Hot House Ballads - (1991/2008)
texts by the composer
for medium voice and piano
i. Hot and Blue
I am earth that's not yet plowed,
All alone within a crowd.
Coldly waitin' for the sun,
Summer's night is not yet run.
Come caress me; you want to.
You'll find me cold and hot and blue.
I am fires not yet stoked,
I'm a drug that's not been smoked.
I am ice that's boiling hot;
Come and taste just what I got.
Will you touch me? Would you dare to?
I promise you I'm hot and blue.
ii. Heavenly Days
I come down to earth from heavens above,
To fatherly arms and mother's love.
I come down by birth from heavens on high,
To walk here below a heavenly sky.
Now I walk through hours and I walk through days,
With the pains and pleasures of earthly ways.
But I dream of when there were heavenly days.
Heavenly days before birth, with stars all ablaze.
Those heavenly days.
iii. Hot House
The hot house once blossomed with color and hue,
Bright with the sun as it went streaming through.
The yellow of warmth is now run away
And the winter has come with its icy bouquet.
Now the panes are all broken where beauty once grew,
And now cold are the dead where the winter winds blew.
Now the long white rain freezes, gathering gray,
And the building is fallen to death and decay.
iv. No Body Blues
I sit on my porch through the whole damn day,
But callers don't ever come my way.
No body ever stops by to stay.
The stove isn't warm and my dinner's not served,
And loneliness seems what I surely deserved.
No body ever stops by to stay.
The bed is unmade and the clock ticks off time,
The hours just fade and the shadows just climb.
No body's mine.
One stranger showed love, and, more strange still,
There once was a time when I had my fill.
That once is now gone but the lonely blues stay.
[ 9 pages, circa 6' 00" ]
This month, November 2008, I had correspondence with an estate's management located in the UK, as I asked for permission to publish some song settings which I had written in 1991 to texts of a particular American poet, now long deceased, whose works remain under copyright. The agent responded, "Regretfully, we must decline permission. We receive countless similar requests regularly and do not find it at all advantageous to the copyright owner." [ 1 ] Therefore I responded to such typical bureaucracy simply with creativity and art, and wrote these substitute texts as above in the spirit of the former.
These four songs were conceived for a mezzo soprano, and with the original texts performed in an un-ticketed student recital many years ago. The spirit of the texts is preserved, while new images populate the words themselves. The first setting, "Hot and Blue," is a blue-note 5/4, marked "sultry and slightly inexact" as direction for the singer. It tells the story in images of waiting and wanting.
"Heavenly Days" speaks of that time before birth as contrasted to living in this world. It is in an unequal 9/8, broken into duples and a final triple rhythm in alternation with the standard triple of a normal 9/8 signature. It too may be interpreted with an expressive rubato.
The "Hot House" captures that moment in time when what was is no longer. Broken is the glass and dead are the flowers which had been grown there. The appoggiaturas are notated to evoke the sense of a plucked instrument.
The final 12/8 is a verse structure, in which the stanzas of the poem are repeated, the third acting as bridge to the last statement. The major-minor non-functional dominant seven chords flavor the setting with "blue" notes, as the voice rises repeatedly in complaint at the circumstances of life.
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 piano-vocal score.
Hot House Ballads
[ 1 ] Amusingly among the particular texts I sought were four which are the only "permitted" contribution which this poet and his estate have allowed. The contribution therefore of this author to the field of art song is miniscule. In a future time when the copyrights expire, I imagine some other composers will add their voices to these words which I sought. As my response to a "no," I chose therefore to write another set of song lyrics for these settings along the rhythmic structures of the settings themselves.
Often various composers, including a marvelous article by Stephen Sondheim, spoke of the musical "chicken or egg" question: Which comes first? The melodic or textual idea. The answer of course is: it depends. One such story speaks of the collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Lawrence Hart, wherein Rodgers sometimes wrote ersatz lyrics awaiting Hart's inventiveness. In this, music came first, whereas in the later association with Oscar Hammerstein, the lyrics came first. (found in Rodgers' Musical Stages). Sondheim's testimony suggests "either" and sometimes both together as another manner in which words and music come together.
I have found it interesting that some estate managers, especially trusts and foundations, are remarkably uninterested in seeing a gathering cultural addition to a poet's work through art song settings. I find this short sighted, especially when I think on those other poets and estates which have been willing to openly consider such. In one case, an estate manager with no obvious or artistic gifts and who could not possibly have known the poet's wishes spent much letter writing on attempting to inform me as an artist how best to set some text.
It was, as Lewis Carroll so astutely observed in his scene involving Humpty Dumpty, "The question is, which is to be the master - that's all." The master can never effectively be the estate manager whose "artistic" insights are at best distant, and at worst wrongheaded.