Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund


The Gift to Sing - (2012)    

James Weldon Johnson

for medium voice and piano


Sometimes the mist overhangs my path,
And blackening clouds about me cling;
But, oh, I have a magic way
To turn the gloom to cheerful day--
        I softly sing.

And if the way grows darker still,
Shadowed by Sorrow's somber wing,
With glad defiance in my throat,
I pierce the darkness with a note,
        And sing, and sing.

I brood not over the broken past,
Nor dread whatever time may bring;
No nights are dark, no days are long,
While in my heart there swells a song,
        And I can sing.

4 pages, circa 3' 15"

James Weldon Johnson


"The gift to sing" is visceral for the physicality of singing can be most joyful, and yet this gift has philosophical and political overtones aplenty. Life is often unhappy in some regard, as Johnson's strophes remind us. The first pictures "blackening clouds," and this might be weather and might be the clouds of war or psychological pressures. A second sees the "way grows darker" and this is often the human experience. Johnson's counsel is clear as his third strophe pledges not to "brood over the broken past;" alas in our time, this perceptive advice is ignored in favor of brooding politically as philosophically and even personally. Johnson's antidote is mine as well -- "I softy sing." The gift is not only of song, but of the inner wisdom to forsake a constant "brooding," the deep malaise of then, as of now. We would do well to heed his counsel.



A brief opening gambit sets the tone, and the standard twelve-bar blues structure is employed to underpin this non-blues poetic construction. The form is A-A-B-A, as the first two strophes are notated as a second lyric's verse. The light syncopation in the 12/8 meter shares a feeling of swing coupled to the blues progressions.



The bridge breaks from the standard harmonic form to employ a version of Count Basie's blues progressions in a more classical construction, differing as they do from the standard form. Texture is altered and phrases from Johnson's text repeat the assertion, "sing." A final strophe reprises the twelve-bar form and standard harmonies with a final ritardando and crescendo insisting that "sing" is an imperative for life and living well.



The score for The Gift to Sing 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.


The Gift to Sing