Maslanka Weekly: Best of the Web – No. 50, Folk Songs

Maslanka Weekly highlights excellent performances of David Maslanka’s music from around the web.

David Maslanka was very fascinated with folk songs and they often found their way into his music. On one occasion he said, “I am very drawn to folk songs, and in the same way to the Bach Chorales. Like folk songs, these melodies are the products of many generations of voices, singing, singing, singing until the melodies have reached there own feeling of deep rightness. Folk songs and the Chorales are invariably simple melodies, yet they embody the full depth and richness of human experience.” This week, we feature performances of three of David’s works inspired by folk songs: Symphony No. 7, “Johnny Get Your Hair Cut” from A Carl Sandburg Reader, and The Seeker.

Symphony No. 7

From David’s Program Note:

I am strongly affected by American folk songs and hymn tunes, and I think of this symphony as “old songs remembered.” With one exception all the tunes are original, but they all feel very familiar. The borrowed melody is from the 371 Four-Part Chorales by J.S. Bach. Each song has a bright side and a dark side, a surface and the dream underneath. Each is a signal or call which evokes an inner world of associations.

  1. Sunday night church services from my youth. Mrs. Smith played the piano. The opening piano solo is marked “enthusiastically” in the score. A dream travels to a far place.
  2. In the manner of an American folk song, with a setting that might have come out of the 19th or early 20th centuries.
  3. A ferocious fast music, unrelenting, determined to get a grip on chaos. Toward the end a fractious quote of the Bach Chorale melody “Du Friedensfurst Herr Jesu Christ” (Prince of Peace Lord Jesus Christ).
  4. A simple song of peace and healing.

Watch below as Mark Davis Scatterday leads the Eastman Wind Ensemble in a terrific recent performance of this work.

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A Carl Sandburg Reader, “Johnny Get Your Haircut”

From David’s Program Note:

I remember seeing Carl Sandburg being interviewed on the Today program sometime in the 1950’s. He was an old man, still physically alert, with a keen mind and a ready sense of humor. It must have been amazing, and a good laugh for him, a person born in the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, to be interviewed on TV. To me, who had grown up with his poetry as a schoolchild, he knew so much about America that he seemed the embodiment of it. And yet he was the child of immigrants and spoke Swedish at home…as I was the grandchild of immigrants, though kept from the Polish language in order to be made into an American. It took me many years to break out of the “immigrant” mentality of “us against everybody,” and to realize that America was mine, deeply and completely mine. Carl Sandburg, with his poetry and his other writings, especially the monumental Lincoln biography, has been a life- long companion as I have searched for my own American roots.

In A Carl Sandburg Reader I have tried to let Sandburg’s voice tell his own take on the human condition – the masses, the poor, war, cynicism, faith, hope, acceptance – and to tell the story as well with his beloved folk songs. For this auspicious occasion of the 150th anniversary of the founding of Illinois State University I wanted a musical celebration, using the words of a native son of the Illinois prairie, that would speak deeply to our past, our present, and our future.

Watch below as Stephen Steele leads the Illinois State University Wind Ensemble in an exciting performance of “Johnny Get Your Hair Cut.”

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The Seeker

From David’s Program Note:

The Seeker is subtitled “a symphonic movement.” It opens with a slow melody that feels like an Appalachian folk song. It transitions suddenly and sharply into the main body of the work, an energetic and exuberant romp at a very speedy tempo. The opening melody returns in the context of a chorale, my recomposition of “Christe, der du bist der Tag und Licht” (Christ, you who are day and light) from the 371 Four-Part Chorales of Bach. The movement concludes with a partial recap of the fast music, and a very brief coda. Watch below as Gary Green leads the 2017 All Virginia Symphonic Band in the world premiere performance of this music.

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We would love to hear from you! If you know of any outstanding performances of David Maslanka’s music on the web, please email us at