Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund


The Lawyers' Way - (2009)    

Paul Laurence Dunbar

for medium voice and piano


I 've been list'nin' to them lawyers
In the court house up the street,
An' I 've come to the conclusion
That I 'm most completely beat.
Fust one feller riz to argy,
An' he boldly waded in
As he dressed the tremblin' pris'ner
In a coat o' deep-dyed sin.

Why, he painted him all over
In a hue o' blackest crime,
An' he smeared his reputation
With the thickest kind o' grime,
Tell I found myself a-wond'rin',
In a misty way and dim,
How the Lord had come to fashion
Sich an awful man as him.

Then the other lawyer started,
An', with brimmin', tearful eyes,
Said his client was a martyr
That was brought to sacrifice.
An' he give to that same pris'ner
Every blessed human grace,
Tell I saw the light o' virtue
Fairly shinin' from his face.

Then I own 'at I was puzzled
How sich things could rightly be;
An' this aggervatin' question
Seems to keep a-puzzlin' me.
So, will some one please inform me,
An' this mystery unroll--
How an angel an' a devil
Can persess the self-same soul?

[ 7 pages, circa 3' 35" ]

Paul Laurence Dunbar


This and other texts of Paul Laurence Dunbar are taken from the 1922 edition of The Book of American Negro Poetry. For more on the author please see my page for a song setting, Theology, and for all my song settings to Dunbar's texts, see Authors Index D. This charming retelling of the age old conundrum of arguing the law is in dialect, but I suspect it is clear enough to need no additional comment.


An attorney of my acquaintance years ago made the observation that half of practicing law is lying. When two sides are represented in a courtroom, obviously there is one eventual outcome for both winner and loser, but additional there are truths to be discovered and adjudicated. Therefore, within the sophistication and nuance of lawyers, plainly speaking half of them must lie in one form or another as their profession. This explains the additional observation that so many politicians are lawyers.



The vocal range is accessible to most singers, and the piano accompaniment is slightly jazzy in its feel and syncopations. For this the 6/8 should be played as written, not adding any additional "swing" to the gestures.



The form is of standard verses with slight modifications though each verse has two different textures one following the other as below. The second verse begins at measure 28 with the same gestures as at measure 8 and beyond.



The last verse becomes bridge material for the song setting, as major-minor seven chords and a reduction of the harmonic rhythm highlight the text's statement of the question, albeit a rhetorical one. A final reprise of half the first verse and cadence ends the song setting with the phrase "listin' to them lawyers."



The score for The Lawyers' Way 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 Lawyers' Way