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Donald WomackBlue Ridgefirst work of the three-piece symphonic set Southern Portraitsorchestra (3233 4221 timp 3 prc pno strings)20:002000
The Blue Ridge Mountains of the Southern Appalachian range are a wonderment of natural and cultural beauty. Well known by virtue of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, they offer not only some of America's most engaging scenery, but also a glimpse into a unique Southern culture which has retained elements hundreds of years old. Even today, the back hills of the Blue Ridge range allow glimpses into the past.

Blue Ridge readily draws upon both of these elements of beauty, natural and cultural. Cast in three large sections, it borrows stylistically from the fiddle music that is so large a part of the region's history. The outer sections, which are faster in tempo, freely use fiddle tunes – some traditional and some invented – though not in literal form. Fragmentation, echoing, and layering of passages from such tunes as "Whiskey Before Breakfast" and "The Devil's Own", make up the primary sound world of the piece. In addition, two well-known tunes from the region, "Shenandoah" and "Rocky Top", are used in both fragmented and complete form.

The opening section vibrates with the restless energy of fiddle sounds, as various tunes are given in a layered collage of sound. The "Rocky Top" tune appears periodically, initially in fragments, only gradually becoming more recognizable. It first reaches a full statement at the climax of the section, from which the piece dissolves into a slow middle section.

Revolving around the "Shenandoah" tune, the middle section gives an atmospheric account of the Blue Ridge. A sense of timelessness suggests the grand and ancient stature of the mountains and the beauty of remote valleys and hollows below.

A return of fiddle sounds before the end of the middle section marks an overlapping recapitulation – as if the return of the opening section comes early – and frenetic energy begins to build once again before the slower material has completely dissipated. Fiddle tunes build to a climax in which "Rocky Top" and "Shenandoah" are heard simultaneously, followed by a short coda which rushes forward to the end.

Blue Ridge is the first piece of a three-work symphonic set, in which each movement is based on a place in the South. Growing out of my personal experience as a native of the region, it is dedicated to the beauty and the people of the Blue Ridge Mountains.