Symphony No. 2

1st Movement (score pg. 1)
2nd Movement (score pg. 46)
3rd Movement (score pg. 110)
4th Movement (score pg. 156)


One morning in December, 1995 I woke up in the bed of my the house in which I grew up, in Greenville, North Carolina – from a peaceful but melancholy dream. In the end of this dream I was viewing myself as a small boy, laying in a pile of raked leaves in autumn in the front yard. I had a feeling of sadness as I looked on this child, which really signified any child for me, even possibly one I might spawn in some distant future. The sadness stemmed from knowing what comprises youth, and that there is a journey to be undertaken, and that the emotional qualities of this journey is fraught with joys and pitfalls. In short, thinking through the pains of coming of age and missing the simple pleasures of playing in the fields and woods of my early surroundings.
I was compelled from my bed to the piano in the next room, and my hands literally fell upon the opening chords of the first movement, even while my eyes and head had not yet woken up. These chords, in the lower part of the piano, seemed to signify both my general feeling in that moment and the pillow-pile of leaves in which I had awoken, and I attribute the chords to the dream, completely. These strong chords and their feeling carried me through a sonata-allegro symphonic movement with myriad twists and turns over the next two years. Never before had I developed themes so completely, with many, many versions worked out in subtly different ways – too many to keep. In 1995 I had just finished my large first symphony, a one-hour choral symphony based upon D.H. Lawrence’s The Ship of Death. That process had been a three-year journey itself, into death and, as the poem portrayed, out of it in a kind of Eastern resurrection. It was fitting that I follow this wearying journey with a “classical” symphony, and one whose central image was youth; specifically youth in autumn.
I always knew the slow, third movement of this Second Symphony would be a revisitation of these chords, and a focused meditation on them. It would be the most pensive of the movements, diving into the true meaning of my dream. After all, the first movement really only begins in that pile of leaves, but gets up and proceeds through a whirring afternoon of play. I also strove that this movement be a satisfyingly long Adagio, and formally I tackled this as a massive A-B form (with brief return of A as the Coda). After several false starts over the years I finally took up this movement in March, 2010 and wrote it whole (see 2 paragraphs down).  It emerged balm-like, in the wake of my father’s passing. During this same time my mother had an accident and had to leave our home for good, crippled. By the fall of 2010 my childhood house, the geographical focal point of this symphony, was up for sale, and sold. I missed the yard sale in June due to my second daughter’s birth. On the last day of November, 2010 I bid it farewell. A pile of leaves was in the front yard. My five year old daughter laid down in it. The dream had come full circle. My daughter and I walked through the empty house where only the piano remained in the echoing music room. She played a simple song she had learned at school and we left the place forever, turning the page away from my past and onward to her future. When I left town that morning I drove in tears.


This left only the scherzo to be completed. I imagined the room where I slept as a toddler. There was one of those spring-and-frame plastic rocking horses that today are probably no longer made. I imagined it slowly beginning to move on its own and then eventually coming to life for a wild, midnight ride. It begins with a whispering line of running eighth notes which would become the basis for the moto perpetuo movement. For that, I had stumbled upon a 4-page excerpt of orchestral music I had written 22 years earlier. It was called “Rocking Horse–Movement 2 of ‘Masque'”. It, in effect, had the running-eighth beginning already in place. (I have no idea what “Masque” was going to be, but the fact that it was called “Rocking Horse” and marked as a “2nd movement” was an incredible jolt.) I embraced those notes and allowed them to form the harmonic basis of “Rocking Horse – Night Music.”
The first half of the fourth movement came to me in 1998, under the influence of the opening of Elgar’s First Symphony, with its gently, asymmetrical walking bass notes and lovely harmonies. I borrowed from its title (and vibe): Andante, nobilmente. This movement also remained unfinished for a long time–sometimes I partake of extremely long gestation periods to counterbalance being a usually fast composer. The completion occurred in one day, March 1, 2010. My father had died three weeks earlier. Without warning (I was at work on a piano solo, Prelude and Toccata, actually), divine inspiration rushed in and wrote the second half of the movement. Beginning with the cluster-like chordal outbursts, which resound magically somewhere between anguish and joy, and continuing in multiple tonalities of “pinched ecstasy” toward a big, major-key ending, this stretch of composing was guided, as was the symphony’s opening, by an unseen force. Soon after this day I also completed the third movement (above).
I think of this work as a “Southern Symphony,” or a “North Carolina Symphony.” Aside from the occasional autobiographic motivations I mentioned, it has to do with what it means to be a Southerner, or to truly inhale the natural South, more than attempting to capture the “sound of the South,” which is something else entirely. There are no quotations of spirituals, hymns, or fiddle tunes. By “Southern Symphony” I mean to underscore certain elements of Southerness in its “voice” rather than its language. While most of my non-Southern friends tend to only associate beach, barbecue, and racism with the South, the traits I lay claim to in this work are the classic ones of storytelling, extemporization, sentimentality and melancholia, a nature-loving sensibility, and a slower delivery or cadence.

3(Pi) 2 EH 2(Eb) BsCl 2 Ctbn    4331 Timp+4Perc Pno/Cel Hp Str