Gwyneth Walker

Off to the Races!

for Woodwind Quintet (2012)

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Off to the Races! is a set of three American songs adapted for woodwind quintet. The common theme is horse racing. The music was created to celebrate the composer's trip to Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky -- a state famous for its races.

The first movement is based on the Stephen Foster song, "Camptown Races." This new arrangement features horse-racing sights and sounds. Frequent tremoli in the instruments may suggest a horse shaking her mane in anticipation of a race. Later, slaps on the leg are intended to simulate (gentle) cracks of the whip.

In the middle of this movement (perhaps in the middle of the race itself!), the horse takes time to prance quite proudly...before galloping to the finish line.

"Stewball Was a Race Horse" is a folksong with British origins leading to American versions dating back to the 19th century. Stewball was a colorful horse. "He never drank water. He always drank wine." And he was a winner! "Ahead of them all was my noble Stewball." He was a proud horse, often prancing and dancing.

The musical form follows that of the seven stanzas of the lyrics: 1. introducing Stewball, 2. praising his worth, 3. his prancing and dancing, 4. the rider in the saddle, 5. the race itself, 6. lamenting lost income from not betting on Stewball, and 7. proud recap of the first stanza. Although the simple melody is present in every verse, the mood and style of each statement varies to reflect the lyrics.

The last movement, "The Home Stretch," is based on two familiar American songs which the audience will recognize through careful listening. These songs both speak of "home." They describe a home which remains unchanged over time, much as horse-racing has remained a long-standing tradition. Thus, with fondness and nostalgia, the race draws to a close.

Notes by the composer