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Haunting, poignant and relentlessly physical, Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields is a lovingly detailed oratorio about turn-of-the-20th-century Pennsylvania coal miners, and a fitting recipient of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Music. NPR Music’s Tom Huizenga describes the piece as “...almost a public history project and a music project at the same time,” which hints at the work’s universal appeal.

Weaving together personal interviews that she conducted with miners and their families, along with oral histories, speeches, rhymes and local mining lore, Wolfe sought to honor the working lives of Pennsylvania’s anthracite region. “It’s not necessarily mainstream history,” she told NPR shortly after she received word of winning the Pulitzer. “The politics are very fascinating—the issues about safety, and the consideration for the people who are working and what’s involved in it. But I didn’t want to say, ‘Listen to this. This is a big political issue.’ It really was, ‘Here’s what happened. Here’s this life, and who are we in relationship to that?’ We’re them. They’re us. And basically, these people, working underground, under very dangerous conditions, fueled the nation. That’s very important to understand.”

Featuring the always adventurous Bang on a Can All-Stars and the renowned Choir of Trinity Wall Street, Anthracite Fields merges multiple styles with classical themes—from the deep, ambient sweep of the opening movement “Foundation” (with the All-Stars’ Mark Stewart wrenching waves of keening sound from his electric guitar) to the high-energy work-song mood of “Breaker Boys.” In the sociopolitically poignant “Speech”, inhumane mining conditions are addressed with Stewart taking the lead in haranguing rock vocals, while “Appliances” reflects with mechanical denouement on the economic results of coal power.


released September 25, 2015



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Track Name: Foundation
John Ace, John Art, John Ash,… Ayers, Bab, Backs, Baer, Bail, Bains, Ball, Ban, Banks, Barnes,
Barr, Bath, Baum, Bax, Bean, Beck, Bee, Bell, Best, Big, Bike, Birch, Bird, Black, Blain, Blair, Blick,
Bloom, Blough, Bock, Boggs, Boltz, Bone, Book, Boone, Booth, Boots, Boss, Bork, Boyd, Boz,
Brass, Bray, Breem, Brenn, Briggs, Brill, Brink, Britt, Broad, Brooks, Brown, Brush, Buck, Budd,
Bull, Bunn, Burke, Burns, Burt, Burt, Bush, Cain, Camp, Carl, Carp, Carr, Case, Char, Chase,
Childs, Christ, Clark, Clem, Cline, Cluff, Clune, Coates, Cole, Cone, Conn, Coon, Coots, Cope,
Cox, Coyle, Coyne, Crabb, Craig, Crane, Cray, Creech, Cresh, Croll, Crook, Cross, Crow, Cruse,
Crush, Cull, Dale, Danks, Dash, Dawe, Day, Deal, Dean, Deck, Derk, Derr, Dice, Dowe, Doyle,
Drake, Drew, Duke, Dumm, Dunn, Dykes, Eck, Edge, Emes, Erb, Fair, Faith, Farr, Faust, Feets,
Fern, Fife, Fink, Finn, Fitch, Flack, Fleas, Flesh, Flinn, Float, Flute, Folk, Forbes, Ford, Fox, Frank,
Freel, French, Frick, Frill, Fritz, Fry, Fuke, Gantz, Gaul, Gell, George, Gish, Glinn, Gluke, Glump,
Goff, Gold, Good, Grant, Grass, Gray, Green, Gregg, Grim, Grimes, Grip, Groom, Gross, Grove,
Guy, Gwynn, Hall, Hand, Hane, Hawk, Hayes, Head, Heal, Heist, Helm, Hess, Hill, Hines, Hog,
Holt, Homes, Hood, Hope, Howe, Hughes, Hunt, James, Jones, Joy, Judge, Lair, Lake, Lamb, Lane,
Lang, Lappe, Leach, Lee, Left, Link, Linn, Lloyd, Lock, Long, Lord, Loss, Lott, Lowe, Luke, Lume,
Lutz, Lynch, Lynn, Mack, Marks, Mates, Maul, May, Meck, Meese, Mick, Miles, Mill, Moore, Moss,
Mott, Nash, Neil, Ney, Nick, Niles, Noke, Noll, Noon, Nutt, Nye, Orr, Ortz, Paff, Pap, Parks, Paul,
Peace, Peel, Pierce, Pink, Pitz, Plant, Please, Plow, Pluck, Plum, Point, Pool, Pope, Posh, Pratt,
Price, Prone, Prush, Pyle, Pyne, Quinn, Rage, Rand, Rape, Ray, Read, Reap, Reese, Rhodes, Rice,
Rich, Ridge, Ring, Ripp, Rist, Roach, Robb, Rock, Roe, Roots, Rose, Ross, Rouse, Rudd,

