for alto saxophone and piano
(In memoriam E. C. Satterwhite, Jr.)
Singing the Sorrow was composed during the summer of 2004. The first half of 2004 was very difficult for my wife and myself. We each lost a parent, and several friends, most of them much too young, died as well. As I was finishing up the computer master of the score in the fall (I still do all my composing with pencil and paper and do the computer version later), I received notice that a high school friend was dead of cancer, at age 51.
There has always been a very serious thread in my music, and I have written many other pieces that are, like this one, essentially elegies (especially after the suicide of my mother in 1983). One of the great powers of music is the ability to express otherwise inexpressible emotions, and to give voice to that which so few of us are eloquent enough to convey in words. I offer this piece, then, as an inadequate but honest attempt to express the inarticulate, searing emotions that accompany the deaths of loved ones. It is a single-movement work of about ten minutes duration, ranging through a variety of tempos, textures and moods which express at least some of the mercurial nature of one’s feelings in times of sorrow.
It is especially written in memory of my father, E. C. Satterwhite, Jr., but certainly also reflects the loss of my mother-in-law, Pat Jemian, and our friends Don Barton, Johnny Johnson, John Hall and Barbara Gish. Requiescat in pacem.
Although not a strict passacaglia or chaconne, much of the piece is based on one of several versions of the “chaconne bass,” a descending, repeating bass line especially common in Baroque compositions, and used often, but not exclusively, in laments or elegies. (The famous “Lament” from Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas is probably the best-known example; the “Crucifixus” in Bach’s B-Minor Mass is another.) The work also makes extensive use of a chord I created for the first piece I wrote after my mother’s death, and which I subsequently have used in many of my elegiac compositions. It makes its initial appearance in the form (spelled from the bottom up): A-D-G-C#-G#, and thereafter appears at many transpositions and in various permutations, both melodically and harmonically.
Singing the Sorrow was written at the request of my friends and colleagues saxophonist Patrick Meighan and pianist Krista Wallace-Boaz. They gave the work’s premiere at the University of Louisville New Music Festival in November of 2005. Patrick has since performed it in many other places, including China, with Krista and other pianists.