Injun Summah - (2005)
Benjamin Franklin King
Four songs for mezzo soprano or tenor and piano
for mezzo soprano Jane Bunnell
i. Injun Summah [ 6 pages, circa 4' 00" ]
De Injun summah's comin',
De bees is all froo hummin',
De watah-mellon thumbin'
....Has passed long time ago.
De ole clock in de kitchen
Is tickin' mos' bewitchin',
While Gabe is out unhitchin'
....Just kase it looks like snow.
De lambs is runnin' over
De aftahmath ob clovah,
An' yondah comes de drovah;
....I 'spec he' got a yahn
About de ole bell-weddah
Dat's wand'rin roun' de meddah
An' wants ter git togeddah
....Wid de sheep up roun' de bahn.
Some days de sun is shinin',
Some days de win' is whinin',
An' den I'se after fin'in'
....Big pippins on de groun';
De birds hab all stopped singin',
Wil' geese is soufward wingin',
Jes' look an' see 'em stringin'
....Whar warmah weddah's foun'.
De yaller cat is nappin'
En layin' roun' an' gappin';
Bimeby he will be slappin'
....Some tom-cat on de wall.
Dar's a mellah, yellah glory
Kase de yeah is ol' an' ho'ry,
An' a melancholy story
....So't o' hangin' roun' us all.
ii. The River St. Joe [ 9 pages, circa 6' 45" ]
Where the bumblebee sips and the clover is red,
And the zephyrs come laden with peachblow perfume,
Where the thistle-down pauses in search of the rose
And the myrtle and woodbine and wild ivy grows;
Where the catbird pipes up and it sounds most divine
Off there in the branches of some lonely pine;
Oh, give me the spot that I once used to know
By the side of the placid old River St. Joe!
How oft on its banks I have sunk in a dream,
Where the willows bent over me kissing the stream,
My boat with its nose sort of resting on shore,
While the cat-tails stood guarding a runaway oar;
It appeared like to me, that they sort of had some
Way of knowing that I would soon get overcome,
With the meadow lark singing just over the spot
I didn't care whether I floated or not --
Just resting out there for an hour or so
On the banks of the tranquil old River St. Joe.
Where the tall grasses nod at the close of the day,
And the sycamore's shadow is slanting away --
Where the whip-poor-will chants from a far distant limb
Just as if the whole business was all made for him.
Oh! it's now with my thoughts, flying back on the wings
Of the rail and die-away song that he sings,
Brings the tears to my eyes that drip off into rhyme,
And I live once again in the old summer time;
For my soul it seems caught in old time's under-tow
And I'm floating away down the River St. Joe.
iii. The Cow Slips Away [ 1 page, circa 25" ]
The tall pines pine,
The pawpaws pause
And the bumble-bee bumbles all day;
The eavesdropper drops,
And the grasshopper hops,
While gently the cow slips away.
iv. Gedder in yo' grain [ 4 pages, circa 2' 15" ]
De ole plow hoss is busy
Breshin' flies off wid his tail,
De ole dog's got a move on him
Dat's zackly like a snail,
De meddeh grass is noddin'
I kin hyar de tree toads warnin'
"Bettah gedder in yo' grain."
Doan yo hyar de frogs a-gurglin'
Dar out yondah in de pond?
What's de mattah wid de catbird,
Doan yo' hyar his voice respond?
Ain't de hull of 'em a-tellin' yo'
In language mighty plain,
"Doan be frivlin' way yo' moments,
Bettah gedder in yo' grain."
Ain't de bumble bee a-hummin'
'Mongst de clovah tops an flowahs,
Whilst de ole clock am a tickin' 'way
De minutes an de houahs?
Chile, yo's got to be a-hus'lin'
To ketch de wisdom train,
Doan waste no opportunities,
But gedder in yo' grain.
Total cycle [ 20 pages plus contents and texts, circa 13' 25" ]
Benjamin Franklin King
Benjamin Franklin King (1857 -1894) American poet and parodist known more familiarly as Ben King was politically very incorrect by today's standards, mimicking dialects in his poetry. Ben King, born on March 17, 1857 in St. Joseph, Michigan, married Aseneth Belle Latham, of St. Joseph, on November 27, 1883, in Chicago, and had two sons by her. King belonged to the Chicago Press Club and to the Whitechapel Club, which attracted authors and journalist. King published verse in newspapers and journals like The Century, sometimes under the pseudonym Bow Hackley. King died on tour, April 8, 1894, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, after a public reading the previous night before, and two days later was buried in St. Joseph. It was friends from the Press Club who published Ben King's Verse in 1894, a collection reprinted many times, because King's work was popular.
"Injun Summah" begins with a recitative, followed by a simple melodic chorus accompanied by alternating major tonic and supertonic chords, as the sentiment of the poem about Indian summer, that lingering season when a period of mild, warm, hazy weather following the first frosts of late autumn, is sung.
"The River St. Joe" begins with a short sweet rhapsody for piano to introduce the lyrical tribute of the poem.
"The Cow Slips Away" is a one page humorous outburst, followed by the pressing advice from gurgling frogs and catbird to "gather in your grain" which King has written out in humorous dialect.
Jane Bunnell’s long association with the Metropolitan Opera began with her critically acclaimed debut as Annio in La clemenza di Tito, and subsequent performances in Le nozze di Figaro (Cherubino), Cosi fan tutte (Dorabella), Il barbiere di Siviglia (Rosina), Les contes d’Hoffmann (Nicklausse), Madama Butterfly (Suzuki), Falstaff (Meg Page), Les Troyens (Ascagnio), Ariadne auf Naxos (Dryad), Otello (Emilia), Romeo et Juliette (Stephano), and Faust (Siebel). She has sung and recorded with the Metropolitan Opera Tebaldo in Don Carlo and a Flower Maiden in Parsifal, and reprised Emilia for the Metropolitan Opera Presents television broadcast. She recently added Hermia in a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hänsel in Hänsel und Gretel, and Varvara in Katya Kabanova to her Met repertoire, and has sung roles in Die Frau ohne Schatten, Sly, War and Peace, Parade, and The Great Gatsby. Bunnell has also appeared in a wide variety of roles with New York City Opera including Rosina, Suzuki, and Natalie in The Merry Widow. She was also featured in New York City Opera’s premieres of Argento’s Casanova and Mozart’s L’oca del Cairo, as well as its "Live From Lincoln Center" telecasts of Die Zauberflöte and La rondine. With Houston Grand Opera, she has performed Hänsel, Suzuki in the Ken Russell Madama Butterfly, and Smeton in Anna Bolena with Dame Joan Sutherland. She has sung Amneris in Aïda with Opera Roanoke; Auntie in Peter Grimes with the Teatro Comunale di Firenze; and Suzuki with Opera Pacific.
Another cycle of Ben King's poems is titled The Sum of Life (for tenor and piano) after one of his humorous poems. The cycle, Injun Summah is also apt for a tenor or high baritone.
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.