Lindsay Davidson 
Driving 'piping forward

Rev Dr Charles W KErr image
Tulsa

A Bagpipe Opera in Three Acts

Libretto in Scots by Dr Tom Hubbard

Music by Dr Lindsay Davidson

The story of Rev. Dr Charles Kerr and his part in the 1921 Tulsa Race War.

Click here to download information pack in word
Click here to download information pack as pdf

Duration 1 hour 30 minutes plus break..

Orchestration 2222 433 timp 2 harps perc (optional) highland bagpipes, borderpipes in A, smallpipes in A, strings
8 soloists plus choir

Chamber version instrumentation: Oboe, 2 trumpets, horn, trombone, tuba, timpani, roto toms, bass drum, susp. cymbals (1 percussionist), highland bagpipes, A smallpipes, Bb smallpipes, A borderpipes, strings (43321)

When The Much Honoured Baron of Ardgowan asked for this I had no reservations. However, an opera is a big challenge. The first task was to figure out what a Bagpipe Opera might be.

Finally I came up with this:

An opera in which all of the musical material is derived from the musical language of the pipes, as opposed to an opera which uses bagpipes extensively.

Having said that, bagpipes are used quite often, and critically there are two piobaireachds embedded in the score, one of which is obvious, the other less so. The musical language of the pipes is extended somewhat to give fuller possibilities for the orchestra and so one may describe the harmony as 'alternative pentatonic' - five fifths piled on top of each other, with one or more dimunitions to control and vary tension in the sound, progressing modally and modulating freely. This language is contrasted with much more conventional 18th century harmony to mark out the two main groups of characters - those who are conducting the race war, and those who are opposed. Of course, at times the two languages mix and here lies the musical subtext.

Synopsis by librettist Tom Hubbard

Tulsa

The work opens with a song in a negro spiritual style, followed by the projection of a racist headline in Tulsa’s local newspaper. The editor, Richard Lloyd-Jones, struts in front of the image. Act One proper opens in the manse of the Rev. Charles Kerr; he and his wife Anna sing of their courting days in a beautiful American landscape, and he expresses his pride in his Scottish ancestry. A darker note enters as they consider their struggle to obtain a new church building and the narrow-mindedness of the prominent white citizens of Tulsa. Charles thunders against those who invoke Scottish Highland tradition to legitimise the Ku Klux Klan and other unsavoury Southern customs. There is a grimly comic intrusion of Filmer M. Kludd, one of the elders of Charles’s church and an ingratiating social climber. This is followed by the entrance of the pastor who serves the parish of Greenwood, Tulsa’s African-American neighbourhood. He announces that a young black man has been falsely accused of assaulting a young white woman and has been taken to the county gaol, and requests Charles’s help in ensuring that justice will prevail.

Act One, Scene Two, consists of Charles’s confrontation with the lynch mob on the steps of the county courthouse. Scene Three is occupied by the ‘conspiracy scene’ between Lloyd-Jones, the police chief Rollingberry and the President of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and oil magnate Zebulon S. Cake. The oil interests need a branch railroad line and other service installations for the wells, and intend to grab the land occupied by Greenwood. A plan to ethnically-cleanse the area is put into effect. The act ends with a menacing chant by KKK members and their fellow-travellers.

Act Two begins peacefully enough with an evocation of a balmy southern night in the Greenwood neighbourhood. There is more music in African-American style, infused with Scottish elements, not least in the deployment of the opera’s leading instrumental feature – the bagpipes. However, the music becomes steadily more menacing and the opera’s climax is reached with projection of images of the actual race riots in Tulsa during 1921. Act Two, Scene Two takes us inside the Holy Rood sanctuary of Charles’s church; Charles had been inspired by the sanctuary of Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh. Charles, Anna and Greenwood survivors tend those injured during the attacks on Greenwood. The Greenwood pastor reports on atrocities committed by the racist mob; the victims include old people and children. Among the dead is the people’s own champion, Dr Jackson, the physician to the neighbourhood. Charles and Anna return to the manse for a well-earned rest; Charles sings a ballad on the legend of King David I’s foundation of Holyrood. At the end of the act, more outrages are revealed, and there is an alternation of two images representing a struggle of good and evil: the Holyrood stag’s antlers-and-cross motif, and the KKK’s fiery cross. Charles apostrophises Tulsa with anxious, angry questions. 

