We Wear the Mask - (2009)
Paul Laurence Dunbar
for medium voice and piano
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only
see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream
We wear the mask!
[ 4 pages, circa 2' 20" ]
Paul Laurence Dunbar
The text was published professionally in Dodd, Mead and Company's 1896
edition of Lyrics of Low Life, though it was privately published a
year earlier in another of Dunbar's collections, Majors and Minors.
The sentiment behind the text explains why some of Dunbar's other poetry
depicting plantation life as he imagined or heard of it as somewhat idyllic
in its images. Yet, there is another hidden truth as one may see in his
text, A Banjo
Song, and that is that one takes from life the small and simple
pleasures which one may. This, while one may read into the poem something of
the black experience of Dunbar's America, it is also an instruction to
others with other lives in other times. A worthy lesson.
The major-minor triad speaks musically of an American genre of chord forms
which echo the blues harmonies and yet this setting is neither a blues form
nor jazzy per se. Rather it is an aggressive 6/8 with slight syncopations in
which the vocal line lies "around" G minor, though this key signature is
absent and indeed would be extraneous to the setting itself.
The center section between two verses drifts away for a moment from a
nominal minor tonic to C major, the major seven chord in inversion and in
wide spacing around the vocal line. Yet the vocal line could as easily have
remained accompanied by the minor tonic in a different reading.
The score for We Wear the Mask 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.
We Wear the Mask