A transcription for concert band of the original Folk Song Suite – (picc, 2 fl., ob., Eb cl., 3 clar., bass cl., bsn., alto sax, ten. sax, bari. sax, 4 hns, 3 cnts, 3 tromb, euph, tuba, timp, 3 perc).

Dedicated to Major Wayne Hopla, former Director of Music, Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas.

This work for concert band was written in 2009, an extensive symphonic re-working of Folk Song Suite for young voices and chamber orchestra, originally arranged and first performed in 1975.

The suite is a compilation of nine wide-ranging folk-songs and melodies; Negro spiritual, work song, Scottish reels and Hebrew melodies.

The first movement, in a ternary structure, has a slightly austere mood, with a persistent E minor pedal in keeping with the monotony inherent in this work song – This Old Hammer (Killed John Henry).

John Henry was born a slave in the mid-19th century in North Carolina or Virginia, USA; and died in his thirties as a labourer for the railroad after the American Civil War.

The repetition is deliberate; variety is achieved through use of simple canon, counter melodies, changing ostinati and colourful orchestration.

It merges into Zum gali gali (these are rhythmic words with no meaning). This is an old Hebrew song, ostensibly relating to the formation of the state of Israel, but treated here as if it is another work song, before a reprise of This Old Hammer.

The mood changes with a lively D major movement, based on Scottish music. Three verses of The Tinker’s Wedding lead straight into a medley of reels.

After a rather unexpected and thinly scored return of the first reel, Cock o’ the North, the full band interrupts fortissimo, with a reprise of the chorus of The Tinker’s Wedding, this time the two tunes slotting together and rushing towards a triumphant climax, finishing with an enthusiastic shout!

The third movement is a gentle jazz-style arrangement in G minor of the spiritual Go Down Moses. It is based on a 4-bar descending chord scheme with ‘bluesy’ instrumental solos, and a recurring introduction to each verse in descending thirds.

A climactic modulatory transition links the spiritual to the final movement, Hava Nagilah, a Hasidic melody of uncertain origin and now a Hebrew folk-song (“let us rejoice”), which has become almost an anthem of secular Jewish culture. As customary, its initial steady tempo gradually gains momentum, and races to a rousing conclusion.

  1. This old hammer – zum gali gali – This old hammer
  2. The Tinker’s Wedding – Scottish reels (Cock o’ the north; haste to the wedding; Rakes of Mallow; Ballantine’s Rant)
  3. Go down Moses
  4. Hava nagilah

Folk Song Suite has also been transcribed for young voices and piano.