Duration: ca. 25'
Commissioned by the Dallas Chamber Symphony
Premiere Date: January 20, 2018, Dallas, TX
On June 19, 1937, blues guitarist Robert Johnson arrived at the recording studios of 508 Park Avenue in Dallas. It was in this studio that Johnson, along with numerous other musicians, created some of the foundational blues recordings of the early 20th century. At this session, Johnson’s output included “Stones in my Passway” and “Me & the Devil Blues”; several months earlier, in November 1936, he had recorded “Cross Road Blues” in San Antonio. Legend tells that Johnson sold his soul to the Devil at a crossroads for mastery of the guitar. Supernatural gift or no, Johnson lived his life at the crossroads—like many blues musicians, he was a traveller, itinerant: homeless.
Across from 508 Park Avenue stands The Stewpot, a day resource center serving homeless and at-risk persons in downtown Dallas. It served its first meal in 1975, and, from 1987 to 2017, had as its Executive Director the Rev. Dr. Bruce Buchanan, my father. During my father’s tenure—when he retired, he had served The Stewpot for 30 years and was the longest-serving pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas—the ministry grew from serving lunch to including dental, medical, and psychiatric care, casework services, ID programs, and more. Upstairs in second floor of The Stewpot, art is created: clients can learn drawing and painting and can sell their creations to earn income; they can also write for and sell Streetzine, a street newspaper. And, on October 1, 2014, the Dallas Street Choir, led by Jonathan Palant, had its first rehearsal at The Stewpot. Now as many as a hundred singers are welcomed each Wednesday to make music together.
I grew up with these crossroads at Park and Young, going back and forth between the Church, the Stewpot, and, in 2011, 508 Park Avenue, when my father and mother began the process of saving and renovating the building which housed the historic blues recording studio. At these particular crossroads one can observe facets of Dallas’ life; its past, present, and future; citizens with much, and citizens with little; experiences of regret and loss, and places of hope and healing.
During high school and college, my brother Benjamin and I participated in many service activities at The Stewpot. One aspect that was particularly formative was making music in the summer concerts offered for Stewpot clients, wherein formed the first incarnations of the Street Choir. When the Dallas Chamber Symphony and I received the TACA Bowdon and Embrey Family Foundations Artist Residency Grant, allowing me to serve as 2016-2018 Composer-in-Residence, I knew I wanted to draw on these experiences to write a piece that spoke to these crossroads experiences. This work would draw upon Dallas’ past and present, and weave together the instrumentalists of the Chamber Symphony with the singers of the Street Choir.
The capstone work of my 2016-2018 residency with the Dallas Chamber Symphony, Crossroads is divided into three movements. Glass, Wind, and Steel functions as an overture, setting the emotional stage and introducing the backdrop of motivic material to be heard later in the work. The movement begins with jagged, angular motives, building to a towering statement that incorporates a musical motto spelling the word “Dallas;” this serves as the generative material of the movement. The opening passages give way to a rapid, moving section, hinting at material to be re-introduced in the second and third movements; this section builds again to return to the opening material.
Simply titled Blues, the second movement pays homage to the history of blues in Dallas, represented particularly by Robert Johnson. The choir intones a refrain which is restated, each time higher and more intensely, throughout the movement. Blues also incorporates poetry from Rickey Redd, a Stewpot client whose work was included in the collection Echoes, a Streetzine publication. The mournful refrain leads to the movement’s climax, followed by a coda that lapses into a bitter chord.
The third movement, Inasmuch, proceeds without pause from the second movement. Inasmuch—a byword at The Stewpot—is heard in the Gospel of Matthew: “Inasmuch as you have you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” This final movement incorporates original poetry by members of the Dallas Street Choir, who were invited to write texts as part of this project. We first hear a poem by Handunnetti da Silva which moves from dour reality to a hope for the future, accompanied by string chords which gently warm the texture and statements in the winds which hint at the closing material of the movement. A ballad follows, the core of the movement, with text by Debra Scott, followed by a refrain written by Christina Boyer. This leads to the final cadence of the work, incorporating a musical dedication to all those who made this piece possible: the Dallas Chamber Symphony, D-C-S (“S” in German notation is Es, or E-flat); the Dallas Street Choir, “D-S-C”; my father, Bruce Allan Buchanan (“B-A-B”); and, the city of Dallas itself.
The nature of crossroads is that they serve as a locus of difference—a meeting place for disparate times, peoples, and places—hence the profusion of styles (contemporary Classical, Blues, and Pop) heard throughout the piece. Crossroads also serve to move us to someplace different and new. The three movements of Crossroads move from images of unforgiving buildings and streets to a message of acceptance and love. It is an invitation to move towards positive personal and social change, creating those spaces in our lives and in our cities where the past and the present, those known and those unknown, and all from many different paths can each be truly honored.
— Douglas Buchanan
"But the biggest cheers of the night were reserved for the final piece, the premiere of Douglas Buchanan’s Crossroads. Composer Buchanan, who was raised in Dallas, has a lifelong connection to Dallas’ homeless population: his father was Executive Director of the Stewpot, and the younger Buchanan volunteered there as a teen. Thus it seems a natural fit that he would compose a piece that DCS could perform with the Dallas Street Choir, a group comprised of homeless and disadvantaged Dallasites, founded and directed by Jonathan Palant….If the purpose of the evening was to remind us of the individual personhood of the homeless, I can hardly think of a better way to achieve that purpose."
— J. Robin Coffelt, Theatre Jones (Dallas, TX)
A rehearsal preview of "Crossroads," with music by Douglas Buchanan and poetry by Dallas Street Choir member Christina Boyer, sung by the Dallas Street Choir under the direction of Jonathan Palant.
Crossroads, for Street Choir and Orchestra