Composer Alfred V. Fedak
Difficulty Moderately easy
Catalog no. 160-926
Price $25 (U.S.)
Originally composed for a house concert involving various keyboard instruments (harpsichord, piano, and organ), flute, and singers, this work can also be seen as an anthology of musical settings and variations on the familiar hymn “Shall We Gather at the River?” The keyboard movements in various historical musical styles can be easily adapted for any keyboard instrument or performance context. Several of the movements with voice could be used as stand-alone settings, and there is also an ornamented baroque-style air for flute and keyboard that would make an effective offertory. The suite concludes with a solo organ toccata: an excellent postlude.
From the Composer
A Mohawk River Suite is dedicated to Donald Ingram and Eugene Tobey, in gratitude for their legendary hospitality. For many years, on Labor Day weekend, Don and Gene would host large and wonderful Sunday parties at their home on the banks of the scenic Mohawk River in upstate New York. Their many guests were treated to the finest of foods, the choicest beverages, boat rides on the Mohawk, and a musical program performed by hosts and guests alike, sung and played on the pair’s collection of keyboard instruments (grand piano, harpsichord, pipe organ), and upon whatever other instruments that year’s guests might have brought to the party. When Don and Gene announced, in early 2010, that they would be bringing this festive tradition to a close after that year’s event, their friends Agnes Armstrong and Barbara Adler secretly contacted the pair’s wide circle of friends and collected from them sufficient funds to commission a new musical work in their honor. The result, A Mohawk River Suite, was a complete surprise to Don and Gene when it was presented to them at their final Labor Day party on Sunday, September 5, 2010. It was given its first performance on that day by the following guests:
Barbara Adler, harpsichord
Agnes Armstrong, piano
Al Fedak, organ
Susan Fedak, Rand Reeves, Anne Turner, singers
Nancy Frank, harpsichord
Karen Klevanosky, flute
Todd Sisley, piano
A Mohawk River Suite was intended as sociable entertainment. Several of its movements are certainly humorous, even irreverent, and meant to raise a smile. But other parts of the work might well be useful in church services: the suite is, after all, based upon a beloved hymn. In its original format, the work consisted of ten brief sections, the final movement being the “Quodlibet on Local and River Themes,” a pastiche of musical references to rivers and the nearby Erie Canal, together with the Shaker song “Simple Gifts.” (One of the earliest Shaker communities was located not far from where Gene and Don presently live.) However, for church use it seemed advisable to add a new finale: an organ toccata which could either substitute for the quodlibet in religious settings or stand alone as an independent postlude. Since the toccata was not part of the work’s original scheme, in full concert performances this new finale can either be included or omitted at the performers’ discretion.
If a harpsichord is not available, the movements which call for that instrument can be performed to good effect on piano or organ, or on an electronic keyboard, especially if it is equipped with a harpsichord setting. Similarly, the flute part can be played by almost any other treble instrument which might be at hand.
“Selah Publishing is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this year. They should be commended for their support of outstanding living composers and for their willingness to publish works that might be difficult to categorize. A Mohawk River Suite is one such work. It consists of a set of variations on Shall We Gather at the River. Designed for a party in a home with many keyboard instruments, it contains parts for piano, harpsichord, organ, flute, and singers. Where it is impractical to perform the entire Suite as originally intended, movements can be adapted or excerpted. In particular, the three stanzas for solo voice would make a lovely set for a treble choir; underpinned with rich harmonies, they are all in the same key, although they are not performed sequentially in the Suite. The harpsichord movements could be adapted easily to the organ. “An Aria in the style of Bach” for flute and organ would be an attractive stand-alone piece, as would the organ “Toccata” that was added after the premiere to conclude the Suite. The one movement that would be difficult to take out of context, but is also the most inventive, is the original ending: “Fantasy: Quodlibet on Local and River Tunes.” It includes, in addition to “Shall We Gather at the River,” such tunes as Old Man River, Sewanee River, Shenandoah, and Red River Valley. Following this “Quodlibet,” theaudience is invited to join in singingthe final refrain. The final “Toccata,”added later for publication, returns tothe home key of D major, reversing themodulations that led to the singing ofthe hymn tune in E-flat major in thepenultimate movement. I applaud theidea of returning to the home key, butthe abrupt shift down a half step mightsound a bit odd. It would be possible toperform the Suite in its original versionand save the “Toccata” for a separatepostlude. In addition to the movementsthat might be used independently,the entire Suite would be perfect forgatherings of church musicians suchas an end-of-year AGO event or choirparty. By the end of this piece everyone will be smiling and humming!” –AAM Journal, November 2014