In 1956, Max Hunter, a traveling salesman from Springfield, Missouri, took his reel-to-reel tape recorder into the backwoods of the Ozark Mountains. Over the course of the next 20 years, he recorded and catalogued over 1600 folk songs as sung by the people who lived in those rugged hills of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas.
While browsing this collection, I was struck by the beautiful simplicity of the voices of those Missouri and Arkansas folks who shared their talents and recollections with Hunter. However, one song in particular caught my attention. In 1963 Hunter recorded Nancy Philley of Fayetteville, Arkansas singing The Devil’s Nine Questions. What really intrigued me about this recording was the stark contrast between Philley’s pure voice and the dark subject matter of the lyrics. This contrast inspired me to compose this piece, which uses the original folk tune as a melodic cornerstone, and programmatically addresses each of the nine questions and answers.
As a native of the Ozarks countryside, this piece took on a special importance for me. In the process of composing this work, I realized that it actually represented many of the feelings I associate with being separated from the people and places that I love. Among these emotions are nostalgia, fear, anger, and longing.