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Sounds of St. Louis

Sounds of St. Louis

Harbach, Barbara


  • Ensemble: Low Brass Octet and Percussion
  • Genre: Modern Classical
  • Grade: 4
  • Duration: 8.5 minutes
  • Catalog Number: AOS368

  • 4 Trombones
  • 2 Euphonums
  • 2 Tubas
  • Percussion

The composer writes....

When the St. Louis Low Brass Collective asked me to write a piece for them and the 125th Anniversary of the Sheldon 2012, I was delighted and intrigued by the coincidence that not only was it the Sheldon’s anniversary but also the Sesquicentennial of the State of Missouri’s entrance into the Civil War.  The Sounds of St. Louis – a Suite in One Movement is a free-flowing stream of St. Louis consciousness with twelve short sections.

The Sounds of St. Louis incorporates and combines my original fugues and melodies with the popular Civil War song, Missouri! Missouri! Bright Land of the West!, the wistful folksong, Shenandoah (Away, I'm bound away ‘cross the wide Missouri), and the St. Louis Blues, an American popular song written by W.C. Handy.   I imagined a piece that used my original music with these three songs, weaving and interweaving, vying and playing among the instruments with the melodies teasing and flirting.

After a brief introduction, a fugue begins with accented syncopation, and then combines with a slightly disguised statement of the St. Louis 12-bar blues.  This segues into Missouri! Missouri! Bright Land of the West! – a typical march that was played by brass bands in central Pennsylvania where I grew up.  The fugue music returns, and then transitions into a poignant statement of Shenandoah for three trombones.  A majestic fanfare changes the atmosphere, leading to a duet with a new melody.  A short reprise of the march ends with the fanfare, introducing the St. Louis Blues tune with jazzy syncopation in the tuba.  A tango section emerges with the bass trombone doing the tango rhythm.  The final section intensifies with a faster tempo, overlapping entrances of the St. Louis Blues tune, and all racing to the final staccato chord.

Missouri! Missouri! Bright Land of the West! is a dynamic march composed in 1861 by Harry McCarthy.

Missouri! Missouri! Bright Land of the West!
Where the way worn emigrant always found rest,
Who gave to the farmer reward for his toil,
Expended in turning and breaking the soil.
Awake to the notes of the bugle and drum,
Awake from your slumber the tyrant hath come!

Shenandoah, or “Across the Wide Missouri” is a traditional American folk song of uncertain origin, dating at least to the early 19th century.  The song is also associated with escaped slaves. They were said to sing the song in gratitude because the river allowed their scent to be lost.

Oh Shenandoah,
I long to see you,
Away you rolling river
Oh Shenandoah,
I long to see you,
Away, I'm bound away
‘cross the wide Missouri.

Of the St. Louis Blues, W. C. Handy said he had been inspired by a chance meeting with a woman on the streets of St. Louis who was distraught over her husband's absence, and she lamented, “Ma man’s got a heart like a rock cast in de sea,” a key line of the song.  Details of the story vary, but most agree on the meeting and the phrase.

I hate to see that evening sun go down
I hate to see that evening sun go down
'Cause, my baby, he's gone left this town

Feelin' tomorrow like I feel today
If I'm feelin' tomorrow like I feel today
I'll pack my truck and make my give-a-way

St. Louis woman with her diamond ring
Pulls that man around by her
If it wasn't for her and her
That man I love would have gone nowhere, nowhere

I got the St. Louis Blues
Blues as I can be
That man's got a heart like a rock cast in the sea
Or else he wouldn't have gone so far from me

I love my baby like a school boy loves his pie
Like a Kentucky colonel loves his mint'n rye
I love my man till the day I die

Live rendition here by the St. Louis Low Brass Collective

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