Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund


What's The Use - (2009)    

Paul Laurence Dunbar

for high voice and piano


What’s the use o’ folks a-frownin’
When the way’s a little rough?
Frowns lay out the road fur smilin’
You’ll be wrinkled soon enough.
What’s the use?

What’s the use o’ folks a-sighin’?
It’s an awful waste o’ breath,
An’ a body can’t stand wastin’
What he needs so bad in death.
What’s the use?

What’s the use o’ even weepin’?
Might as well go long an’ smile.
Life, out longest, strongest arrow,
Only lasts a little while.
What’s the use?

[ 4 pages, circa 2' 10" ]


Paul Laurence Dunbar


For other settings of Dunbar's texts, please see his entry in the Authors' Alphabetical Index - D. This text, like many of his, is written in the dialect through which he captured a subset of an authentic American era and culture, yet with it this master poet offers a moment of philosophic reflection as well.



The setting mirrors the form of the poem, a three-verse form in which slight modifications to the vocal line and accompaniment as well as small differences in the interludes between make up the largest part of the variations herein. An aggressive syncopation introduces the theme and title of the work, as well as its single line refrain. The verse takes up after the double bar line.



The three verses completed, the setting repeats the question several last times, the last hanging rhythmically over a last cadence in the accompaniment's treble, with only the "button" to end the setting quietly.



The score for What's The Use 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.


What's The Use