Triangle Trade —2013

Triangle Trade was commissioned by the 2013 Newburyport Chamber Music Festival and premiered by marimbist Makoto Nakura, Ensemble Epomeo, and the Plum Island Pans.

Program Notes

Triangle Trade is a musical journey that is best followed like the maps in books and films that use arrows and dotted lines to show the travel routes of the characters. The title refers to the use of a commodity from one region as payment for commodities from another region. It relates specifically to Newburyport in the 17th-19th centuries, which was part of transatlantic slave trade among New England (rum), the Gold Coast of Africa (slaves) and the Caribbean (sugar/molasses).

Part I begins with a serene evocation of Newburyport on a Sunday morning, featuring the string quartet playing a colonial hymn by William Knapp entitled “Weston Favel.” A symbol of the rum that was traded to Africa from New England, a boisterous drinking song, “Jolly mortals, fill your glasses!” interrupts the opening hymn. The voyage across the Atlantic by ship is depicted through a sea-faring song “Had Neptune, when he first took charge of the sea…” which introduces the marimba into the swelling waves of scales in the string quartet.

Part II features the marimba, accompanied by the string quartet, in a rendition of the African Spiritual “O’er the Crossing.” The voyage back across the Atlantic, this time to the Caribbean, juxtaposes gentle repeated rhythms in the marimba with long sustained notes in solo strings.

Part III is boldly announced by the steel drum quartet in a joyous calypso arrangement of the African Spiritual “Sail, O Believer.” The marimba and strings join in a call-and-response with the steel drums. Then, carrying molasses and sugar, the ships sail back to New England, evoked by overlapping wave-like melodies in the steel pans.

Part IV depicts the arrival back in Newburyport with the original hymn tune in the strings soaring high above the dancing Carribbean calypso. Soon after, the marimba layers in the African spiritual from earlier, and all three melodies join in counterpoint.