Jessie Montgomery (Jiyang Chen Photography)

About the Piece

Instrumentation: String Orchestra

Duration: 8 min

Program Note:

Strum is the culminating result of several versions of a string quintet I wrote in 2006. It was originally written for the Providence String Quartet and guests of Community MusicWorks Players, then arranged for string quartet in 2008 with several small revisions. In 2012 the piece underwent its final revisions with a rewrite of both the introduction and the ending for the Catalyst Quartet in a performance celebrating the 15th annual Sphinx Competition.

Originally conceived for the formation of a cello quintet, the voicing is often spread wide over the ensemble, giving the music an expansive quality of sound. Within Strum I utilized texture motives, layers of rhythmic or harmonic ostinati that string together to form a bed of sound for melodies to weave in and out. The strumming pizzicato serves as a texture motive and the primary driving rhythmic underpinning of the piece. Drawing on American folk idioms and the spirit of dance and movement, the piece has a kind of narrative that begins with fleeting nostalgia and transforms into ecstatic celebration.

— Jessie Montgomery

Conductor’s Perspective

The work is quite advanced and requires a good quartet of principal players for the solo parts, but doable with a good string section and very rewarding for the musicians. I have done it with the Georgia Tech Symphony Orchestra (a non-music major all-campus orchestra) right after the pandemic and it was a great success. The energy of the music prevails and is very exciting to perform. The mixed meter could be challenging for string players, but once the ensemble gets the groove and the feel of the music, the music clicks well together. A fuller string section will work better than a smaller one, though.

About the Composer

Jessie Montgomery’s growing body of work includes solo, chamber, vocal and orchestral pieces, commissioned by such organizations as the Albany Symphony, American Music Festival, Chicago Sinfonietta, Joyce Foundation, National Symphony Orchestra, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Sphinx Organization, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Young People’s Chorus of New York. The first recording devoted to her music, Strum: Music for Strings, was released by Azica Records in 2015.

Jessie has been named the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Mead Composer-in-Residence through June 2024. Her music interweaves classical music with elements of vernacular music, improvisation, language, and social justice, placing her squarely as one of the most relevant interpreters of 21st-century American sound and experience. Her profoundly felt works have been described as “turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life” (The Washington Post).

Visit the composer’s website for more:

Performance Materials

Instrumentation: String Orchestra

Duration: 8 min

String Quartet / Quintet version can be purchased from Notation Central

String Orchestra version: full score can be purchased here, and performance materials can be rented from Notation Central (click for email)

Note that the string orchestra version is slightly different from the string quintet version, as some sessions in the orchestra version has division or solo-tutti, facilitating the ensemble playing.

Perusal Score (as shown on the publisher’s website)


Recording on YouTube with Anna-Maria Helsing conducting the string section of the Philharmonia Orchestra