Program notes by David Amram
American Dance Suite
American Dance Suite was written through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Richard F. Kauders and as a result of my musical and personal friendship with the young master musician, Bruce Hangen.
The work is in three movements. I decided to make a dance suite as a result of working with Jacques d'Ambroise, the dancer, choreographer and founder of the National Dance Institute in New York.
Mr. d'Amboise wanted some of my music for a dance he was to create. After watching the excitement of seeing my composition choreographed (Mary Tyler Moore tap-danced in one section!), I decided I would write a piece celebrating American dance forms, as a concert piece, that could create a ballet in the listener's mind, and perhaps someday be danced to.
The first movement, Cheyenne, uses some traditional melodies of the Cheyenne people. An introductory fanfare is followed by a traditional Cheyenne melody taught to me by Hyemeyonsts Storm, the author of Seven Arrows. This social dance melody is developed and followed by a traditional Cheyenne hand-game song "NU-USM NO-NOTZ." After further development of both of these melodies, sometimes played together, we hear a setting of a Cheyenne war dance which highlights the unusual rhythms and structure of this highly sophisticated ancient music. After a brief return of the beginning fanfare, the horns introduce the final traditional dance melody, a fast war dance, followed by fragments of the earlier melodies and ending with the drum and rattle.
The second movement. Blues. is a tribute to the contribution of jazz to the enrichment of our century, as music to dance to and music of great emotional depth.
This movement uses only the strings. and the melancholy theme and development celebrates the tranquil and spiritual aspects of a style of music that has influenced all music and listeners around the world. Rather than a rendering of traditional blues. It is a tribute to some of the masters like Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Gerry Mulligan, Charlie Mingus and Oscar Pettiford - all whom I have known and performed with earlier in my life.
The final movement, Cajun. celebrates another indigenous form of American music that came to us via the Celtic people who lived in Brittany, came to Canada three hundred years ago as French-speaking Acadians, left Canada and arrived in the U.S., settling in Louisiana. There their Celtic-French Canadian music was influenced by the music of Native American and Afro-American cultures into the unique Cajun culture of today.
The lively melody "The Fox Hunt" is a slip-jig. played first by the piccolo and accompanied by traditional Celtic rhythms and contemporary Cajun percussion instruments including the spoons. After several statements with varying orchestration, a second melody of my own, a Cajun waltz (inspired by eating Crawfish Etoufe while performing In Port Arthur, Texas and New Orleans) is introduced. The waltz uses the triangle, bongos and washboard. instruments common to contemporary Cajun music called "Zydeco" which I have performed with several Cajun ensembles at folk festivals. After the clarinet completes the waltz, the strings and different choirs of the orchestra join in.
"The Fox Hunt" is restated and then is joined by the waltz and finally a re-statement of the Cheyenne social song and fanfare from the first movement, to bring the composition to a conclusion.
I am grateful to have had the chance to write this piece and hope it will make people around the world aware of the wonderful music being made in Omaha and the excellence of he orchestra and its brilliant director, Bruce Hangen.
'Cajun' Is a corruption of the word Acadian