Songs of Myself
for diverse voices and instruments
by Ron Hannah
for soprano, piano, violin, and french horn
- Nightsong and Earthvision
(words by Walt Whitman) 1979 (Duration: 9'35")
A Decade, for medium voice, harp, viola and synthesizer or other keyboard instrument
(words by Amy Lowell) 1979 (Duration: 4'15")
Credo, for mezzo-soprano, viola and piano (ALSO version for voice, viola, flute, and harp)
(words by Edwin Arlington Robinson) 1990 (Duration: 4'30")
Prologue, for soprano, flute, clarinet, piano, violin, and cello
(words by John Masefield) 1994 (Duration: 3'30")
Gone Home, in versions for high voice & piano; SATB a cappella; SATB & piano; SATB & orchestra
(words by Lowell Hannah) 2010 (Duration: 4')
This highly personal cycle will be a work in progress until the day I die. Every so often a poem appears that simply must be set to music: it is
too perfect, too much a reflection of what I am and what I believe. It must
be set without regard to performance possiblities or any other consideration -
it must be set. You can see in the list of titles above how this has affected the various instrumentations!
A few sample pages of each score may be downloaded by clicking on the buttons on the left side of the page, but please let me know if you decide to perform one or more of them, so that I can keep my Performances page up-to-date.
Walt Whitman's Song of Myself is a sprawling commentary on life's possibilities, and it gives my song collection (I won't call it a cycle) its
title. The poem speaks eloquently of Whitman's awe and love - what else could explain lines like those below?:
"Smile O voluptuous cool-breath'd earth!
Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees!
Earth of departed sunset - earth of the mountains misty-topt!
Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue!
Earth of shine and dark mottling the tide of the river!
Earth of the limpid gray of clouds brighter and clearer for my sake!
Far-swooping elbow'd earth - rich apple-blossom'd earth!
Smile, for your lover comes."
I know this fragment is so well-known as to be clichéd and that many others have set these words, but I love it anyway!
Amy Lowell's poetry is among the most evocative I have ever found. The sheer sensuality of this little poem (printed below) is overpowering and its sentiment is eternal.
"When you came, you were like red wine and honey
And the taste of you burnt my mouth with its sweetness.
Now you are like morning bread,
Smooth and pleasant,
I hardly taste you at all for I know your savour
But I am completely nourished."
The original score (now lost) specifies medium voice with "synthesizer or other keyboard", along with viola. I had worked out a pleasant voice on a Yamaha DX7 synth, and had a printout of the settings - but now I cannot find it. It was a sweet, slightly persistent, organ/voice/woodwind sound, and if I ever find it I will post it here.
I liked this gentle, slightly minimalistic song so much that when I was asked to write a score for a play called A Sea Liturgy, about life in an Irish fishing village, I re-used the melody and set to it the words of the Lord's Prayer. It worked very nicely, the villagers intoning the prayer and myself playing the synthesizer in the accompanying ensemble. The description of this choral work may be found at this link.
But I still wasn't finished with it: You may find its final incarnation as the second of my "3 Inevitable Songs arranged this time for soprano, harp, flute and viola (Credo, below and similarly rewritten, has become the first of that set). In fact, for a complete listing of my works based on Amy Lowell's poetry, including settings for chorus and orchestra, please click on the link.
Mention Edwin Arlington Robinson, and someone is bound to say,"Oh! Depressing!" What nonsense! This sonnet, at least, is an example of shining optimism in the face of the void, and my setting for mezzo-soprano, viola and piano, is very successful if I may say so! Oh, and as of 2014, it also exists as the first of my Three Inevitable Songs (see also A Decade, above), with the addition of a flute and a harp.
"I CANNOT find my way: there is no star
In all the shrouded heavens anywhere;
And there is not a whisper in the air
Of any living voice but one so far
That I can hear it only as a bar
Of lost, imperial music, played when fair
And angel fingers wove, and unaware,
Dead leaves to garlands where no roses are.
No, there is not a glimmer, nor a call,
For one that welcomes, welcomes when he fears,
The black and awful chaos of the night;
For through it all-above, beyond it all-
I know the far-sent message of the years,
I feel the coming glory of the Light.
My setting of John Masefield's Prologue was first performed at the 35th anniversary concert of the Canadian Music Centre in Calgary, with Elsie Hepburn as soprano soloist accompanied by flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, in a poem which I find irresistible. It speaks of stirring music, of marching men "...who trod a way unseen by mortal eye / with life for bread, with ecstasy for friend / their very substance that which cannot die...", and of the poet's earnest wish to go with them. Who are these men? The great thinkers? The Enlightened masters? To me they symbolize our wish for something better, for a life of soaring joy.
At left is a link to the piano/voice version of "Gone Home", written on a poem of my own father, Lowell Hannah, who died in 1986. The song exists in several other formats as well: SATB with piano; SATB a cappella; and SATB with orchestra.
Lowell Hannah was an amateur poet, one of those whose naturally poetic and musical inclinations were thwarted by the Great Depression and World War 2. I have to say he was not a great poet, though I loved him dearly, and I have looked at his little book many times over the years, being disappointed always to find that I simply did not find a poem that I felt suitable for a song setting. It took a family tragedy to bring his work to life: my daughter's boyfriend died of cancer. One of dad's poems had been written for friends who had lost a child, and I realized that with a few small changes it would work for my daughter's situation. At last I could set something of his and pay tribute to my daughter's young man and her ensuing courage in dealing with his loss. I was delighted and saddened at the same time.
A precious one is lost to you and gone,
And while this loss now makes you blue,
Remember who still has control,
He sees beyond the hills we stroll.
And while we cannot understand or grasp
Why in His wisdom He'd command
A life we love to so abruptly cease,
Perhaps that's how that life gains peace.
We think we know so much, and still we doubt,
We ponder the wisdom of God's will,
We try to plan so far ahead,
Yet God notes there a thing of dread.
So, seeing things we cannot know,
He weaves His plan that grieves us so.
And while we ache for the ones we love,
Remember they're with God above.
Above the greed and fast-paced strife they sit,
Beyond the hurting of this life:
At peace with God, beneath His wing
Where they can't be touched by anything.
"Gone Home" is unusual in my output in that it is heavily jazz influenced. I love the expressive possibilities of jazz and have often marvelled at its complex harmonies. Those sounds somehow seemed to suit this poem, and perhaps they will even make the song more approachable to people who still find modern harmonies forbidding. So might the occasional references to "Rock of Ages", a hymn beloved of my father. You can see how much I like this piece by the fact that I have re-written it for several ensembles! The version for chorus and orchestra was premièred by Clyde Mitchell and the Chilliwack Symphony Orchestra in 2010, with myself singing tenor in the chorus. Email me if you would like to hear a recording (rather overexposed and noisy - the microphone was under the steps upon which we were standing).
All of the songs are in my freely tonal, somewhat
dissonant style (except for #5 as noted), and require strong performers both in their techniques and in their hearts.
To obtain parts, please visit the Canadian Music Centre, or email me (below). I'll be happy to send them, but only if you inform me of any performances. I beg people on every page of this site to send me such details so that I can keep my Performances page current, but almost no one does! I'd like to know how famous I am becoming :)