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Donald WomackTennessee Crossroadsthird work of the three-piece symphonic set Southern Portraitsorchestra (3233 4221 timp 5 prc pno strings)12:001996
The city of Memphis occupies a unique place in the history of the American South. At one time a remote frontier outpost, it developed into one of the most important centers of trade in middle America, becoming a crossroads literally and figuratively. Not only did it serve as a major hub along the East-West land route and the North-South river route, it also became a cultural crossroads. The city played an important role as a center of music in the early days of the blues, as W.C. Handy took the jazz sounds that made their way up the Mississippi River from New Orleans and created a new genre. Beale Street became known as the center of the blues.

The influence of the blues, as well as the related idioms of jazz and rock, are heard throughout Tennessee Crossroads. Biting harmonies, derived from extended major/minor sonorities typical of jazz, are stated at the outset and reappear several times. Many melodic lines reveal their origin through blues licks and syncopation. Most evident is the hazy twelve-bar blues that appears in the middle of the piece. In each case the material only suggests, refers to, or hints at the style, never literally stating it.

The musical depiction of Memphis takes several forms. Numerous cross-rhythms and rhythmic layering suggest the hustle and bustle of the city in its heyday. Various recurring rhythmic ostinatos impart the image of trade boats floating down the Mississippi. Moments of thick, almost wild textures, depict the atmosphere of controlled chaos, which must have been the essence of Beale Street on a Saturday night.

Tennessee Crossroads is the final piece of a three-work symphonic set, in which each movement is based on a place in the South.