The Lawyers' Way - (2009)
Paul Laurence Dunbar
for medium voice and piano
I 've been list'nin' to them lawyers
In the court house up the street,
An' I 've come to the conclusion
That I 'm most completely beat.
one feller riz to argy,
An' he boldly waded in
As he dressed the
In a coat o' deep-dyed sin.
Why, he painted him
In a hue o' blackest crime,
An' he smeared his reputation
With the thickest kind o' grime,
Tell I found myself a-wond'rin',
misty way and dim,
How the Lord had come to fashion
Sich an awful man
Then the other lawyer started,
An', with brimmin', tearful
Said his client was a martyr
That was brought to sacrifice.
An' he give to that same pris'ner
Every blessed human grace,
saw the light o' virtue
Fairly shinin' from his face.
Then I own
'at I was puzzled
How sich things could rightly be;
Seems to keep a-puzzlin' me.
So, will some one
please inform me,
An' this mystery unroll--
How an angel an' a devil
Can persess the self-same soul?
[ 7 pages, circa 3' 35" ]
Paul Laurence Dunbar
This and other texts of Paul Laurence Dunbar are taken from the 1922 edition
of The Book of American Negro Poetry. For more on the author please
see my page for a song setting,
Theology, and for all my song settings to Dunbar's texts, see
Authors Index D. This charming retelling of the age old conundrum of
arguing the law is in dialect, but I suspect it is clear enough to need no
An attorney of my acquaintance years ago made the observation that half of
practicing law is lying. When two sides are represented in a courtroom,
obviously there is one eventual outcome for both winner and loser, but
additional there are truths to be discovered and adjudicated. Therefore,
within the sophistication and nuance of lawyers, plainly speaking half of
them must lie in one form or another as their profession. This explains the
additional observation that so many politicians are lawyers.
The vocal range is accessible to most singers, and the piano accompaniment
is slightly jazzy in its feel and syncopations. For this the 6/8 should be
played as written, not adding any additional "swing" to the gestures.
The form is of standard verses with slight modifications though each verse
has two different textures one following the other as below. The second
verse begins at measure 28 with the same gestures as at measure 8 and
The last verse becomes bridge material for the song setting, as major-minor
seven chords and a reduction of the harmonic rhythm highlight the text's
statement of the question, albeit a rhetorical one. A final reprise of half
the first verse and cadence ends the song setting with the phrase "listin'
to them lawyers."
The score for The Lawyers' Way 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.
The Lawyers' Way