Monday, June 21, 2010

Text Discussion #9: Dirge for Two Veterans - Drum Taps

Dirge for Two Veterans

          The last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish'd Sabbath,
On the pavement here, and there beyond it is looking,
          Down a new-made double grave.

          Lo, the moon ascending,
Up from the east the silvery round moon,
Beautiful over the house-tops, ghastly, phantom moon,
          Immense and silent moon.

          I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-key'd bugles,
All the channels of the city streets they're flooding,
          As with voices and with tears.

          I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring,
And every blow of the great convulsive drums,
          Strikes me through and through.

          For the son is brought with the father,
(In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell,
Two veterans son and father dropt together,
          And the double grave awaits them.)

          Now nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive,
And the daylight o'er the pavement quite has faded,
          And the strong dead-march enwraps me.

          In the eastern sky up-buoying,
The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumin'd,
('Tis some mother's large transparent face,
          In heaven brighter growing.)

          O strong dead-march you please me!
O moon immense with your silvery face you sooth me!
O my soldiers twain! O my veterans passing to burial!
          What I have I also give you.

          The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music,
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
          My heart gives you love.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Quick Comment on Comments

It looks like there is steady readership building (albeit a small one, but we're new!), and now that we're talking about poetry, I'd like to invite you to comment on my interpretations, your interpretation, or whatever in the comment section.  One of the reasons I started this blog was to tap into other people's readings of these poems.  Honestly, those other interpretations can inform my interpretation.  Plus, I really enjoy the back and forth that can happen when two or three informed decisions come together.

So, if you disagree with me, don't be afraid to say long as it's in a civil tone.  I don't mind listening to other points of view, and if I don't agree with you, I'll respectfully tell you why as we discuss our differing opinions.


Text Discussion #8: A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim - Drum Taps

A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim

A sight in camp in the daybreak gray and dim,
As from my tent I emerge so early sleepless,
As slow I walk in the cool fresh air the path near by the hospital tent,
Three forms I see on the stretchers lying, brought out there untended lying,
Over each the blanket spread, ample brownish woolen blanket,
Gray and heavy blanket, folding, covering all.

Curious I halt and silent stand,
Then with light fingers I from the face of the nearest the first just lift the blanket;
Who are you elderly man so gaunt and grim, with well-gray'd hair, and flesh all sunken about the eyes?
Who are you my dear comrade?

Then to the second I step--and who are you my child and darling?
Who are you sweet boy with cheeks yet blooming?

Then to the third--a face nor child nor old, very calm, as of beautiful yellow-white ivory;
Young man I think I know you--I think this face is the face of the Christ himself,
Dead and divine and brother of all, and here again he lies.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Text Discussion #7: Beat! Beat! Drums! - Drum Taps

Beat! Beat! Drums!

Beat! beat! drums!--Blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows--through doors--burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation;
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet--no happiness must he have now with his bride;
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, plowing his field or gathering his grain;
So fierce you whirr and pound, you drums--so shrill you bugles blow.

Beat! beat! drums!--Blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities--over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? No sleepers must sleep in those beds;
No bargainers' bargains by day--no brokers or speculators--Would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier--you bugles wilder blow.

Beat! beat! drums!--Blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley--stop for no expostulation;
Mind not the timid--mind not the weeper or prayer;
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man;
Let not the child's voice be heard, nor the mother's entreaties;
Make even the trestles to shake the dead, where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump, O terrible drums--so loud you bugles blow.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Text Discussion #6: O Tan-Faced Prairie-Boy - Drum Taps

I want to explain for a moment how these poetry discussions will take shape.  I will first publish the whole poem (with two exceptions I will note as they come up in the rotation).  Like the earlier posts, I'll italicize the words the composer chose to set if they did not set the whole poem.  Following the poem I'll lay out my interpretation based on these points:
  • What I thought the poem was about
  • How I interpret Whitman's use of various words and tone
  • Discussion of any symbolism I see, if any
These are all very subjective points and I'm sure others will have different opinions.  That is one reason why I'm writing this blog.  I want to hear those other opinions, and if I think they are better than mine, I'd be willing to examine them further.  I'm also going to try to approach these texts separate from the music.  Sometimes that will be easy as I haven't begun musical work on all of the pieces yet.  Sometimes that will be difficult because the composer's interpretation is already ingrained.  When I discuss the song itself, that is when I will put the two interpretations, mine and the composer's, side by side to see where they are alike, where they are different, and how those differences can be reconciled.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Text Discussion #5: The Real War Will Never Get in the Books - Specimen Days

This will be a lengthy entry because the entry in Specimen Days is long and Rorem set the first and the last words, then cut heavily in the middle.  So, as I've done in the previous posts, and because the context is important, I'll publish the whole entry and italicize the words Rorem set.

Making the Cut

Putting this program together has sometimes been a little difficult (as I outlined an earlier post, my original idea for a layout failed).  My next task was to put the poems and songs I had chosen into an order where they told a story or where there was some semblance of one poem leading to the next.  The sets where the composer had already made that choice for me was easy, although I'm still wondering if the Rorem is a good place to start.  My decision there is more musical than textual, but I haven't quite decided for sure.  What has happened in the first half is that I've tried to take a journey though the different scenes of the war beginning Whitman's prose and mostly first hand accounts, followed by his poetry that is mostly a re-telling of experiences had by the soldiers.  After that, I move to the assassination of Lincoln with a song that incorporates two poems Whitman wrote for that historical moment and one of the "Drum Taps" poems that the composer uses for a different purpose, a poetic funeral march for the dead President.  I'll talk more about that when it comes up in the series on musical discussions.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Text Discussion #4: Inauguration Ball - Specimen Days

Ned Rorem sets most of this entry.  After hearing some feedback saying that the strikethrough was difficult to read, I'm going to italicize the words Rorem set while publishing the whole entry here.

Inauguration Ball

March 6.--I have been up to look at the dance and supper-rooms, for the inauguration ball at the Patent office; and I could not help thinking, what a different scene they presented to my view a while since, fill'd with a crowded mass of the worst wounded of the war, brought in from second Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredricksbugh.  To-night, beautiful women, perfumes, the violins' sweetness, the polka and the waltz; then the amputation, the blue face, the groan, the glassy eye of the dying, the clotted rag, the odor of wounds and blood, and many a mother's son amid strangers, passing away untended there, (for the crowd of the badly hurt was great, and much for nurse to do, and much for surgeon.)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Text Discussion #3: An Incident - Specimen Days

"An Incident" is part of a larger entry in Specimen Days titled "Hospital Scenes.--Incidents." This larger entry contains two accounts or observations from the hospital (Carver hospital) and two tellings of happenings on the battlefield after the fighting that day had finished.  The writing in all of these accounts is very straightforward and blunt, as we will find in a moment.  These other smaller entries don't have any bearing on the text Rorem chose to set, so I will simply point you to where you can read them, if you are interested.

An Incident

In one of the fights before Atlanta, a rebel soldier, of large size, evidently a young man, was mortally wounded top of the head, so that the brains partially exuded.  He lived three days, lying on his back on the spot where he first dropt.  He dug with his heel in the ground during that time a hole big enough to put in a couple of ordinary knapsacks.  He just lay there in the open air, and with little intermission kept his heel going night and day.  Some of our soldiers then moved him to a house, but he died in a few minutes.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Text Discussion #2: Specimen Case - Specimen Days

"Specimen Case" is from an excerpt of "Some Specimen Cases" where Whitman writes about several wounded soldiers he is visiting.  During 1863 Whitman served as a visitor to the wounded, both Confederate and Union, in the hospitals around Washington.  I'll talk more about this later in a series of posts on Whitman's biography.  For the purposes of this discussion, I think it is enough to say that Whitman was devoted to what he saw as his duty and his contribution to the war effort.  Even though he was a strong pro-Union man and abolitionist, this devotion went beyond that.  His caring for soldiers from the South and the North prove this.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Composer Spotlight: David T. Little

One of the benefits of doing this program has turned out to be the number of living composers featured.  Of the eleven composers whose works I'm performing, five are still living.  To my colleagues in the musical theater world, that might not sound like a big deal.  It is, however, a big deal in the classical singing world since a great majority of our time is spent singing music by composers long since dead.  Throughout this year, I'll be posting about these composers, my conversations with them (if I've had one), and their music.

As I said in an earlier post, when I began researching this recital I knew that I wanted to commission a work for the program.  Whitman is the most frequently set American poet, so one would think that there was plenty of material to choose from.  There is a lot of material, however, I felt like this program in particular afforded me the opportunity to add to that collection by commissioning my own song.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Text Discussion #1: A Night Battle - Specimen Days

For these text discussions, I plan to go in program order, at least as it stands at the time of writing.  The first set on the program is Ned Rorem's War Scenes, which is a set of five songs drawn from Whitman's Specimen Days.  This work of prose was put together from snippets of Whitman's diaries.  He compiled these writings at the request of "an insisting friend" who wished to know more about the poet's life and his encounters.
You ask for items, details of my early life...You say you want to get at these details mainly as the go-befores and embryons of "Leaves of Grass."  Very good; you shall have at least some specimens of them all.
Rorem's songs come from Whitman's extensive writings about the Civil War, particularly the years 1863/'64.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Themes and Variations

I hate themed recitals.  To me, the singer is saying that he doesn't feel like the music can stand on its own.  Now, a lot of people don't agree with me, and honestly, that's okay.  Differences like that keep our business vibrant.  After reading that, you might look at the title of this blog and think, "Well, gee, this is a blog about a themed recital."  True, to a point.  It was a challenge I thought a lot about, however, the poetry won out in the end.