The briny seas rose and fell, wide shallow seas.
Thick steamy swamps covered the earth.
The leaves and branches buried deep. Thick roots and trunks buried deep.
Buried deep inside the earth.
Layer upon layer upon layer buried deep.
Heat. Pressure. Time.

Massimino Santiarelli, Nicholas Scalgo, Edward Scutulis, Alfred Seabury, Jonathan Shoemaker,
Josiah Sibley, Emanuel Skidmore, Martin Sladovick, Andrew Smalley, Thomas Snedden,
Sylvester Sokoski, Benjamin Spade, Charles St. Clair, Ignatz Stancheski, James Henry Sullivan,
Anton Svanevich, Augustus Swanson, Olif Sweedbury, Anthony Sweeney, Lathrie Symmons,
Julius Tamanini, Lino Tarillia, Premo Tonetti, Bladis Tonatis, Rofello Tironzelli, Anthony Tonery,
Christian Ulrich, Theodore Valentine, Isaac VanBlaragan, Constantine Vickerell, Edwin Wagstaff,
August Yeager, Henry Youngcourt, Martian Yunman, Victor Zaimerovich, Ezekiel Zamoconie,
Ezekiel, Ezekiel, Ezekiel, Ezekiel.

* The names above appear on the list of the Pennsylvania Mining Accidents index 1869-1916 (from the Denver
Public Library Digital Collections) with the exception of Massimino Santiarelli who appeared in Growing Up in
Coal Country by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. The geographic description was adapted from information in the
book Big Coal by Jeff Goodell.
Track Name: Breaker Boys
Mickey Pick-Slate
early and late
Mickey, Mickey
that was the poor little breaker boys fate.
mickety pickety rickety tickety lickety splickety
kickety, kickety, kick, kick, kick, kick
Mickey, Mickey, Mickey, Mickey

eight years, nine years, ten years, twelve years,
six years, seven years, thirteen, fifteen, fourteen,
eleven, seventeen, eighteen, sixteen,
Mickey, Mickey, Mickey, Mickey
mickety pickety rickety tickety lickety splickety

“Oh what a place, you sat on a hard seat.
You didn’t dare cushion it, no matter.
You had to sit on that plain plank, no matter,
with your feet in the shoot, on a plain plank
bent over like this.
Well I’ll tell you it was very scary.
Believe me, believe me.

“I don’t know how in the world I got the nerve to
go there in the first place.
You didn’t dare say anything.
You didn’t dare quit,
because it was something to have a job at 8 cents
an hour.
You didn’t wear gloves.
You didn’t dare.
You weren’t allowed to wear gloves.

