Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund


When A Feller's Itchin' To Be Spanked - (2009)    
Paul Laurence Dunbar

for baritone and piano


W'en us fellers stomp around, makin' lots o' noise,
Gramma says, "There's certain times comes to little boys
W'en they need a shingle or the soft side of a plank;"
She says "we're a-itchin' for a right good spank."
An' she says, "Now thes you wait,
It's a-comin'—soon or late,
W'en a fellers itchin' for a spank."

W'en a feller's out o' school, you know how he feels,
Gramma says we wriggle 'roun like a lot o' eels.
W'y it's like a man that's thes home from out o' jail.
What's the use o' scoldin' if we pull Tray's tail?
Gramma says, tho’, 'thes you wait,
It's a-comin'—soon or late,
You'se the boys that's itchin' to be spanked."

Cats is funny creatures an' I like to make 'em yowl
Gramma alwus looks at me with an awful scowl
An' she says, "Young gentlemen, mamma should be thanked
Ef you'd get your knickerbockers right well spanked."
An' she says, "Now thes you wait,
It's a-comin' — soon or late,"
W'en a feller's itchin' to be spanked.

Ef you fin' the days is getting' awful hot in school
An' you know a swimmin' place where it's nice an' cool,
Er you know a cat-fish hole brimmin' full o' fish,
Whose a-goin' to set around school and wish?
"Tain't no use to hide your bait,
It's a-comin'—soon or late,
W'en a feller's itchin' to be spanked.

Ol' folks know most ever'thing 'bout the world, I guess,
Gramma does, we wish she knowed thes a little less,
But I alwus kind o' think it 'ud be as well
Ef they wouldn't alwus have to up an' tell;
We kids wish 'at they'd thes wait,
It's a-comin'—soon or late,
W'en a feller's itchin' to be spanked.

[ 6 pages, circa 3' 50" ]

Paul Laurence Dunbar


For other settings of Dunbar's texts, please see his entry in the Authors' Alphabetical Index - D. This dialect text recalls the exuberance of a boy's childhood, something not readily forgotten by most adult men. The ubiquitous grandmother whom many of us knew was seemingly all-knowing and "getting away with" was not often an option as she saw through all and knew so very much. Nonetheless, for this unfortunate burden in the life of a boy, remembering a grandmother is so often a joy, and Dunbar tells this in several, charming stanzas of verse.



For the five verses, I chose to set the first two as repeat verses, with an interlude one measure shorter for the second that the first. The light syncopations rely of the language itself in this standard Americana style. The verses Dunbar penned each break from the first four lines of lengthy couplets, into a three line refrain similar in each verse. For this the song form became A-A-B-A-C, in which the refrain appears in each.



The third verse breaks from the A section with a lightly polytonal painting in half time tempo of meows followed by a staccato "yowl" of which Dunbar writes. The refrain returns towards the first verses' materials which is the long half-note triplets as shown below which end verses one and two.



The fifth verse becomes sweeter, thinking more closely on "Gramma," and the half time tempo returns to lengthen the reminiscence before again returning to the refrain as structured by the poet himself.



The score for When A Feller's Itchin' To Be Spanked 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.


When A Feller's Itchin' To Be Spanked