Black Diamond Express Train to Hell by Schott_NY published on 2011-08-01T16:02:16Z Douglas J. Cuomo Black Diamond Express Train to Hell (2010) concerto for cello and sampled sermon 1(pic)1.1.1-188.8.131.52-timp.2perc-hp-sampler-str 18’ Black Diamond Express Train to Hell, a double concerto for cello and sampled sermon, is based on folk sources, à la Bartok or Kodaly, but from an American perspective. In this case the source material is a ﬁery sermon by the Reverend A. W. Nix that was released as a 78 rpm record in 1927. Rev. Nix, a Chicago-based African-American preacher with a large following, released over ﬁfty sermons on the Vocalion label; recorded sermons such as these, marketed to African-American clientele as “race records” in the 20ʼs and 30ʼs, sold tens of thousands of copies and provided African-Americans one of the few available outlets of expression in the popular culture of the time. Exhorting with an unrelenting intensity, Nixʼs performance calls to mind both spirituals and rural blues shouting. Its save-yourself-from-damnation message (“You got to get off that train!”) is delivered in a heightened style of speech that threatens to explode into singing at any moment from the pressure of itʼs own building momentum. The sound and content of the recording vividly evoke American life during prohibition and the depression, the history of commercial recordings, and the place of music and religion in the African-American experience. My piece is a fantasia based on this sermon; the original recording has been sampled, edited and reordered to form a new “vocal part” that is performed on an electronic keyboard, each key triggering a different phrase of the sermon. The solo cello variously prods, leads, follows, intertwines with and comments upon the recontextualized sermon. The orchestra presents its own themes, and often interrupts the general proceedings by asserting itself with short, loud chordal outbursts. The interaction between cello, recording, and orchestra builds throughout the piece, leading up to a dramatic cello cadenza which eventually dissolves into a ghostly rendition of a traditional spiritual “All My Sins Been Taken Away” played in the highest register of the instrument. The orchestra returns quietly, supporting an electronically slowed-down version of that same hymn, which is performed by Rev. Nix at the end of the original 78 recording. While the use of pre-existing recorded material in this fashion is a new compositional technique for me, Black Diamond Express Train To Hell is in a larger sense a continuation of one of my main preoccupations as a composer -- exploring the ecstatic in music. Here the ecstatic element is present in both Rev. Nixʼs sermon and the celloʼs response.