Red Pajamas

Performer and production credits:
Karol Bennett, soprano; Leone Buyse, flute; Hannah Holman, cello; Susan Oltsman Koozin, narrator; Tricia Park, violin; Rod Waters, piano; Michael Webster, clarinet; Blake Wilkins, percussion.
Bill Klemm, videographer and editor; Kate Dawson, director.


Red Pajama Variations is an instrumental 'Theme and Variations' using the folksong "She'll be Coming 'Round the Mountain." Theme and Variations is a common musical form whose roots go back to the 17th century. The 'Theme,' presented first, is typically an unadorned melody with a simple harmonic accompaniment. Following the theme are a series of 'Variations' which are essentially repetitions of the theme, but each cleverly disguised and embellished in a variety of ways. There might be anywhere from two or three variations to fifty or more! If you listen carefully, you can often hear within a variation the basic structure of the original melody and harmony. This is the appeal of Theme and Variation form, both for a composer and an audience: the variations all preserve something familiar at their core (the simple melody and harmony of the theme), but individually they feature constantly new and surprising characteristics.

In Red Pajama Variations, the familiar tune is first presented in a fairly straight-forward and recognizable way. The variations which follow are played in sets of two or three; each set highlights a particular aspect of music, or a particular facet of the ensemble and its instruments. One pair contrasts a variation using a very high register with one using a very low register; another juxtaposes a quick tempo with a very slow one. Between each short set of variations, several instruments play what is called a vamp, a short repeated figure which quietly acts as a time-keeping device. Over the top of the vamp, the narrator speaks to the audience and explains what they will hear in each subsequent variation set.

FOR FURTHER STUDY
  • Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring - Sony 63082
    Copland's ballet score was written for the legendary choreographer Martha Graham. Copland's setting of the Shaker hymn tune Simple Gifts is probably the most famous folk song setting in American instrumental music.
  • Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring - Deutsche Grammophon 435769
    Stravinsky's evocation of pagan Russian, using both authentic and invented folk songs, is one of the seminal pieces of 20th-century music.
  • Bela Bartok: Contrasts - Sony 42227
    Bartok's trio for clarinet, violin and piano, written for the jazz legend Benny Goodman, incorporates many folk elements. Most notably, the violin is detuned in the third movement to simulate the strident playing of a country fiddle.
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