goat james tate

It Happens Like This

It Happens Like This sets the recitation of a poem by James Tate against an adaptation of a traditional Persian chaharmezrab melody and dance rhythm. Perhaps the cyclical embroiderings of the chaharmezrab echo the successive embroiderings of the narrator’s tale of the goat.

It Happens Like This was commissioned by Mary Sharp Cronson and Works and Process, Inc. for a celebration of James Tate at the Guggenheim Museum. Many thanks to Greg Hesselink for help and advice with the cello notation, and Mary Rowell for ideas and advice for the two-instrument version.

It Happens Like This was written while in residence at the Civitella Ranieri and is dedicated with affection to Diego Mencaroni, who once loved a goat.

I was outside St. Cecelia’s Rectory
smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.
It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish
brown here and there. When I started to walk away,
it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered
what the laws were on this kind of thing. There’s
a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People
smiled at me and admired the goat. “It’s not my goat,”
I explained. “It’s the town’s goat. I’m just taking
my turn caring for it.” “I didn’t know we had a goat,”
one of them said. “I wonder when my turn is.” “Soon,”
I said. “Be patient. Your time is coming.” The goat
stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked
up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew
everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-
man on his beat looked us over. “That’s a mighty
fine goat you got there,” he said, stopping to admire.
“It’s the town’s goat,” I said. “His family goes back
three-hundred years with us,” I said, “from the beginning.”
The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped
and looked up at me. “Mind if I pat him?” he asked.
“Touching this goat will change your life,” I said.
“It’s your decision.” He thought real hard for a minute,
and then stood up and said, “What’s his name?” “He’s
called the Prince of Peace,” I said. “God! This town
is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there’s mystery
and wonder. And I’m just a child playing cops and robbers
forever. Please forgive me if I cry.” “We forgive you,
Officer,” I said. “And we understand why you, more than
anybody, should never touch the Prince.” The goat and
I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning
to wonder where we would spend the night.
james tate

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Here is the traditional chaharmezrab on which the piece is based:

It Happens Like This is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. To hear a live recording of the duo version by BRIM, please visit July 6th.

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Here is a score of the original cello plus actor version. And here is the two-instrument version of It Happens Like This. It has been done as a violin/viola duo, and as a mandolin/guitar duo. For a set of parts, please order by clicking the donation link below (and let me know if you need different transposition or clefs.)

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