Five Freedom Songs


Jesse Montgomery


Performance forces:
voice — perc, str



Five Freedom Songs was conceived in collaboration with Soprano Julia Bullock between 2017-2018. We wanted to create a song cycle that honors our shared African-American heritage and the tradition of the Negro spiritual, while also experimenting with non-traditional stylistic contexts. Each of the five songs in this cycle are sourced from the historical anthology Slave Songs of the United States (originally published by A. Simpson & Co., New York, 1867), which categorizes each song based on origin and social context. For example, “My Lord, What a Morning” is actually the original lyric to the more popular spiritual “Stars Begin to Fall”, which also originated in the Southeastern slave states. “I Want to Go Home” also originates from the Southeastern states, and my setting is inspired by the simple way it was transcribed as a simple seven-note melody without an indicated rhythm, which inspired me to write it in a hybrid Gregorian chant/spiritual style. “Lay dis Body Down”, a funeral song said to originate from the region surrounding South Carolina, is set in an improvised style, wherein each part of the ensemble chooses their own pacing of the line to create a swirling meditation. “My Father, How Long?” contains the refrain “We will soon be free, we will soon be free, De Lord will call us home”, the words of which reflect the dual meaning between spiritual salvation and freedom from oppression. It is a song that emerged from a jail in Georgetown, S.C. at the break of the Great Rebellion, and accompanied by percussive sounds in the strings evoking the chain gang. “The Day of Judgment” originates from the region surrounding Louisiana and is set as an uneasy celebration over the refrain of a traditional West African drumming pattern. — Jessie Montgomery