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Donald WomackBruner's Grovesecond work of the three-piece symphonic set Southern Portraitsorchestra (3233 4221 timp 3 prc strings)16:001996
Bruner’s Grove is a rural community in the foothills of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains. My many childhood visits to my grandparents’ small farm there left an indelible impression. Bruner’s Grove was a spiritual place where life was simple, serene and beautiful, always touched by nature, the hills and fields, and the animals. Of my many happy memories, my favorite is that of my grandfather leading us in singing his favorite hymn, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Even as a child though, I sensed that there was also a sadness to the place — sadness that poverty was so much a part of the community, and that a simple way of life was dying with each passing generation.

“Bruner’s Grove” is my tribute to that place and time, and to the people, spirit and contrasts embodied in that small community. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is used as a recurring theme, though it is always heard as if from a distance, either in space or in time. Its statement in the opening section, set against a hazy background, suggests a faded memory. Likewise, subsequent appearances of the tune are always unclear, fragmented or elusive. Different recurring materials suggest other recollections of Bruner’s Grove. A brass chorale, which grows longer each of the three times it appears, hints at broad, open pastures. A simple theme first stated by solo violin lends a spiritual element to the piece. Subtle hints of the well-known Tennessee tune “Rocky Top” refer to the distant mountains, always present though scarcely noticeable from the farm.

The passages of serene quietude that make up the opening section of the piece give way to a faster, more tumultuous central section. After reaching a climax at the end of this middle section, the opening serenity returns with the hymn tune floating gently above. An echo of the solo violin theme follows, now in the winds, and leads to the final statement of the brass chorale. A restful coda closes the piece, as the hymn tune sounds for the final time in a moment of profound calm.

Bruner’s Grove is the middle piece of a three-work symphonic set, in which each movement is based on a place in the South. It is dedicated to my the memories of my grandparents, Isaac Porter Dawson and Gertrude Lay Dawson.