The Goose Egg: A Children’s Concert – Program Notes
Notes on “The Goose Egg” from the composer Angelique Poteat:
The Goose Egg, for string orchestra, percussion, and narrator, is inspired by and written with the text from Liz Wong’s children’s book of the same title. Detailing the journey of an elephant named Henrietta from calm independence to an unexpected dive into parenthood, my piece focuses on capturing the energy and emotion of the characters and environments into a sonic adventure. Henrietta’s serene and dreamy theme is often presented by the double bass, whereas the energy of Baby Goose is represented by tambourine and a playful dancing melody in the violin. The sense of quiet and solitude often heard in the high string harmonics and crotales goes through many transformations over the course of the work as its relationship to Henrietta evolves. I am grateful to Philharmonia Northwest and Liz Wong for the opportunity to create this fun piece!
Program notes by Claudia Jensen and Bradley Clem for “Dances of Panama”:
The last work on our program, Dances of Panama, was written in 1948, originally for string quartet, but with versions for string quintet and string ensemble. Still learned about the Panamanian sources used in this work from another towering American musician, the violinist and composer Elisabeth Waldo (who has strong Pacific Northwest connections: born in 1918 in Tacoma, raised near the lands of the Yakama Nation in eastern Washington, went on to a major international career as a violinist after support from Jascha Heifetz – Ms. Waldo is still alive, after an incredible career spanning over a century). Waldo had spent a great deal of time touring in Central and South America, with a stint living in Mexico, and she sought out as many musical cultures as she could during this period. Before embarking on her own career as a composer, in which she focused on many of these sources as inspiration, she came into contact with Still, to whom she recommended this series of Panamanian dances and songs.
Dances of Panama is made up of four movements, each representing what are essentially constellations of Panama’s most important dance/vocal/instrumental complexes. All are meant to be performed in multi-media splendor, enhanced not just by the music and dance, but also by traditional costumes, specific sequences and alternations of dancers, and the interplay of the vocalists, the storylines they are presenting, and the traditional instrumental ensembles used to accompany them. The range is truly all-encompassing, with indigenous, Spanish, and African cultural influences in each of these sequences.
The first movement, Tamborito, is based on a musical and dance style that dates far back into the past. The tamborito is a silky, circling couples dance, a dance of courtship and attraction, generally accompanied by a variety of percussive effects (small drums, hand clapping, and the rhythms of the dancers’ feet). In Still’s version, the percussion component is represented by the string players knocking against their instruments (an effect we also hear in the last movement). The brief introduction suggests the tradition of the dance, which is begun with a percussion prelude.
Mejorana y Socavón, the second movement, is also both an instrumental and a dance form, associated with guitar- and violin-like instruments. Still’s version is in three sections, which replicate the traditional divisions of the dance into paseo (strolling) and zapateado (rhythmically intricate footwork). The opening mejorana melody is in the traditional, gentle 6/8 rhythm, with a harmonic rocking back and forth supporting the rhythmic shifting (duple vs. triple) underneath. The inner section is brighter and quicker. Socavón also refers to both an instrumental type (a small guitar) as well as a dance/vocal form. Throughout, Still uses instrumental effects (pizzicato and the “strummed” chords at the end) to suggest these traditional instrumental associations. The mejorana is a group dance in which facing lines of men and women dancers advance together and then retreat, finally meeting, merging, and ultimately exchanging positions.
The third movement, Punto, is also based on the passeo/zapateado division. The more gentle passeo section alternates duple and triple rhythms and features repetitions of phrases; the inner section highlights more intricate rhythms, with more syncopation along the lines of the fancy footwork of the zapateado. The movement concludes with a return to the opening themes and mood. When danced, the punto is a couples dance, traditionally featuring the same types of instruments, guitar and violin, as in the previous movement.
The final Cumbia y Congo movement is made up of a complex of related dance/vocal/instrumental styles, all African in origin, adapted not only in Panama but throughout the region in characteristic ways. The melodies are generally in duple time, with short, repeated phrases, as we hear in Still’s version, with knocking on the instruments to recall the use of drums (the congo refers both to the small drums used and to the entire ensemble of performances), which provide a propulsive rhythmic drive. The use of strings here reflects the traditional use of the violin-like rabel. The dance is carried out by several couples circling around the group of accompanying instrumentalists; traditionally, the women carry bunches of lighted candles as they dance.