1. Dusk in the Black Hills
Shadows of bison and antelope slip quietly among black trees and rocky pinnacles, outlines lit orange from the west and indistinct in the growing blue darkness of the east. Lapping at animals and trees and rocks like an approaching tide are waves of purple flowers whose scent is something ancient and primordial. The world is transformed.
2. Gospel Road
This tune came to me years ago, long before I had ever been in the South, but now that I have, it seems a natural soundtrack to the Natchez Trace Parkway, winding along an old Native American trade route through Mississippi with its cypress swamps and conifer forests.
3. Waltz in B minor
It was Chopin who taught me to love waltzes, and his influence is strong in this piece. I hope it possesses just a little of the bittersweet elegance of his music.
4. Lullaby/Waltz in C
Another piece I’ve been tinkering with for years. I always felt it was a story, a sweeping, cinematic one, set in a snowbound city, something about human tenderness huddled desperately against cold winds and fiery battles outside.
5. Evening Rain
Dull glow of setting sun burns heavy and thick behind a curtain of warm rain, and so the day closes, ends in rest.
6. Will the Circle Be Unbroken (traditional, arr. Luke Hopkins)
This song belongs to some of my earliest memories, hiking mountain trails with my family in a state park in southern Pennsylvania. The tune is haunting, the words mournful, simple, and beautiful.
7. Go Tell It on the Mountain (traditional, arr. Luke Hopkins)
What a lovely old spiritual this is. It makes the ancient light of the Nativity a home amid the fading coal towns, rocky farms, and dark valleys of the Appalachians.
8. Peaceable Kingdom (Dona Nobis Pacem/Down by the Riverside, traditional, arr. Luke Hopkins)
I was hoping to be the first person to set “Dona Nobis Pacem” to a drawling ragtime beat, but I’m probably not. “Down by the Riverside” is a wonderful tune and a natural complement, reminding us that as we ask for peace, we must first be willing to lay down our arms.
9. Wondrous Love (traditional, arr. Luke Hopkins)
How I love this song. A few years ago, I attended weekly shape-note singings at a Mennonite church in State College, and “Wondrous Love” came up again and again, often at my request.
This tune entered my head when I lived in Minnesota, which is a lovely state but lacking in mountains. I was at the time reading a memoir by an Appalachian author and the thought of hazy slopes looming over shadowy creek valleys brought forth the melody heard here.
Bonus track: Philly Traffic
I hate traffic, but I have for the past two years lived in Philadelphia, so there’s no escaping it. But only a mile away is the Wissahickon Creek Valley, a wooded gorge which can make you forget it runs through the middle of a city.