Creation, Residency & Premiere of
Texas composer Rudy Davenport (see bio), originally from Western
North Carolina, and Delilah Elsen, (see bio) spent many hours working
on this major chamber music work, BYNA: Life Songs of a Southern
Appalachian Woman of Cherokee Descent for soprano, oboe, cello and
piano. The lyrics for BYNA come from a play of the same title, written
by Elsen, also originally from Western North Carolina. Byna’s
songs are based on the character’s life experiences as a Southern
Appalachian mountain woman of Cherokee descent. Byna is a fictional
character, representative of the many women of Cherokee descent of her
era—from the early 1900s-70/80/90s—who lived in the mountains
their entire lives. The Byna we meet is deeply in tune with the beauty
and the natural world around her; she is in her late 60s, has lived
in a small cabin in the woods for most of her life and has recently
lost her husband of 50+ years. Davenport and Elsen, after much discussion,
created lyrics which preserve Byna’s native dialect (in the best
possible sense). They settled on 10 passages from the play for Byna’s
Life Songs. Altogether, Davenport set 11 sets of lyrics, or songs; 10
of these pieces are original songs, and 1 piece is an arrangement of
Byna’s favorite old gospel hymn. The work also features four original
instrumental interludes, bringing the total number to 15 pieces. Performance
time for this work runs just over one hour.
Now the score has been finalized. Byna’s Life Songs not only give voice to an older mountain woman’s profound memories and perspectives, but also reminds us all of the history and the deep cultural heritage that sprang from the Southern Appalachian region unique in all America as the original homeland of the Cherokees. BYNA begins with an instrumental prelude—The Heart of the Mountains, which is precisely where the composer and librettist want the listener to be. Through her Life Songs, Byna tells us about her present life, but she often reminisces and entertains us with stories from her past. She tells us about the people she loves and events which have been important in her life—about her wedding day, the day Robert died, her Daddy’s fiddle, her Mother’s quilt, the day she sat under the hemlocks with her full-blood Cherokee Grandmother, who as a child hid out with her family in the mountains to keep from being driven off to Oklahoma during the Removal; and Byna turns back to one spring day, “when childhood seemed t’rise up from the fields.”
As Elsen was inspired by the traditions of her mountain heritage and Byna’s place within that heritage, Davenport, has also tapped into the wells of his mountain upbringing and his years of experience developing his style of Appalachian inspired music. Byna’s words set to Davenport’s music truly make for a dynamic musical experience and is sure to be an inspiration to all who Byna: Life Songs of a Southern Appalachian Woman of Cherokee Descent.
a strong conceptual project which has a tremendous potential for appeal.
Davenport and Elsen were interested in creating a work that is highly
accessible and would be a profoundly moving artistic and cultural offering.
Davenport’s music has proved to be highly accessible to listeners,
both in terms of age, and in terms of listening quality. “It
is gratifying to have found a creative talent who writes music of sensitivity,
deep feeling and with a special gift for melody.” Dr. Larry
Palmer, Professor of Music, Southern Methodist University. “…The
first public hearing of Songs of the Bride moved the audience to tears.” Dr.
partnered with businesses specializing in Native American crafts
who exhibited Cherokee crafts and baskets in the lobby prior to concerts.
We partnered with the Cherokee Qualla Arts and Crafts Co-op who installed
a basket exhibit in the lobby of the Porter Center two weeks prior
to the NC premiere. We have involved individual Cherokee artists
in pre-concert exhibits prior to most of the BYNA concerts. Indeed,
one of the project goals was to enable Cherokee artists to be a part
of this project, providing them and their art/craft an avenue into
the wider community.
TRAIL was a segment of the primary path used by the Cherokee from
the Overhill region around “CHOTA,” which is close to
Monroeville, TN, crossing over the mountains leading in the southeasterly
direction down to the Lower Settlements in present day South Carolina
and in the southwesterly direction into Georgia. This
diverging path touches 4 states in the Southern Appalachian region
of the original Cherokee territory, was the primary path used by
the first traders coming up from the SC Colony and most likely was
the path used by Sir Alexander Cumming who made a tour of the Cherokee
nation in 1730. The second title pays tribute to a Forest and a River,
an important part of the region: NANTAHALA: NUNDAYEL: FLOWING RIVER
IN THE LAND OF THE MIDDAY SUN: (Nantahala means: Land of the Midday
Sun in the Cherokee language.)
NOTES FOR FUTURE BYNA ENSEMBLES
been labeled, "Appalachian Romanticism." The
work has strong theatrical elements, as the text was taken from a
play and tells, in broad terms, the story of Byna’s life. The
words reveal intimate, dramatic moments from her present and past
life. The composer’s music purposefully and dramatically accentuates
the words and very effectively captures the drama of the words and
the mood of Byna’s surroundings, setting up dramatic elements
which are rare in chamber music.