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Breakthrough: Uncle Tom's Blues

In the midst of reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Luke Peterson ’19 got the blues — and then wrote the blues.

Inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s seminal work, Peterson, a student in Associate Professor Jay Grossman’s “Big Books” seminar, rushed to the piano and crafted a blues composition that he called “Feelings of Living Property.” 

The piece is a nod to the novel’s fifth chapter, when the title character is brutally sold from one slave owner to another. 

“The song starts on a long pickup that’s high, and then falls down rather suddenly. Then in the middle, there’s a sizable leap in melody. It’s symbolic of Tom’s life,” Peterson explains.  

“He’s a man who starts in a relatively stable place before getting pushed down multiple times until his ultimate death. When the melody picks back up, I wanted it to represent his flight back home to heaven.”

A jazz drummer as well as a math and physics major, Peterson has long been intrigued by the storytelling power of music.

“I wanted to express how I felt about the things happening in the book, and how the book’s characters must have felt as well,” Peterson says. “Blues seemed fitting because it was common for slaves to sing together, and a lot of gospel and blues music flows from those experiences.”

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