Lager Beer


Lager Beer - (2011)    

Paul Laurence Dunbar

for baritone and piano

for Rod Gilfry, for the fun of it


I lafs und sings, und shumps aroundt.
                Und somedimes acd so gueer.
You ask me vot der matter ish?
                I'm filled mit lager peer.

I hugs mine child, und giss mine vife.
                Oh, my dey was so dear;
Bot dot ish ven, you know, mire friend,
                 I'm filled mit lager peer.

Eleetion gomes, I makes mire speech,
                Mine het it vas so glear:
De beoples laf, und say ha, ha,
                He's filled mit lager peer.

De oder night I got me mad,
                De beoples run mit fear.
De bleeceman gome und took me down
                All filled mit lager peer.

Next day I gomes pefore de judge,
                Says he, "Eh heh, you're here!"
I gives you yust five-fifty-five
                For trinking lager peer.

I took mine bocket book qvick oud,
                So poor I don't abbear;
Mine money all vas gone, mine friend
                Vas gone in lager peer.

Und den dey dakes me off to shail,
                To work mine sendence glear,
Und dere I shwears no more to be
                Filled oup mit lager peer.

Und from dot day I drinks no more,
                Yah, dat is very gueer,
But den I found de tevil lifed
                In dot same lager peer.

[ 5 pages, circa 3' 00" ]

Paul Laurence Dunbar


The rich vein of humor in rhyme which is Dunbar's legacy is often associated with his writing in a "Negro dialect," but this amusing text shows another side to his humor. The text was attributed to one Pffenberger Deutzelheim, a pseudonym of Dunbar's, and published in the first edition of the short-lived Dayton Tattler, with Orville Wright as publisher. This text is a parody of German accents as he would have heard form immigrants in the Dayton area. The text is ironic from our perspective over time, as Dunbar himself fought alcoholism later in his short life.



The setting breaks the various strophes into dramatic colors, as the accompaniments change with the circumstances of the story-telling. The odd chord form in parallel motion across the white keys at the opening suggests a saloon-like flavor, not quite right but whimsical. Succeeding verses take on a slightly more serious tone, though the overall effect has as much to do with celebrating this dialect as it does with the narrative. The score is therefore marked, "in a heavy and obvious caricatured German accent" though of course it should be reasonably -- but not wholly -- understood in English.


Rod Gilfry


Rodney Gilfry is among America's leading opera baritones, with a decades-long, successful career as proof thereof. He spans that broad musical expanse from classical opera to modern works to the Broadway genre with ease, and his reviews of performances as recordings are wonderful. While on a flight back from the states through London-Heathrow, I was reading when someone walked by and said, "Don't I know you?" It was Rod, flying to London for a Proms concert, while I was connecting through to Berlin. It had been years since we'd seen one another, whether in Frankfurt or at LA Opera. We chatted a long while, and he spoke of his family much. I said sometime I would get around to penning something for him. This small take on Americana -- Dunbar -- wrapped with German culture -- the dialect -- seems apt for that experience we both have shared in our various travels, and it amused me much to have stumbled across this little text, a delightful footnote to the rich cultural history which is America's.


The score for Lager Beer 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.


Lager Beer