Accountability - (2009)     

Paul Laurence Dunbar

for medium voice and piano


Folks ain't got no right to censuah othah folks about dey habits;
Him dat giv' de squir'ls de bushtails made de bobtails fu' de rabbits.
Him dat built de gread big mountains hollered out de little valleys,
Him dat made de streets an' driveways wasn't shamed to make de alleys.

We is all constructed diff'ent, d'ain't no two of us de same;
We cain't he'p ouah likes an' dislikes, ef we'se bad we ain't to blame.
Ef we'se good, we need n't show off, case you bet it ain't ouah doin'
We gits into su'ttain channels dat we jes' cain't he'p pu'suin'.

But we all fits into places dat no othah ones could fill,
An' we does the things we has to, big er little, good er ill.
John cain't tek de place o' Henry, Su an' Sally ain't alike;
Bass ain't nuthin' like a suckah, chub ain't nuthin' like a pike.

W'en you come to t'ink about it, how it's all planned out it's splendid.
Nothin's done er evah happens, 'dout hit's somefin' dat's intended;
Don't keer whut you does, you has to, an' hit sholy beats de dickens,--
Viney, go put on de kittle, I got one o' mastah's chickens.

[ 7 pages, circa 4' 00" ]

Paul Laurence Dunbar


The text was first published in a short collection, Howdy Honey Howdy, in 1905. Written in dialect along with others in that collection, it should be clear enough what Dunbar's intentions were in this statement of individuality and freedom from "censure."



The length of the lines in these stanzas made for the obvious solution of breaking them into meaningful phrases for the purposes of performance. For this, the opening phrase is repeated as a "fourth" phrase within this form, and thereafter stressed repetitively for its importance. The tonic of C sharp minor allows the vocal range to be apt for most singers, and the inner voices' chromatic half step motion nicely complicates an otherwise simple harmonic progression.



As a contrasting texture for this poem of long lines and many words, an up tempo patter song offers a long moment on the subdominant as well as a change from triple to duple meter. The metrical relation between the tempi is recommended, even if performers chose a variation in the overall tempo of the setting.



The coda for the setting vacillates between the tempi and textural changes, with a final and clear restatement of Dunbar's assertion that people have no right to censure others for his was a life philosophy of "live and let live." This is consistent with what should be the ground for any artist following his own pathway; live and let live.


The score for Accountability 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.