The Mountain Whippoorwill
For wind ensemble, grade 5
The Mountain Whippoorwill is based on a poem of the same name written by the American poet Steven Vincent Benet. The poem is subtitled, “Or, How Hill-Billy Jim Won the Great Fiddler’s Prize.” The poem is about a poor backwoods rube who travels to the Essex County (Georgia) fair to compete in the annual fiddling competition. The first movement, “Mountains in the Fog,” describes the narrator’s hardscabble upbringing among one of the more desolate regions of the Appalachian Mountains. We hear the cry of of the whippoorwill throughout the movement as well as the sounds of frogs, distant fiddling echoing through the woods, and the wind rustling through the trees. A feeling of lonlieness pervades the movement and as the fog rolls in, all fades into the misty grayness.
The second movment, “Fire on the Mountain, Snakes in the Grass!” describes the fiddling competition at the Essex County Fair. A series of participants take their turn one by one. Some dazzle with their technical prowess. Others woo with their lyrical melodies. But when Hill-billy Jim steps up to take his turn, it is clear that he is fiddling on a different plane than the rest of the competitors. The whole affair descends into a “Redneck Rite of Spring” (complete with a battery of “hill-billy” percussion which includes pickle buckets, trash can lids, spoons, and a washboard) and the entire fair joins in with Jim’s fiddling. The Whippoorwill melody returns triumphantly in the brass as the fiddling continues to spin out in the woodwinds and the piece closes with a bang.