Seven Presidential Pardons - (2007)
After texts in the public domain from seven U.S. Presidents
for high or medium voice and piano
i. I'm not a Crook -
Richard Milhouse Nixon (1913-1994) [ 5 pages, circa 2' 00"
I was not lying.
I said things that later on
seemed to be untrue.
People have got to know whether or not their
President is a crook.
Well, I'm not a crook.
I've earned everything I've got.
When the President does it,
that means that it's not illegal.
I would have made a good Pope.
Lie, lie, lie, lie, not lying!
ii. American Efficiency -
Gerald Rudolph Ford. Jr. (1913-2006) [ 2 pages, circa 1' 30" ]
The three-martini lunch is the epitome of American efficiency.
pardon me, but...
Where else can you get an earful,
a bellyful and
a snootful at the same time?
iii. To drown my troubles - James Earl Carter
(b. 1924) [ 5 pages, circa 3' 05" ]
often wanted to drown my troubles,
but I can't get my
wife to go swimming.
To drown my sorrows... Misery!
some embarrassing ancestors
in the not-too-distant
Some horse thieves, and some people killed on Saturday nights.
One of my relatives, unfortunately,
was even in the
I have looked on a lot of women with lust in my heart.
adultery in my heart many times....
I have often wanted to drown my
but I can't get my wife to go swimming.
iv. The Second-oldest Profession - Ronald
Wilson Reagan (1911-2004) [ 4 pages, circa 2'
Well, Gerald Ford was a Communist -
pardon me - a Congressman....
Facts are stupid things.
Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession.
I have come to realize that it bears
a very close resemblance to the first.
Facts are stupid things.
v. No Exaggeration George
Herbert Walker Bush (b. 1924) [ 3 pages, circa
1' 50" ]
I have opinions of my own - strong opinions -
but I don't always agree with them.
Read my lips - no new taxes!
It's no exaggeration to say that
the undecideds could go one way or another.
I have opinions of my own - no new taxes -
but I don't always agree with
No new taxes!
vi. It depends upon what the meaning of the
word 'is' is - William Jefferson Clinton (b. 1946) [
3 pages, circa 1' 50" ]
It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is.
The word 'is' is, isn't it?
It depends upon what the meaning of the word
The word 'is' is.
If 'is' means 'is and never has been,'
that's one thing.
If it means 'there is none,'
that was a completely true statement.
The word 'is' is, isn't it?
Is it? Isn't it? It is! It depends.
vii. The Strategery -
George W. Bush (b. 1946) [ 5 pages, circa 1' 50" ]
And...There's a lot of blowhards in the political process, you know,
and a lot of hot-air artists,
and people who have got
something fancy to say.
And there is distrust in Washington.
And I am
surprised, frankly, at the amount of distrust that exists in this town.
And I'm sorry it's the case,
and I'll work hard to
try to elevate it.
And a dangerous plan is better than no plan at all.
I'll work hard to try to elevate it.
I'll work hard to
try to elevate...
distrust in Washington.
all, I know the human being and fish can co-exist peacefully.
[ Total duration - 27 pages, circa 14' 20" ]
U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan,
George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush
Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty
is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote. -- Benjamin Franklin, 1759
With this marvelous quote by American Benjamin Franklin when the United
States democracy was a fledgling political and liberty was threatened, I
think often on the course which American politics takes, strident in tone
and aggressively invested in polar opposites. I have seen in my own life
some of the above presidents seen by their political opponents as
un-American or illegally elected, and find such harsh political polarities
dishonest and ultimately false. What is certain is that all the above
presidents have been human beings with their own human faults, and some of
these faults have been cemented by their public gaffes, their errors in
judgment, and their own words have often become their own worst enemies.
Certainly, a good humored revisit to the misspoken, inept and simply goofy
is in order. Herein therefore I offer some reflections on these men and
their own words edited slightly for the sheer fun of it. Each president has
had and shown well his own proverbial "clay feet," as do we all from time to
What is clear, editorially, is that I side with liberty -- that lamb which
opposing wolves hunger to exploit. That is one role of the artist, who is
most assuredly more like any lamb than any wolf. It is in the nature of man,
suggested authors Norman Mailer and Doris Lessing most recently, to seek to
control others; this is of course not the process and conduct of art for
which liberty is a necessity. Noticing this salient fact and enthusiasm for
liberty never disturbs a lamb, but always angers a wolf ready the dine on
the lamb. Let us reflect on this truth as we chuckle at the expense of some
Among recent quotes come those of William Jefferson Clinton (1946-), after
the testimony of August 17, 1998, and George W. Bush (1946-), in Washington,
D.C., May 17, 2007 and on National Public Radio, Jan. 29, 2007, for many
publishers now highlight the gaffes and speech errors which we find amusing.
