top of page
John Hardy Cover.png

John Hardy's Dream (2005)
for banjo and orchestra

Instrumentation: 2222/2210/timp.+3perc/pf/banjo/str

Commissioned by Southwest Virginia Community College Festival of the Arts



The process of writing John Hardy’s Dream began when I was asked by Mary Lawson at the Southwest Virginia Community College (Cedar Bluff, Virginia) Festival of the Arts to research works for soloist and orchestra that would fit the theme of their upcoming festival Africa and Her Legacy.

     Thinking of the banjo's African origin, I contacted Mike Seeger, a leading scholar and performer of American old time music. During our conversation, Mike mentioned that his father, Charles Seeger (1886-1979), had arranged the folk tune John Hardy for the CBS Radio Orchestra in 1940. An idea was born at that moment: Mike would perform John Hardy in a solo rendition, the Knoxville Symphony would perform the Charles Seeger arrangement, and I would compose a new work for claw- hammer banjo and orchestra, which Mike Seeger would premiere.
    The composition of John Hardy's Dream involved transcribing Mike Seeger's recorded banjo solo arrangement and incorporating influences from the Charles Seeger arrangement as well as from an arrangement for piano and voice by Charles Seeger and Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953; Mike's mother and a prominent 20th-century composer). The original manuscript of the Charles Seeger arrangement is housed in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the arrangement for voice and piano was published in Folk Song U.S.A. by John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax in 1947. My gratitude goes out to Gina Genova and Paul Schwendener at the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music in New York City, Matthias Spindler at Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft, and Betty Auman at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., all of whom gave of their valuable time and expertise in locating and obtaining the music.
    The song John Hardy is based on a true story about a railroad worker convicted of a murder during a drunken brawl. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to a public hanging in Welch, West Virginia, on January 19, 1894. John Hardy's Dream is a tone poem that attempts to depict the final moments of John Hardy's life.
    The folk song implies that John Hardy had perhaps found salvation:
              "I've been to the river and I've been baptized,
              And now I'm on my hanging ground.”
    The opening of the work describes the scene at the gallows — mobs of people and general confusion; John Hardy then experiences a moment of total clarity; the chaos subsides, and he finds a sense of calmness and serenity (sustained strings and tubular bells); and it is in this moment that John Hardy is awakened once again and returns to his fate (original folk tune with banjo and orchestra).
    John Hardy's Dream is dedicated to Mike Seeger, for whom it was written. A debt is owed to him for being open enough to become involved with this project, and to Mike's parents, Ruth Crawford Seeger and Charles Seeger, whose arrangements of John Hardy inform this work. This piece brings to light a process of traditional folkways: a son learning from mother and father and passing on their musical legacy.

Premiere performance: Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, Mike Seeger, banjo soloist, with
Cornelia Laemmli, conductor, Southwest Virginia Community College Festival of the
Arts, Tazewell, VA, 2005

00:00 / 03:00

MIDI Realization (computer rendering)

bottom of page