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5. You get to Gilead

6. The Rumination of Rivers

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Ruminations (Six Poems of William Bronk) (2003)

For baritone, clarinets ( B flat and bass) and piano

1. Of the Natural World

2. Skunk Cabbage

3. I thought it was Harry

4. The Wall

5. You get to Gilead

6. The Rumination of Rivers

 

Duration: 30 minutes

These songs were commissioned in 2003 by the children of Charles Randall Gilmore in memory of the poet, William Bronk. One of those children is Pamela Gilmore, a collaborative pianist, opera coach and treasured colleague, who grew up playing in the yard of her father’s neighbor and friend who just happened to be one of America’s notable post-modern poets.

 

Three of the songs were included on American baritone Elem Eley’s critically acclaimed CD with Albany Records entitled Drifts and Shadows with clarinetist, Bruce Williamson and me at the piano. Elem, Bruce and I performed the long awaited world premiere on July 28, 2010 at Westminster Choir College’s Bristol Chapel.  You can hear excerpts from the cycle with us performing below.

 

 

Notes

 

In Of the Natural World we glean Bronk’s descent from the lineage of Thoreau and Whitman. Nature is tantamount to God. That the narrator wants to “practice the world’s song” recalls the more scientific Thoreau while his impatience and desire to achieve union with nature suggest the more sensual Whitman and prompted me to compose a final verse of vocalise for the singer/narrator.

 

The poem, Skunk Cabbage, was written for Charles Gilmore’s daughter, Pam, when she was a child. Pam and I knew we wanted to use the bass clarinet for at least one setting. The instrument’s smoky, low tessitura captures the humble yet pungent character of this early spring plant that those of us who grew up in the Northeast might recall as the first green in low lying woods.

 

I thought it was Harry is considered Bronk’s greatest poem and a post-modern declaration of the ever shifting nature of identity. The wry intensity, flippancy and speed of the poem leave one giddy. First I thought of absurdist Apollinaire and the Marx brothers and then it occurred to me that a patter song would be the perfect paradigm for a setting such as in a Danny Kay movie or Where is the life that late I led from Kiss me Kate.

 

Despite the temptations of desire one can never possess another. In The Wall Bronk evokes this ever expectant but ultimately unrequited state. The clarinet answers the piano and a dance ensues. As the narrator enters in a statement longing for union, s/he is instead lifted to a climactic “we are alone forever, forever” which the instruments respond to in mocking reply. Only the uncanny, pure essence of “aloneness” remains.

 

When I first read You Get to Gilead or Go Ahead; Goodbye; Good Luck and Watch Out, I thought of a spiritual because of the jive, black American color to the words. Then I realized this is an anti-spiritual or at least a cynical, Jobian one. There was a sock seller named Sam who used to set up his card tables just outside my apartment on Amsterdam Avenue. I based some of the extended vocal technique in Gilead on Sam’s wonderful street cries in the morning.

 

The movement and flow of water or its chewing through the earth’s crust reveals itself to be the very engine of the self in The Rumination of Rivers. Both senses of the word “rumination: “to chew” and “to contemplate” converge. The ever changing landscape creates a sort of travelogue as the narrator undertakes an almost topological exploration of self as earth.

 

— Martin Hennessy

1. Of the Natural World

2. Skunk Cabbage

3. I thought it was Harry

4. The Wall