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FOLK SONG SUITE
A lively suite of folk tunes for children’s voices
- with solo violin and chamber orchestra (suitable for children aged 10 – 14 years)
- with piano and optional percussion for five players (suitable for children aged 8 – 11 years)
1. THE ORCHESTRAL VERSION was arranged in May/June 1975, and first performed at the Lord Grey School, Bletchley, Milton Keynes, UK, on the 1st July that year. The orchestration was revised (mainly by adding optional instrumentation) in 2008.
Designed primarily for use in schools, this piece would suit young voices aged 10–14 years old, accompanied by a competent school orchestra, which may require some ‘stiffening’. The composer has taken into account that different schools will have different forces available, and has therefore made the orchestration as versatile as possible.
The suite is a compilation of eight 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).
The repetition is deliberate; variety is achieved through the use of simple canon in the voices, colour in the orchestration and changing ostinato patterns in the harmony. It merges into Zum gali gali (these are rhythmic words with no meaning), 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. Four verses of The Tinker’s Wedding lead straight into a medley of reels for solo violin with a simple percussive accompaniment.
After a rather unexpected return of the first reel, Cock o’ the North, the singers and full orchestra interrupt 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 a choral shout.
The third movement is a gentle arrangement in G minor of Go Down Moses. It is based on a 4-bar descending chord scheme with ‘bluesy’ instrumental solos, and a recurring, wordless choral 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 is customary, its initial steady tempo gradually gains momentum, and races to a rousing conclusion.
2. THE VERSION FOR PIANO with optional percussion (glockenspiel, chime bars, triangle, tambourine and bass drum or floor tom) is suitable for younger children, aged 8 – 11 years. The songs remain the same, but the instrumental reels are omitted here.
The orchestration has been arranged in such a way as to allow a smaller group of instruments to be complete in itself: the oboe, bassoon, trombone, viola, double bass and timpani parts, whilst desirable, are all optional.
The Scottish reel section (J–N), can be shortened if necessary, by omitting some, or all, of the repeats. This section requires a very competent solo violinist (from within the orchestra) but if necessary, the part can be taken by several players or even other instruments.