One of the tragedies of human history is the forced removal of peoples from their homeland for political, economic, racial, religious, or cultural reasons. In America, the forced removal of all Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River began with the passage of President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830. In 1838, 15,000 Cherokee men, women, and children were forcibly taken from their homes by the U.S. Army and placed in stockades and camps in Tennessee. From November 1838 to March 1839, the Cherokee, with scant clothing and many without shoes, were forced to make a 800-mile march for relocation in Oklahoma during the bitter cold of winter. Suffering from exposure, disease, and starvation, nearly 4,000 Cherokee died during the five-month march known as the “Trail of Tears.”
My flute concerto is a musical journey into how the human spirit discovers ways to deal with upheaval, adversity and adapting to a new environment. The first two movements of the concerto are played without pause. The first movement reflects on meaningful memories of things past, inspired by a quotation from the Native American leader Geronimo (1829–1909): “I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun.” The end of the first movement becomes a death march, marked “Trail of Tears,” and concludes with a turbulent instrumental coda. The reflective second movement, entitled “incantation,” meditates on the passing of loved ones and the hope for a better life in the world beyond. The third and final movement, “sun dance,” evokes the most spectacular and important religious dance ceremony of the Plains Indians of 19th-century North America. Banned on Indian reservations for a century by the U.S. government, the dance is practiced again today. I have composed my own fiery musical dance to suggest how reconnecting with rituals of the past might create a path to a new and brighter future.
— Michael Daugherty
This program note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with a credit to the composer.