“Your fingernails, you had none.
The ends of them would be bleeding every day
from work,
bleeding every day.”*

Mickey Pick-Slate
early and late
that was the poor little breaker boys fate.
A poor simple woman at the breaker still waits
to bring home her poor little Mickey Pick-Slate.

inor minor mona mai
pascor lahra bonor bai
eggs butter cheese bread
stick stock stone dead

Stick ‘em up and stick ‘em down.
Stick ‘em in the old man’s crown.
Snail, snail come outa your hole
or else I’ll beat you black as coal,
black as coal, black as coal
stone dead, stone dead

Once a man and twice a boy,
oh you are my pride and joy.
Twice a boy and once a man,
catch me catch me if you can.
catch me, catch me
mickety pickety rickety tickety lickety splickety

slate picker, mule kicker, air thicker,
make you sicker,
sicker, sicker, sicker, sicker, sicker, sicker, sicker, sicker
mickety pickety rickety tickety lickety splickety

Ten little angels dressed in white
tryin’ to get to heaven on the tail of a kite,
but the kite string broke and down they fell.
Instead of going to heaven the went to…
heaven, heaven, heaven, heaven
nine little angels, eight little angels
heaven, heaven, heaven, heaven
seven little angels, six little angels

I am king of the castle. I am king.
I am king of the castle,
king of the castle. I am king.
I am king of the castle you are a dirty rascal.

*everything in quotes excerpted and adapted from an interview with Anthony (Shorty) Slick (breaker boy) from the film "America and Lewis Hine" directed by Nina Rosenblum, Daedalus Productions, Inc. Other text based on children’s street rhymes.
Track Name: Speech
If we must grind up human flesh and bones
in the industrial machine that we call modern America,
then before God I assert
that those who consume the coal
and you and I who benefit from that service because we live in comfort,
we owe protection to those men and we owe the security to their families if they die.

I say it, I voice it, I proclaim it
and I care not who in heaven or hell opposes it.
That is what I believe.
That is what I believe, I believe, I believe.
And the miners believe that.*

*adapted from a speech by John L. Lewis (head of the United Mine Workers) to the House Labor subcommittee
Track Name: Flowers
We all had flowers. We all had gardens.
Flowers, flowers, flowers, flowers.

Roses and lilies and violets and asters and
lilacs and tulips and dahlias and poppies and
pansies and bluebells and foxglove and
heather and larkspur and dogwood and zinnias and
lavender, irises, daffodils, peonies, crocuses, sunflowers,
hyacinth, hollyhocks, touch-me-not, baby’s breath,
azaleas, petunias, nasturtium, narcissus,
marigolds, snap dragons, sweet williams, bleeding hearts, magnolias,
chrysanthemums, wisteria, rhododendrons, geraniums, forsythia,
forget-me-not, gladiolas, portulacas, mountain laurel,
forget-me-not, forget-me-not, forget me, forget me, forget,
forget me not.

Inspired by an interview with Barbara Powell – daughter and granddaughter of coal miners, who grew up in a patch town in the Anthracite region.
Track Name: Appliance
Bake a cake. Drill a hole. Go to the gym. Heat your house.
Blend a drink. Blast your guitar. Dry your clothes. Turn on the light.
Ring me up. Toast a slice. Blow out your hair. Lock the safe.
Grind the beans. Shave your face. Run the dishwasher. Order a book.
Charge it to my card. Purify the air. Listen to your favorite song.
Call your girlfriend on the phone.

Juice an orange. Set your clock. Make some popcorn. Test your blood.
Watch a movie. Wash your clothes. Ride the subway. Boil some water.
Push the buzzer. Get directions. Replace a knee. Vacuum the rug.
Take a hot steaming shower. Send a message.

Grind, shave, run, blow, heat, drill, blast, turn, ring, blend, lock, dry
Bake, bake, bake, bake, bake a cake, bake a cake.

Phoebe Snow about to go
on a trip to Buffalo
Phoebe, Phoebe
“My gown stays white from morn till night. My gown stays white.
On the road to Anthracite.” *

* Phoebe Snow was a fictitious New York socialite created by Ernest Elmo Calkins (D.L.&W.) in 1900 for an advertising campaign for the Lakawana coal-powered railroad. Her image was accompanied by short rhymes like the one in the last paragraph above.