The Gift to Sing -
James Weldon Johnson
medium voice and piano
Sometimes the mist overhangs my path,
And blackening clouds about me cling;
But, oh, I have a magic way
To turn the gloom to cheerful day--
I softly sing.
And if the way grows darker still,
Shadowed by Sorrow's somber wing,
With glad defiance in my throat,
I pierce the darkness with a note,
And sing, and sing.
I brood not over the broken past,
Nor dread whatever time may bring;
No nights are dark, no days are long,
While in my heart there swells a song,
And I can sing.
pages, circa 3' 15"
James Weldon Johnson
gift to sing" is visceral for the physicality of singing can be most joyful,
and yet this gift has philosophical and political overtones aplenty. Life is
often unhappy in some regard, as Johnson's strophes remind us. The first
pictures "blackening clouds," and this might be weather and might be the
clouds of war or psychological pressures. A second sees the "way grows
darker" and this is often the human experience. Johnson's counsel is clear
as his third strophe pledges not to "brood over the broken past;" alas in
our time, this perceptive advice is ignored in favor of brooding politically
as philosophically and even personally. Johnson's antidote is mine as well
-- "I softy sing." The gift is not only of song, but of the inner wisdom to
forsake a constant "brooding," the deep malaise of then, as of now. We would
do well to heed his counsel.
brief opening gambit sets the tone, and the standard twelve-bar blues
structure is employed to underpin this non-blues poetic construction. The
form is A-A-B-A, as the first two strophes are notated as a second lyric's
verse. The light syncopation in the 12/8 meter shares a feeling of swing
coupled to the blues progressions.
bridge breaks from the standard harmonic form to employ a version of Count
Basie's blues progressions in a more classical construction, differing as
they do from the standard form. Texture is altered and phrases from
Johnson's text repeat the assertion, "sing." A final strophe reprises the
twelve-bar form and standard harmonies with a final ritardando and crescendo
insisting that "sing" is an imperative for life and living well.
The score for
The Gift to Sing 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
The Gift to Sing