Act Three: Charles and the pastor approach the stage from the back of the auditorium, walking up the aisles between the audience. They inspect the ruins of the black people’s church. Charles offers his existing church building, inadequate as it is, to the pastor’s surviving congregation as well as his own – that is to say, whatever will be left of his white congregation, in view of his notoriety as a ‘nigger-lover’. The scene changes to the manse, where Charles, Anna and the pastor have foregathered. Enter Filmer Kludd with an offer from the elders – Charles will get his new church, provided he renounces his support for the blacks and aids the re-apprehension of the young black falsely accused of rape (during the confusion at the time of the riots, the black World War I veterans were able to spring the young man from gaol before a lynch mob was able to reach it). Charles makes no secret of his joy that the boy has escaped and - as Lloyd-Jones with his co-conspirators enter to check on Kludd’s progress - he dismisses them and their offer with cold contempt. Charles turns to the pastor and embraces him as a brother minister; their material resources will be limited, but their joint congregation will be the sign of their moral victory. Charles speculates on the future of race relations in the USA, against a backdrop of images of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement of the 1960s and of the new threats of the 21st century.

Sample

Please click here to listen to an extract (MP3 format) from Act 1 performed by Celtic Triangle, Katarzyna Wiwer-Monita (soprano), Irena Czubek-Davidson, Lindsay Davidson (smallpipes). Anna here portrays a picture of the idealism with which settlers came to America and Oklahoma and is joined by Charles (here replaced by smallpipes) for an idyllic duet...

For the singers out there, please note that the original pitch of this is a whole tone lower than the sample, which has been specially arranged to include smallpipes (which can only play in one key) where they do not play in this section of the opera.
The composition of The World's First Bagpipe Opera, "TULSA', about Dr. Kerr's actions in the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot has been widely commented upon in the general British press:

•See 'History's Secret' by Catherine Deveney in the 10th February 2002 issue
of Scotland on Sunday at

http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/spectrum.cfm?id=153422002

•'Scottish Composer Breaks New Ground' in 28th April 2003 issue of The Guardian at

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,944708,00.html

•'Oklahoma! How the World's First-ever Bagpipe Opera will be set in America:

Story of US race riots to be backed by skirl of pipes', 27 April 2003 issue of The Sunday Herald at

 http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4156/is_20030427/ai_n12582853

Likewise, composition of this opera has received favourable comment by the
Presbyterian Church of the USA:

•'Tulsa - Like you've Never Heard it Before", May/June 2003 issue of
'Perspectives' at

http://www.pcusa.org/oga/perspectives/mayjune03/tulsa.htm

•'A Scot Presbyterian Minister-Hero', 10th April 2002 issue of 'Witherspoon
on the Web' at

http://www.witherspoonsociety.org/scot_in_tulsa.htm

•'My grandfather was Dr. Charles W. Kerr', archive May 2003 issue of
'Perspective' at

http://www.pcusa.org/oga/perspectives/archive/may03.htm

Disclaimer

The  dramatic  action  of  this  Libretto  is  a  fictional  interpretation  based  upon  the  spirit  of  the  actions  taken  by  Dr.  Charles  W.  Kerr in  the  1921  Tulsa  Race  War  ...   the  length  and  detail  of  which  had  to  be  abridged  and  re-interpreted  in  the  libretto  for  practical  artistic  reasons.

For a fuller account and testimony of Rev Dr Kerr please go to the dedicated page on the Baron of Ardgowan's website:

www.kerr-of-ardgowan.com/Christian-Testimony.html
  

About Tulsa:

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lindsaydavidson@lindsaydavidson.co.uk