Hanging Out To Dry - Poem by gershon hepner
Stopping and starting, belling, stertorous,
the lovers come and go and nurture us
in springs and summers of our Knoxville lives,
but we must all be laundered by our wives.
To them let all our days be dedicated,
for while on parents lives are predicated,
our days are more illuminated by
our spouses till they hang us out to dry.
Inspired by a performance of Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville, Summer of 1915, ” broadcast on KUSC this morning and sung by Kathleeen Battle:
The introduction concludes, and the reverie is interrupted abruptly; we are thrown into an allegro agitato, where Barber carries a simple horn-like motive in the woodwinds and horns. Staccato and pizzicato lines add to the chaos. Like the introduction, the imagery is vivid but intangible yet - this passage has all the clearness of a dream but we are unclear what it means. The soprano again clarifies the imagery, 'a streetcar raising its iron moan; stopping; belling and starting, stertorous; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan.' The noisy, metallic texture persists, interrupted by a notably pointed excursion, 'like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks.' Describing the spark above the trolley car as a spirit following it closely, Barber uses staccato woodwinds and pizzicato strings in walking chromaticism to illustrate this image…. The summer of 1915 was a significant year for James Agee: it was not long before his father died in 1916. According to Agee, it was the point around which his life began to evolve (Aiken) . When Barber was writing his own Knoxville, his father, Roy Barber, was losing his health and rapidly approaching death. Barber dedicates the work with the inscription 'In memory of my Father, ' suggesting that his father's deteriorating health had something to do with his identification with the piece. Barber was touched by the familiarity of Agee's childhood memories and the fact that both he and Agee were five years old in 1915. When Barber and Agee were to meet later, Barber would note that the two shared many uncanny similarities.
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