and the riders were beaten up. The trombone cadenza juxtaposes peacefulness with anger to express the sentiments of the victims who believe in non-violence. Seven strokes mark the black riders while the six stronger strokes mark the white riders who received more severe beatings.
2. Remembering Birmingham 1963
After the events in the first movement, an eyewitness (solo trombone) cries for freedom. The solemn “Oh Freedom!” is used in this beautiful lament. Next, a protestor depicts the cataclysmic events of the protests in Birmingham. The violent orchestral strokes represent the brutality from police and white supremacists. Fragments from “Go tell it on the Mountain”, “Oh Freedom” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” are used to generate the motoric trombone line and orchestral responses. The chaos culminates in a grand chorus rendition. Lastly, a peaceful coda symbolizes the first signs of freedom. The trials and tribulations of the protestors have not been in vain.
3. I Have a Dream
The inspiring scene at “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr is recreated here. The trombone is the most appropriate instrument to imitate speech due to the ease of doing glissandos and microtones. From various excerpts of King’s speech, I was able to derive tones and rhythm to form motifs. The soloist galvanizes the orchestra with phrases such as “Justice flows down like waters”, “I still have a dream”, “This nation will rise up” and “Let freedom ring”. The famous tune “Go, Tell it on the Mountain” also forms the bedrock of this movement. The melody is first presented distinctly to celebrate the beauty of the human spirit in this arduous struggle. Later in the piece, the soloist cries “Free at last, Free at last” and “Thank God almighty” before the climactic tutti. The tutti melody is a hybrid of “Go” and “Oh Freedom”. The coda section reminds us that the struggle for racial equality continues today. The piece ends with the phrase “We shall overcome” prominently stated by the soloist and orchestra.
Trombone Concerto "Let Freedom Ring!" by Kangyi Zhang
Wes Lebo (trombone)
NAFA Wind Orchestra conducted by Joost Flaach
16th March 2017 "Escape" concert recording
Follow Wes Lebo @ Twitter, Facebook, Instagram