“Singing River” from Wood Notes
William Grant Still
About this Piece
Wood Notes is a pastoral orchestral suite inspired by the natural beauty of the American South and the poetry of Joseph Mitchell Pilcher, a poet and social worker living in Alabama. As Still wrote in the program for the 1948 premiere by Artur Rodziński and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, “Wood Notes has a social significance because it is a collaboration between a Southern white man and a Southern-born Negro composer, in which both of the participants were enthused over the project.” Still also chose to dedicate the suite to his composition professor at Oberlin Conservatory, F.J. Lehmann.
The opening movement “Singing River” connects to a poem Pilcher wrote while looking at the Coosa River in Wetumpka, Alabama. Melodically, Still shows the influence of spirituals layered over impressionistic textures. The musical structure brings to mind Bedřich Smetana’s The Moldau or Virgil Thomson’s Suite from The River, with musical ebbs and flows between dramatic builds to brass and percussion-laden rapids or high strings and woodwinds signaling calmer waters.