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Song of the Open Road : Passacaglia for orchestra

by Graeme Koehne (2017)

Song of the Open Road


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Song of the Open Road : Passacaglia for orchestra / Graeme Koehne.

Library shelf no. Q 784.2/KOE 12 [Available for loan]

Work Overview

Song of the Open Road grew out of a short musical sketch originally created for a children's music theatre work - Shadow Dreams - written by Finegan Kruckemeyer and directed by Frank Newman. Shadow Dreams tells the story of two boys who come to know each other through a mystical sharing of their dreams and life experiences; the story celebrates a friendship and loyalty transcending differences in background and culture. The musical material that eventually developed into Song of the Open Road, was written for a scene in which the young friends support, encourage and learn from each other during a journey through the Tasmanian wilderness. Their friendship is symbolised in a sequence - entitled footprints - in which the boys find their way by following in each other's footsteps.

I later arranged this music into a short, stand-alone chamber work for the charitable Hush Foundation's CD Hush 13; I called it Just Walk Beside Me to reflect both the original narrative and the Foundation's mission to support children undergoing treatment in hospital through the healing power of music. The title comes from a short, anonymous verse: "Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend."

Following requests from musical colleagues, and at the suggestion of my publishers, I decided to considerably expand the original concept, adding a substantial amount of new material and completely reworking the idea into a large orchestral work: Song of the Open Road.

The positive messages of friendship, loyalty, and youthful camaraderie that inspired the original music seemed a natural fit for the current work commissioned by Melbourne Youth Music to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Melbourne Youth Orchestra. Song of the Open Road takes its name from the celebrated Walt Whitman poem and further expands on the ideas of fellowship, youthful optimism, adventure and the metaphorical journey of life. The piece takes the form of an orchestral passacaglia: a musical structure that unfolds over cyclic harmonies. The term itself derives from the Spanish words pasar + calle, literally suggesting "to walk the road". The straightforward, lyrical music is supported by the reassuring and confident tread of the repeated, modal, four chord progression that underpins the entire work. The original musical sketch only appears at the very end of the piece and represents here a joyful point of arrival and a celebration of life's journey.

Work Details

Year: 2017

Instrumentation: Piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets in Bb, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets in Bb, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion (3 players), harp (or digital keybd. harp patch), strings.

Duration: 10 min.

Commission note: Commissioned to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Melbourne Youth Orchestra

First performance: by Melbourne Youth Orchestra, Steven Hillinger — 2 Jul 17. Melbourne Recital Centre, for the Melbourne Youth Music’s 50th anniversary

Performances of this work

2 Jul 17: Melbourne Recital Centre, for the Melbourne Youth Music’s 50th anniversary. Featuring Melbourne Youth Orchestra, Steven Hillinger.

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