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Gumboots

composer
2008

 
There is a paradox in music, and indeed all art—the fact that life-enriching art has been produced, even inspired by conditions of tragedy, brutality and oppression, a famous example being Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, written while he was in a prisoner of war camp. Gumboot Dancing bears this trait—it was born out of the brutal labour conditions in South Africa under Apartheid, in which black miners were chained together and wore gumboots (wellington boots) while they worked in the flooded gold mines, because it was cheaper for the owners to supply the boots than to drain the floodwater from the mine. Apparently slapping the boots and chains was used by the workers as a form of communication which was otherwise banned in the mine, and this later developed into a form of dance. If the examples of Gumboot Dancing available online are anything to go by, it is characterised by a huge vitality and zest for life. So this for me is a striking example of how something beautiful and life-enhancing can come out of something far more negative. Of course this paradox has a far simpler explanation—the resilience of the human spirit.

My Gumboots is in two parts of roughly equal length, the first is tender and slow moving, at times ‘yearning’; at times seemingly expressing a kind of tranquility and inner peace. The second is a complete contrast, consisting of five, ever-more-lively ‘gumboot dances’, often joyful and always vital.

However, although there are some African music influences in the music, I don’t see the piece as being specifically ‘about’ the gumboot dancers, if anything it could be seen as an abstract celebration of the rejuvinating power of dance, moving as it does from introspection through to celebration. I would like to think however, that the emotional journey of the piece, and specifically the complete contrast between the two halves will force the listener to conjecture some kind of external ‘meaning’ to the music—the tenderness of the first half should ‘haunt’ us as we enjoy the bustle of the second; that bustle itself should force us to question or revaluate the tranquility of the first half. But to impose a meaning beyond that would be stepping on dangerous ground—the fact is you will choose your own meaning, and hear your own story, whether I want you to or not.

from notes by David Bruce © 2008

Recordings

Bruce: Gumboots; Brahms: Clarinet Quintet
Studio Master: SIGCD448Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Details

Movement 1: Part one
Movement 2: Dance I
Movement 3: Dance II
Movement 4: Dance III
Movement 5: Dance IV
Movement 6: Dance V

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