That all the presidents have made such gaffes and more teaches an important
lesson about media exposure and the simple pressures of the office itself
and its demands. Who has not said something silly? We all have, but from
president to president, the nation has moved forward and prospered. The
brilliance of the American political system since its inception, born in a
violent revolution and bettered through its many troubles, is that
leadership is transitory and the individuals who have led the nation
voluntarily step down from power under the rules of the Constitution. We
share this feature of government now with many Western nations, wherein
power is handed from leadership to leadership in a civil and orderly
fashion. This is the future of the remainder of the world's nations, still
under despotism of one sort or another.
tessitura for high voice
I chose to begin this cycle with the presidential pardon of Richard Nixon by
Gerald Ford, and from it and other apologies for gaffes comes the cycle's
title. A short quote from "Hail to the Chief" introduces this jaunty 3/4
time song, accompanied by parallel diatonic sevenths, dissonances within the
consonance of the whole which remains staunchly in a major tonality
The very silly comment by Gerald Ford is set in 6/8 time, and begins with a
recitative-like "pardon," as it was Ford who pardoned Richard Nixon, thereby
relieving him of the embarrassment of potential prosecution. That a
"three-martini lunch" epitomizes American efficiency is laughable, of
course, and meant as a joke. An "earful," a "bellyful" and a "snootful" make
for a fine image of gluttony, and this setting echoes the triple time
gestures of burlesque theater.
President Carter set his campaign to create a "misery index" which faulted
the leadership of President Ford, and in part as a result of this "misery,"
Carter defeated Ford in the election. Ironically this same "misery index"
was used against Carter as he lost in the next election. Therefore I mixed
musical images of "misery" with blue notes and chromaticism, and comingled
this with a gentle 3/4 country feel to the major tonic of the song's central
theme. President Carter gave an Interview to Playboy Magazine in
which he confessed his "lust," which became a joke of sorts. I mingle the
"misery" with his joke about his "troubles," for indeed something about
these "troubles" had its own personal reality for the man.
President Reagan echoed something humorously which President Kennedy
(1917-1963) also had commented on, "Mothers all want their sons to grow up
to be President, but they don't want them to become politicians in the
process." Politics has a poor reputation, with good reason many believe.
This was as true a century ago, for politics is both necessary and annoying
at the same time. As Reagan demonstrated his own verbal gaffes, I chose to
meld one of these with his observation about the second oldest profession
being quite alike unto the first oldest profession -- prostitution. The 12/8
swing and strut tempo seemed apt for this presidential observation.
Reagan was followed by his Vice-President, who introduced what has become
termed Bushisms -- verbal gaffes -- though one finds them in each
president, reading far back into history. President Bush's famous "read my
lips" cost him the election, in my opinion, as he changed his opinions. The
text I chose shows this clearly, and the setting therefore remains most
unsettlingly not within its tonic major key, as the expected sub-dominant
scale tone -- B flat in F major -- which would allow clear subdominant and
dominant seven chords is avoided throughout, an evasion within a frame of
musical reference to mimic the evasion which is "politics practiced." How
this functions is simple; the song setting was always to end in C major,
though evasion of that tonal conclusion was the purpose of the
harmonic progressions. Hiding a quote from "Hail to the Chief" grounded on F
was one of the ways to see this so.
The elder Bush lost his election to the charming President Clinton, who
himself fell into so many gaffes. Central to that ridicule of his presidency
was his "exploits" which I chose to ignore, per se. Rather I chose to set
his tortured verbal argument about the "meaning of the word 'is' is." It is
set in a jaunty, dotted rhythm and seemingly flippant accompaniment,
treating lightly what was certainly something not to be so treated. The
setting vacillates between a duple metered, popular-styled accompaniment
figure and then simple, dissonant seconds to break away, only to return
again to the more flippant musical gestures.
The second President Bush has become literally renown for his verbal
confusion and odd choices of mixed metaphors. What struck me in looking
through many of the more well-known gaffes was his habit or running
sentences together with the preposition, "and." Therefore I run together
some of his quotes, and even begin the text with "and." The setting is an
odd waltz, quite tonal at the onset but with non-tonal accidentals wandering
off, only to be brought back in strophic fashion to the waltz motive itself.
Each little strophe begins with a secondary dominant over the dominant and a
tenuto -- A major over D -- while the vocal line insists on the tonic --
G -- to begin before the tonic chord takes up the waltz' musical "sentence."
This insistence of beginning with the tonic against the cadential figure's
harmonic content surrounding the dominant and sub-dominant is a recurring
signature of the several strophes.
I add a postscript to this short commentary in part by citing the United
States Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia State Board of Education
versus Barnette (1943). Writing for the Court, Justice Robert H. Jackson
stated, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it
is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in
politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force
citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” This is the radical
idea of the seemingly turbulent American system in a nutshell.
Each president, ignoring the silly politics which has tried to argue for
partisan orthodoxies such as "stolen elections" and the like, serves at the
will of a systematized democratic vote within the framework of a
republican structure. Each of these men above was elected in an
ultimately orderly fashion, and each served without question as President of
the United States. This is the simple truth of history, not politics.
Note that both words, republican and democratic, can be used
without capitalization for the United States survives and prospers through
the happy confluence of democratic and republican procedures. While the
surface noise of campaigns and fractional partisanship seem to be the
reality of American politics, there is a larger picture -- a "fixed star,"
if you will, and Justice Jackson's words remind us -- in which the nation
'decapitates' its political leadership on a regular schedule and in an
orderly fashion, swapping one party's candidate for another's.
Just as each of the above texts represents some rather silly gaffe of these
men in the conduct of their office, their office retains its value, head and
shoulders above the jokes, humor and even rancor. Let us therefore enjoy
these men' words edited by me and this little glimpses into their own "clay
feet," for fairly speaking so do we all have such clay feet, if only we were
honest with ourselves.
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
Seven Presidential Pardons - edition for high voice
Seven Presidential Pardons - edition for low voice
There is also an addendum to this cycle of seven, in total
therefore a cycle of eight:
Well, we are out of money now - (2009) after public quotes of
Barak Hussein Obama II.