Where the Red Fern Grows

COMPOSER’S NOTE:

The occasion for composing this piece in 1983 was to present a token of appreciation. I had just been to my first rehearsal of the Phoenix Boys Choir at the invitation of conductor Dr. Harvey Smith. It was the final rehearsal for a concert in the soaring acoustics of Brophy College Prep chapel. I sat in the nave while the choristers, in the loft, rehearsed two pieces unknown to me: Messe Basse (Gabriel Fauré) and For the Beauty of the Earth (John Rutter). In that moment I became aware of two things: 1) it was one of the most beautiful sounds I had ever heard, and 2) I had to write something for them.

The original version was performed once before I moved away from Phoenix. It was filed with several other pieces that were set aside when my focus turned to graduate school and conducting for the next several decades. In 2008 I returned to composing but did not revisit those earlier pieces until beginning composition study with John Muehleisen in 2020. At his suggestion, I too a fresh look at compositions from the Phoenix Boys Choir years.

Many thanks to Harvey for his inspiration and mentorship, which set me on the path of working in choral music vocationally; to the Phoenix Boys Choir, who demonstrated the extraordinary artistic capacity of young singers; and to John for encouraging me to revisit and update this token of those important memories from my musical journey.

Enjoy!

Peter Robb

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Voicing: SA
Duration: 2'40"
Level: E
Instrumentation: Piano

Text

Where the red fern grows, so the story is told,
There is a legend buried deep in the snow;
For their heavenly seeds only angels can sow;
Where the red fern grows.

From the East to the West while the sun marks each hour,
Time shall never record any end of this flower;
For a secret of heaven on this sacred ground shows
Where the red fern grows.

Once, there, a little girl and one little boy
Were captured by Winter’s storm that came to destroy.
But in Springtime’s release of the ground where they lay
Came a message of life in a crimson bouquet.

Where the red fern grows, so the story is told,
There is a legend buried deep in the snow;
For their heavenly seeds only angels can sow;
Where the red fern grows.

Louise N. Clarkson (1983)

The poem was inspired by the passing reference to a legend in Where The Red Fern Grows, a children’s novel by Wilson Rawls. Although published in 1961, it wasn’t until the book caught the attention of children’s lit advocates in the late ‘60s that it became a favorite of teachers and young readers. It was adapted for film in 1974 and again in 2003. Fun fact: the second film co-starred recording artist Dave Matthews.

NOTE: Live performance coming. This temporary recording features instruments on vocal parts.