Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund


The News - (2013)    

Paul Laurence Dunbar

for bass or baritone and piano


Whut dat you whisperin' keepin' f'om me?
Don't shut me out 'cause I's ol' an' can't see.
Somep'n' 's gone wrong dat's a-causin' you dread,--
Don't be afeared to tell--Whut! mastah dead?

Somebody brung de news early to-day,--
One of de sojers he led, do you say?
Did n't he foller whah ol' mastah led?
How kin he live w'en his leadah is dead?

Let me lay down awhile, dah by his bed;
I wants to t'ink,--hit ain't cleah in my head:--
Killed while a-leadin' his men to fight,--
Dat's whut you said, ain't it, did I hyeah right?

Mastah, my mastah, dead dah in de fiel'?
Lif' me up some,--dah, jes' so I kin kneel.
I was too weak to go wid him, dey said,
Well, now I'll--fin' him--so--mastah is dead.

Yes, suh, I's comin' ez fas' ez I kin,--
'T was kin' o' da'k, but hit's lightah agin:
P'omised yo' pappy I'd allus tek keer
Of you,--yes, mastah,--I's follerin',--hyeah!

3 pages, circa 2' 45"

Paul Laurence Dunbar


The text is found in Dunbar's collection, Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899). For other settings of Dunbar's texts, click here.



The five strophes are treated in verse form, the first two with one accompaniment, the second two with another, and the fifth with yet another. The "snap" rhythm of the opening gesture suggests an odd yet appropriate gaiety upon learning of the death of the "mastah" -- master. The speaker reacts to the news with a variety of thoughts as the strophes go by.



The second texture for a change in the accompaniment emphasize the bass line reaching to the bottom of the keyboard, darkening the mood a little and slowing the tempo. The vocal line remains the same, rather in the manner of a hymn or folk tune.



The final strophe changes colors with tempo changes and motivic elements from earlier as the accompaniment. The setting closes with a tempo primo as a brighter mood returns. It is up to the performers to consider the dramaturgical reasoning behind such an essentially complex reaction as Dunbar offers us in his most interesting, dialect-painted text.



The score for The News 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 News