On Friday and Saturday (May 30 and 31) I’ll be part of a performance of Julia Wolfe's ANTHRACITE FIELDS with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Bang on a Can All-Stars, presented by The New York Philharmonic. Details here.
The piece, which takes the form of extended oratorio for ensemble and choir, explores the relationship of America to coal. In our rehearsals Julia Wolfe reminded us that still over 50% of American electricity comes from coal. Over 50%! I had never even heard of “anthracite”; I only knew it as “clean coal” - coal that burns cleaner and brighter than other less pure forms of this addictive carbon compound. Although today “anthracite” sounds like a parasite or a disease, it used to be a commonplace advertising term.
In the last movement, the basses sing a fun 3 against 4 ostinato to the words “Phoebe Snow about to go on the train to Buffalo.” In the rehearsal I had no clue what this was about. It turns out that Phoebe Snow was a fictional character, a lady dressed all in white, who was able to take the train all the way from Hoboken to Buffalo without getting soot on her clothes. The revolution of anthracite combustion made this clean trip possible. Above are a series of advertisements I found that play homage to anthracite as Phoebe revels in her enjoyable trip.