Not They Who Soar

 

 

Not They Who Soar - (2009)    

Paul Laurence Dunbar

for medium voice and piano


 

Not they who soar, but they who plod
Their rugged way, unhelped, to God
Are heroes; they who higher fare,
And, flying, fan the upper air,
Miss all the toil that hugs the sod.
'Tis they whose backs have felt the rod,
Whose feet have pressed the path unshod,
May smile upon defeated care,
Not they who soar.

High up there are no thorns to prod,
Nor boulders lurking 'neath the clod
To turn the keenness of the share,
For flight is ever free and rare;
But heroes they the soil who 've trod,
Not they who soar!

[ 4 pages, circa 3' 15" ]


Paul Laurence Dunbar

 

Dunbar worked admirably in both dialect and standard English, and this text is among the sterling texts of standard English which shows his sentiment -- indeed his politics and philosophy -- in few words and images. (A complete list of my settings of Dunbar's texts may be found in the author's index of this site under Dunbar.) The text was published in his collection, Majors and Minors, 1895.

 

"They who plod" and those "whose backs have felt the rod" are effective images to indentify Dunbar's view of who is a hero. The phrase, "unsung hero," speaks also of this, in which so much of life and the world's progress may be laid at the feet of those who labor outside the limelight of public adulation and contemporary popularity. Indeed, Dunbar's initial success as poet was due to his persistence, a plodding if you will, in which he self-published. But is it not the case with so much of classical music, in which works of Bach, Mozart, Mahler and so many more had to be recovered and reanimated by later proponents of their works? Heroes who plod their "rugged way" to God often were for a time the proverbial "unsung heroes."

 

 

The text is accompanied by a choral-like accompaniment in a modified song form to hold the unusual form of this text. A modified AABA form is assisted by interpolating some of Dunbar's text parenthetically into the later portions to clarify across the long lyricism of the setting itself.

 

 

The score 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 piano-vocal score.

 

Not They Who Soar