Program 688: Julia Wolfe's Appalachian Roots
KALW Broadcast Date: March 13, 2022 | Host: Ed Herrmann
Composer Julia Wolfe is cofounder of the New York music collective Bang on a Can. She grew up in rural Pennsylvania and has a love for Appalachian music and folklore. Her 2009 composition Steel Hammer draws on the history and music of Appalachia while using a text that emphasizes the differences in the various John Henry stories. There are many different versions of the John Henry story, and many different recordings of the song. We’ll sample of few of these versions and hear that John Henry is usually black, but sometimes he’s white. He comes from Tennessee, Kentucky, or other places. He has a wife of various names. But he’s always a steel driving man, and he always meets his death with a hammer in his hand. We’ll hear all eight movements of Steel Hammer in a performance by vocalists Trio Mediaeval and the Bang on a Can All Stars.
We’ll also hear excerpts from Julia Wolfe’s concert length oratorio Anthracite Fields, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2015. It draws on interviews and oral histories from those who worked in the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal mines. Also on the program is Bang on a Can member Ken Thomson’s Perpetual for bass clarinet and string quartet performed the JACK Quartet and Ken Thomson.