only your dolls

only your dolls is a song for voice and piano, setting a poem by Anne Sexton called Sixth Psalm.

The piece is part of a song cycle called finish what I haven’t started, about mid-century middle class female unhappiness. Other songs in the cycle set poems by June Jordan, Jane Bowles, and Lucille Clifton. finish what I haven’t started was commissioned by the Brooklyn Art Song Society, and premiered by Devony Smith and Danny Zelibor in April 2022.

The photograph is one of a series of images made by a family friend, Jo Ann Krivin. They have haunted me since childhood.

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For America is a lady rocking on a porch in an unpainted house on an unused road but Anne does not see it.

For America is a librarian in Wichita coughing dust and sharing sourballs with the postman.

For America is Dr. Abraham passing out penicillin and sugar pills to the town of Woolrich, Pennsylvania.

For America is an old man washing his feet in Albion, Michigan. Drying them carefully and then applying Dr. Scholl’s foot powder. But Anne does not see it. Anne is locked in.

For America is a reformed burglar turned locksmith who pulls up the shades of his shop at nine A.M. daily (except Sunday when he leaves his phone number on the shop door).

For America is a fat woman dusting a grand piano in English Creek, New Jersey.

For America is a suede glove manufacturer sitting in his large swivel chair feeling the goods and assessing his assets and debits.

For America is a bus driver in Embarrass, Minnesota, clocking the miles and watching the little cardboard suitcases file by.

For America is a land of Commies and Prohibitionists but Anne does not see it. Anne is locked in. The Trotskyites don’t see her. The Republicans have never tweaked her chin for she is not there. Anne hides inside folding and unfolding rose after rose. She has no one. She has Christopher. They sit in their room pinching the dolls’ noses, poking the doll’s eyes. One time they gave a doll a ride in a fuzzy slipper but that was too far, too far wasn’t it. Anne did not dare. She put the slipper with the doll inside it as in a car right into the closet and pushed the door shut.

For America is the headlight man at the Ford plant in Detroit, Michigan, he of the wires, he of the white globe, all day, all day, all year, all his year’s headlights, seventy a day, improved by automation but Anne does not.

For America is a miner in Ohio, slipping into the dark hole and bringing forth cat’s eyes each night.

For America is only this room… there is no useful activity.

For America only your dolls are cheerful.

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only your dolls is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear my original demo of the piece by visiting 4 October.

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For a performing score, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $12, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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CALLING ON ALL SILENT MINORITIES

CALLING ON ALL SILENT MINORITIES is a song for voice and piano, setting a poem by June Jordan.

HEY

C’MON
COME OUT

WHEREVER YOU ARE

WE NEED TO HAVE THIS MEETING
AT THIS TREE

AIN’ EVEN BEEN
PLANTED
YET

CALLING ON ALL SILENT MINORITIES was written as the closing song in a cycle called finish what I haven’t started, about mid-century middle class female unhappiness. Other songs in the cycle set poems by Anne Sexton, Jane Bowles, and Lucille Clifton. finish what I haven’t started was commissioned by the Brooklyn Art Song Society with partial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, and premiered by Devony Smith and Danny Zelibor in April 2022.

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CALLING ON ALL SILENT MINORITIES is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear my recording of the piece by visiting 7 March.

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For a performing score, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $12, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS

Plunge

Plunge is a song for voice and piano, setting a poem by Bill Knott. It will soon be part of a cycle based on his poetry, commissioned by Frederick Peters and Music from the Copland House for Lucy Fitz Gibbon and Michael Boriskin. Another song in the cycle is Peace (Pascal).

at night one drop of rain
falls from each star
as if it were being lowered
on a string

and yet that storm of plummets
is never enough
to wet any of the planets
that pass through it

only the blackness the space
between us is washed
away by these singular
lettings-down of water

distance is washed away
all the worlds merge
for a liquid moment
our island eyes

and suddenly we understand
why umbrellas love
to dive
into clouds

Plunge was written in July 2022, when the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope were being shared. Written for AddieRose Brown and Edward Forstman, it is dedicated to them with great affection.

Plunge is 12 July in my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear Lucy Fitz Gibbon and Michael Boriskin’s recording of the piece there.

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To the performers:

If the vocalist wants to play the piano part while singing, it’s fine to leave off the right hand piano doubling of the vocal line. In fact, the accompanying pianist is welcome to play only the left hand part or to improvise a right hand part to accompany the singer: see what works best for you!

For a performing score, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $5, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS

Peace (Pascal)

Peace (Pascal) is a song for voice and piano, setting a poem by Bill Knott.

There is a valley
Is the oldest story.

Its temperate qualities
Make us descend the trees
To settle down beside
Fruits and fields.

By its river content
To sit quietly in a small tent
To fashion fishing spears
From fallen limbs.

No need to climb its hills
No need to go up there
To look to see
Another valley.

Note:
“Most of our problems proceed from our inability to sit quietly in a small room.” –Pascal

The piece was written in slightly belated honor of Fred Peters on his 70th birthday, and is dedicated to him with vast affection. Despite Fred’s boundless energy and love of ALL the valleys, he is also quite able to sit quietly in a small room, which might be the best combination of personal qualities there is!

Peace (Pascal) was premiered on September 15, 2022 at The Century Club, New York City, by Music from Copland House (Lucy Fitz Gibbon, soprano and Michael Boriskin, pianist) at the celebration honoring Fred’s many years of service to NMUSA.

Peace (Pascal) is 28 December in my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear my own recording of the piece there.

To the performers:

If the vocalist wants to play the piano part while singing, it’s fine to leave out the left hand piano doubling of the vocal line. In fact, the (separate) pianist is welcome to play only the right hand part or to play the left hand melody in any octave that pleases you both.

If you like, you can precede a performance of the song by reading the Pascal quotation: “Most of our problems proceed from our inability to sit quietly in a small room.”

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For a performing score, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $5, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS