Freedom's Plow

by Peter Saint-Andre


In my spare moments of late, I've been revisiting a project that I've long wanted to complete: writing a setting for voice and guitar of Langston Hughes's long poem Freedom's Plow. Some years ago I wrote a tentative melody for the first three stanzas. In the last few weeks I've refined that and also written music for the next two stanzas. As befits the words, my setting starts out slowly and quietly. The first three stanzas are just a vocal line doubled by guitar, with a simple guitar accompaniment for the second two stanzas. What I've written so far clocks in at around six minutes, which means the complete piece will probably be at least 15 minutes long, perhaps even 20. In addition to the first five stanzas, I have a tenative treament of the (long) sixth stanza (beginning "Down into the earth went the plow") and some well-worked out ideas for the following section quoting Jefferson, Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass. But I need to figure out a transition from that to the part that quotes the old folk song Keep Your Hand on the Plow (the only version I own is on Bob Dylan's first album -- I think I need to hear a few others, such as that on Mahalia Jackson Live at Newport 1958). I would like the song to build up throughout, but we'll see if that is sustainable; a lull might be in order for the stanza that begins "America is a dream" (perhaps even including the previous stanza about the aftermath of the Civil War). Setting such a long poem to music requires some planning in order to pull it off. We'll see if I succeed.

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