Paul Elwood: a forty-four smokeless

a forty-four smokeless was commissioned by Zeitgeist with funds from the American Composers Forum Jerome Commissioning Program in 2007. The ensemble requested a composition with five-string banjo; composer Paul Elwood wrote the banjo part for himself, and the piece is based on the Appalachian folk tune Little Sadie. Little is known about the factual events in the song about a man named Lee Brown who dispassionately murders a woman named Little Sadie. It is thought the events occurred in North Carolina because that is the only place where a town named Thomasville is only 60 miles from a town named Jericho, where Brown, in the song, says he ran after the murder. It is a curious tune in which the murderer expresses no remorse – and no reason for the killing is given. One verse of the song, not used in this composition, says “ Forty one days, forty one nights, forty one years to wear the ball and the stripes; I’ll be here for the rest of my life, and all I done was kill my wife.” In spite of the dark nature of the text, as is the case with many folk songs, the tune has entered the common repertoire of many bluegrass and old-time bands. Some melodic and harmonic material in the composition is derived from Little Sadie, but the piece also wanders freely amongst other musical material exploring the coloristic and harmonic combinations of the diverse instruments in the ensemble. The composition is dedicated to Zeitgeist.

Little Sadie (Traditional)

Went out one night for to make a little round
Ran into Little Sadie and I shot her down.
Went back home and got in my bed
A forty-four smokeless under my head.

Woke up the next mornin’ bout half past nine
The hacks and the buggies all standin’ in a line
The gents and the gamblers all standin’ around
Carryin’ Little Sadie to her buryin’ ground.

I began to think what a deed I done
I grab’d my hat and away I run
Gave a good run but a little too slow
They overtook me in Jericho.

Standin’ on the corner just a readin’ the bill
When up stepped the sheriff from Thomasville
He said “Young man ain’t your name Brown?
Remember that night you shot Sadie down?”

I said, “Yes sir, my name is Lee
And I murdered Little Sadie in the first degree.
First degree and second degree,
If you have any papers won’t you read ‘em to me.”

The took me downtown all dressed in black
To put me on the train and started me back
Cram me back in that Thomasville jail
And I had no money for to make my bail.

The judge and the jury they took their stand
The judge had the papers in his right hand
Forty one days and forty one nights
Forty one years to wear the ball and stripes

Performed by Zeitgeist (Heather Barringer and Patti Cudd, percussion; Pat O’Keefe, woodwinds; Shannon Wettstein, pno) and Paul Elwood, banjo and voice
Recorded at Wild Sound Recording Studio in Minneapolis in 2010.
Engineer: Matthew Zimmerman
Producer: Scott Miller
p. © Zeitgeist 2020. All Rights Reserved.
Time Ghost Records, 275 East Fourth Street, Ste 200;
St. Paul, MN 55101, USA

The music of Paul Elwood has been performed by the North Carolina Symphony, the Charleston Symphony, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Darius Milhaud Conservatoire, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra String Quartet, the Callithumpian Consort of the New England Conservatory, the Seattle Chamber Players, newEar New Music Ensemble, bouzouki player Roger Landes, Tambuco (the Mexican Percussion Quartet), Ensemble Signos (Mexico City), Dinosaur Annex, percussionist Daniel Moore, pianist Stephen Drury, banjoist Tony Trischka, Ensemble Signos, Zeitgeist, guitarist Jean-Marc Montera, and bassist Bertram Turetzky. Venues that have featured him as a performer of his music include the Cold Alternativa Festival of American Music in Moscow, the FORO international New Music Festival in Mexico City; the International Viola Congress in South Africa, Darmstadt Summer Courses; the Voltage Festival at the University of Wollongong, Australia; the AmBul Festival of American and Bulgarian Music, Sofia; the Nuit d’hiver in Marseille, France; Electronic Music Midwest, and the Third Practice Electroacoustic Festival at the University of Richmond.

Paul Elwood

He is a winner of the Sigma Alpha Iota Philanthropies Inter-American Music Awards, a Fellowship from the North Carolina Arts Council; a residency at the American Academy in Rome as Southern Regional Visiting Composer; and third place winner in the category for instruments and computer in the Third Edition Computer Music Competition “Pierre Schaeffer.” Support was awarded from the American Music Center Composers Assistance Program (2010); the Aaron Copland Fund for Music Recording Program (with Innova Records, 2010); and from the American Composers Forum Jerome Composers Commissioning Program (with Zeitgeist, 2008). He was awarded fellowships at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, New Mexico, the Frank Waters Foundation of Arroyo Seco, New Mexico, the Djerassi Foundation in California, the Ucross Foundation (Wyoming), Fundacion Valparaiso (Spain), and the MacDowell Colony, among others.

Elwood studied with percussionist J.C. Combs, and composers Donald Erb, David Felder, Walter Mays, Arthur S. Wolff, Charles Wuorinen, Peter Maxwell Davies, and Gunther Schuller, and is presently professor of music composition the University of Northern Colorado.