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Jim COCKEY (b. 1947)
Symphony No. 1, ("dedicated to my son, Israel") (1993) [30.34]
Boise Philharmonic Orchestra/James Ogle
recorded live at Morrison Center, Boise, Idaho, USA, 20 November 1993.
Symphony No. 2, "Parmlyís Dream" (2002) [41.07]
Jan Kliewer, bar; Anita Rawlinson, sop; Joe Massman, bar; Bob Nell, piano.
Joseph Fire Crow, Native American flute, drums, vocals
Billings Symphony Chorale/David Barnett.
Billings Symphony Orchestra/Uri Barnea
recorded live in Alberta Bair Theater, Billings, Montana, USA, 14 September 2002.
Notes in English. Photos of artists and composer. English texts.
available, including sound samples, from
JIM COCKEY 83707 64242 [71.41]
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What are the Great American Symphonies? For my taste the list begins with the Barber First, the Ives First, the Hanson Second (Romantic), the Hovhaness Second (Mysterious Mountain) , and the Hovhaness Ninth (St. Vartan). These are works Iíve heard half-a-hundred times each and canít wait to hear again. The list continues with the William Schuman Third, the Copland Third (most especially the Minneapolis/Dorati recording unaccountably out of print for nearly fifty years!), the Chadwick Fourth (Symphonic Sketches), and the Hovhaness Fiftieth (Mount St. Helens). These works Iíve enjoyed often and remember well*.

Iíve been listening to these symphonies by Jim Cockey over and over recently and fit them on my list right about here. These works have that combination of lyricism, great beauty, and moment to moment surprise and delight, even on repeated hearings, coupled with a sense of inevitability in retrospect, that we find in great music.

Jim Cockey was born in Baltimore, Maryland, studied composition in Portland, Oregon, and currently lives in Idaho. The central tragedy in his life is that his son, Israel, was born autistic. It is this Israel that is the dedicatee of this Symphony No. 1, and it is that tragic experience that he seeks to allay through his music. The first work I heard of his, his Elegy for string trio, was deeply introspective and inspired in me visions of the late Shostakovich quartets. This Symphony is somewhat more extroverted and less moodily tragic, yet still a remarkably personal work, lightly scored and brilliantly crafted. Cockey asked his son what he should write about, and the boy replied, "play" and "love" so the two middle movements of the symphony are so titled. While the "Play" movement is a bright symphonic scherzo with unmistakable echoes of Coplandís Billy the Kid and El Salón Mexico, the Love described is a complex, anguished one, suffused with hope and careful optimism with occasional wafts of Philip Glass and Leonard Bernstein. The Boise Philharmonic Orchestra gives us a brilliant performance especially noteworthy for leader Susan Duncanís gorgeous singing solo phrases. The coughs and sneezes say little for Boise in November as a healthy place to live.

The Second Symphony is more extroverted still, being something of a public celebration for the City of Billings, named for Frederick Billings, the founder and President of Northern Pacific Railroad. This work in its nineteen sections is similar in form to Honeggerís Le Roi David or Waltonís Christopher Columbus, but briefer than either. In 1886 the Billings family was living in Vermont, their 25 year old son Parmly was living in Billings, Montana. He began a rail journey home, but fell ill and died in Chicago. The texts of the symphony are taken from family letters. The work begins with very effective and original railroad travel music that sounds nothing at all like either Honegger or Villa-Lobos, then stops abruptly to suggest the interrupted journey, and we hear the fragile, birdlike sound of the Native American flute suggesting the loneliness of the prairie, the loneliness of death. The solo piano plays a sad, wistful salon tune**. The lightest moment is the depiction of the 1886 Fourth of July celebration in Billings, described in Parmlyís letter home. Beginning with popular dances, then with a few bars of Yankee Doodle, the movement continues with authentic style Native American celebration music; in the cleverly crafted conclusion the melodic lines merge and we come to see that all this music is the same music. Now Parmlyís journey moves on to its tragic conclusion. Following the first alarming news of his illness, the anguished appeals of the mother and father are sung in canonic counterpoint. Then we hear hymns from the funeral, and a reprise of some of the earlier music in the finale.

That even the wealthy and powerful must experience tragedy, the shared tragedy of the illness of a child unites this symphony to the rest of Jim Cockeyís work. This Second Symphony is presented and recorded here live in the context of a municipal festival; on first hearing some inanities may obtrude. But on repeated hearings the force and power of music sweep all such considerations aside, and you are a stronger man than I if you are not on several occasions reduced to helpless tears.

The legendary R. Carlos Nakai receives credit in the liner notes, and it is likely that it is his development of the Native American flute (similar at times in sound to the Japanese shakuhachi) and appropriate performance practice that is being acknowledged. Suffice it say that Joseph Fire Crow, who has released a best selling solo CD album, plays this difficult instrument with all the skill and beauty of his illustrious predecessor. The instruments used in this performance were crafted by Barry White Crow Higgins.


Paul Shoemaker

*Most people would add the Harris Third, although Iíve just never warmed to this work. And just to complete my list: the Glass Symphonies do not represent his best work, gradually increase in quality up to number three, and have fallen down considerably since them. The Antheil, Thomson, and Cowell Symphonies are ingenious but difficult to remember. A good performance of the Ives Fourth Symphony is an experience never to be forgotten, nor repeated. The Bernstein Symphonies, again, are not his best music, and suggest that, like Samuel Barber and Arthur Sullivan, in the end his talent may have been vitiated by excessive praise. John Knowles Paine easily earned a B minus in the Write-Another-Mendelssohn-Symphony Contest.

**Whether this is an actual folk tune or an original composition is probably impossible to determine. It is made up of every emotional phrase from every folk-song you ever loved and as such pours right into you unimpeded by rational considerations.



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