“Laying Rails” from “California Collage”


"Laying Rails" was written in 2014, The piece portrays the building of the Transcontinental Railroad (1863-1869,) an engineering feat that dramatically changed geographic accessibility within the United States. ‘Laying Rails” involves a Chinese song: "Jasmine Flowers of the Sixth Moon," and an Irish song: "Drill Ye, Tarriers."

The Chinese and Irish workers represented many of the brave men who constructed the Transcontinental Railroad; "Drill Ye Tarriers" is a gritty, percussive song, depicting the dangerous and tedious job of laying rails. "Jasmine Flowers" is a more reflective song alluding to the men who left China to perform this laborious and often heroic work, and their sad, lonely wives at home. There was no guarantee that these men would return to China and many did not.  Both the Irish and Chinese workers were dedicated young men who did something remarkable.  They opened up the country. The piece begins with each song featured individually.  They later combine to demonstrate the unified efforts of diverse cultures to achieve this monumental goal.  The pianos are played in persistent quartal harmony (dissonant chords created by piling intervals of a 4th on top of each other) to describe the sound of pounding steel. The jagged sound later transforms into a gentle and flowing background to represent the more pensive moments after a long day of work. 

After “Laying Rails” received first prize in the MTAC 2015 Composers Today Competition, Martha Wall and her Marin County Chorus recorded this piece along with two magnificent pianists and two young percussionists. I created a slide show of authentic photographs of the era to accompany the music. Later, Daphe Saul combined the recording with the slides to produce the vimeo that can be seen on the media page of this website.

Again, I am honored that “California Collage” was performed by the East Bay Singers of California State University East Bay, Hayward, under the direction of Dr. Buddy James. The title of the concert was:  “Made in Hayward.” Concert recordings of "Journey for Gold" and "Laying Rails" can be found on the media page.