five songs in old American style for tenor and piano (15’)
in five movements
Completed in March, 2018.
Text: from The Task by William Cowper (1731-1800), “Kissing in the Dark” by George Cooper (1840-1927), “Just A’wearyin’ for You” and “A Song in Good Time” by Frank Lebby Stanton (1857-1927), and “Piano” by David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930). The cycle ends with the song “A Perfect Day” (1910) by Carrie Jacobs-Bond (1862-1946).
Commissioned by Tony Boutté and the New American Voices at Sam Houston State University. Premiered by Tony Boutté and Saule Garcia on April 20, 2018.
Awarded second place in the 2019 National Association of Teachers of Singing Art Song Compositions Awards.
The last century-and-a-half has seen rapid and wonderful changes in the technologies of music. This is, surely, something to be celebrated — through piano rolls, wax cylinders, LPs, CDs, and new digital formats, we can listen to some of the greatest performers who are no longer with us. But, like all technological change, there lurks underneath the shiny promise of the new a kind of ache for the loss of the old. As recorded music became more widespread, in-home music-making entered a long period of decline. This sense of loss, of nostalgia for an intimate music that is irrevocably gone, inspired me to write these “Parlo(u)r Songs.”
In “Stir the Fire,” the singer invites us to pull up a chair and sit in his warm parlor, preparing us for the performance that follows. Then, we hear three new parlor songs (“Kissing in the Dark,”“Just A’wearyin’ for You,” and “A Song in Good Time”), generally cheery and gently imitative of the light style of earlier parlor songs. Then, in “Piano,” the singer looks back to this time of at-home music-making, singing about his memories of his mother sitting at the family’s piano. Shot through with grief and nostalgia, this poem includes snippets of the song that closes out the cycle, Carrie Jacobs-Bond’s “A Perfect Day.” This song is quoted in its entirety, allowing the singer’s memory of his mother to overtake us all, and exposing the genre’s beautiful collisions of sweetness, optimism, and deep loss.