Itching heels - (2010)
Paul Laurence Dunbar
medium voice and piano
de peace o' my eachin' heels, set down;
Don' fiddle dat chune no mo'.
Don' you see how dat melody stuhs me up
An' baigs me to tek to de flo'?
You knows I 's a Christian, good an' strong;
I wusship f'om June to June;
My pra'ahs dey ah loud an' my hymns ah long:
I baig you don' fiddle dat chune.
I 's a crick in my back an' a misery hyeah
Whaih de j'ints 's gittin' ol' an' stiff,
But hit seems lak you brings me de bref o' my youf;
W'y, I 's suttain I noticed a w'iff.
Don' fiddle dat chune no mo', my chile,
Don' fiddle dat chune no mo';
I 'll git up an' taih up dis groun' fu' a mile,
An' den I 'll be chu'ched fu' it, sho'.
Oh, fiddle dat chune some mo', I say,
An' fiddle it loud an' fas':
I's a youngstah ergin in de mi'st o' my sin;
De p'esent 's gone back to de pas'.
I 'll dance to dat chune, so des fiddle erway;
I knows how de backslidah feels;
So fiddle it on 'twell de break o' de day
Fu' de sake o' my eachin' heels.
pages, circa 3' 35" ]
text is drawn from Dunbar's early, self-published collection, When
Malindy Sings, 1896. I have thought that the poet's fine example of
believing in his works deserves special appreciation. The dialect of the
poem is wonderful, with some dropped consonants, amusing endings such as "f"
replacing "th" and "ch" replacing "t", spread diphthongs written out, but
especially Dunbar's insistence that "itching" is properly pronounced
three stanzas are structured dramatically as a protest which proves itself
false -- don't play the infectious tune turns to "fiddle that chune" by the
last stanza. For this the structure of the tempi relationships is clear,
slow and fast in alteration, a musical "yes/no." This is of course a common
element to mankind, as here in Berlin, the language includes the lovely
"Jein," a compilation of "ja" and "nein" into a single and most
comprehensive yes/no. Dunbar captures an era and culture with his use of
language most admirably, as he shows how infectiously a tune can make a
"backslidah." For this I confess, myself, quite happily to be a backslider
in merely finding the melodies for this poem.
Including the word of praise, "hallelujah," and repeating the word,
"wusship," gives a sense of the true lack of tension between prayer on the
one hand and music and dance on the other, when they are considered all as
expressions of life's fullness. Though not in Dunbar's text, I find this in
his dramaturgy which stands behind the poem.
ending of the setting reprises the last lines with joyful exuberance, the
"old made young" through "dat chune."
The score for
Itching Heels is available as a free PDF download, though any major
commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior
arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this