Carlyle Sharpe Of These Years I Sing

Sundays with the Symphony: September 13

A Message from Conductor Christopher Koch

Program Notes from the Composer

Christopher Koch had been asking me to write another choral/orchestral work since he performed the Missouri premiere of Proud Music of the Storm with the Springfield-Drury Civic Orchestra and Drury University Chorale back in 2008. Unlike Proud Music of the Storm, which was taken from a single poem by Walt Whitman, this work is drawn from 11 different poems by Whitman which focus on freedom, death, and the triumphs and messiness of democracy, as well as the importance of women and mothers in society. The work is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Shirley Ritter Carle, who earned a degree in history and a minor in English in college. As such, she would have loved the confluence of those two elements in the Whitman texts. And like Christopher, she also wanted me to write another large-scale work for chorus and orchestra. The work was completed on December 1, 2019, and aligns with the 2019 bicentennial year of Whitman’s birth. Thank you to Christopher Koch for being so tenacious about getting this project o the ground, to Jim Davidson, Beth Falukos, and the members of the Drury Chorale, who have prepared the work over the course of the fall semester, to the Springfield-Drury Civic Orchestra, and to mezzo- soprano, Ann Marie Wilcox-Daehn. (Carlyle Sharpe)  

In Horace Traubel’s November 1917 article, “Walt Whitman’s America”, he comments: 

Walt was never as strong in talking about war as he was in talking about America. He had very high ideas of America. Not of the America that we were, but of the America we might be. The America of idealisms and dreams. The America of noble manners and magnificent soul. The welcomer of the oppressed. The asylum of the poor and downtrodden. He loved to dilate upon that America. He was often misunderstood. He was taken by literalists to be a partisan of geographical America. To be a bragger and a boaster. To blow about our status. To swell his chest out and lift his head in the air and tell big stories about ourselves. Thomas Carlyle and others thought of Walt as a man who thought he was a big man because he lived in a big country. I never heard a phrase of bluster or vainglory from his lips. “Horace,” he said to me: “why do you suppose people who don’t want anything to do with me are so inclined to misrepresent my point of view? It’s as if they didn’t want me to be what they must know I am. My America is still all in the making: it’s a promise, a possible something: it’s to come: it’s by no means here. Besides, what do I care about the material America? America is to me an idea, a forecast, a prophecy: it may evolve to noble fruition or end as an incommensurable disaster. I don’t want to be tied to the little conclusions of a petty nationalism. America will extend itself as an idea, never I hope in conquest. I’d rather anything should happen to us than that we should add one inch of territory to our domain by conquest.

In Ed Folsom’s 2005 article, “What a Filthy Presidentiad!”: Clinton’s Whitman, Bush’s Whitman, and Whitman’s America, he comments as follows: 

United States presidents have usually gotten exactly the Walt Whitman they deserved. During his own lifetime, Whitman admired and disdained presidents with unusual passion, rising to some of his most sublime language to evoke Lincoln and descending to some of his coarsest to describe Benjamin Harrison. There was a long foreground to Whitman’s Harrison-register of voice, brought on in the 1840s and 50s, while he watched helplessly as a whole line of hapless presidents allowed the country to slip toward civil war. Whitman described Franklin Pierce’s term in o ce as “a filthy Presidentiad” (in the poem To The States), but James Buchanan, who was about to be elected, was also very much on his mind. It was this sorry political state that spurred Whitman to begin writing Leaves of Grass and publish it 165 years ago. And by the third edition in 1860, Buchanan had directly entered Whitman’s book, the subject of this memorable little Whitman tribute, To a President. (Both To The States and To a President appear in tonight’s work.) As outspoken as Whitman was about presidents during his lifetime, what is astonishing is how our national poet keeps re-emerging at key points in the terms of presidents in the century- plus since his death. It would be instructive to track how every president since Whitman’s death has at some point encountered the poet in a significant way. 

Notes by Michael Steinberg, Bruce Lamott, and Carlyle Sharpe 

A Message from Soprano Jennifer Forni


Of These Years I Sing

I. To Foreign Lands (Chorus and Orchestra

I heard that you ask’d for something to prove this puzzle, the New World, And to define America, her athletic Democracy; Therefore I send you my poems, that you behold in them what you wanted.

II. To The States (Chorus and Orchestra

Why reclining, interrogating? Why myself and all drowsing? What deepening twilight—scum floating atop of the waters, Who are they, as bats and night-dogs, askant in the Capitol? What a filthy Presidentiad! (O south, your torrid suns! O north, your arctic freezings!) Are those really Congressmen? are those the great Judges? is that the President? Then I will sleep awhile yet, for I see that These States sleep, for reasons; (With gathering murk—with muttering thunder and lambent shoots, we all duly awake, South, North, East, West, inland and seaboard, we will surely awake.) 

III. Poets to Come (Chorus and Orchestra

Poets to come! orators, singers, musicians to come! Not to-day is to justify me, and answer what I am for; But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater than before known, Arouse! Arouse—for you must justify me—you must answer. I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future, Leaving it to you to prove and define it, Expecting the main things from you. 

IV. To a President (Mezzo-Soprano and Orchestra

All you are doing and saying is to America dangled mirages, You have not learn’d of Nature—of the politics of Nature, you have not learn’d the great amplitude, rectitude, impartiality; You have not seen that only such as they are for These States, And that what is less than they, must sooner or later lift o from These States. 

V. I Sit and Look Out (Mezzo-Soprano and Orchestra

I sit and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame; I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish with themselves, remorseful after deeds done; I see, in low life, the mother misused by her children, dying, neglected, gaunt, desperate; I see the wife misused by her husband—I see the treacherous seducer of young women; I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love, attempted to be hid—I see these sights on the earth; I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny—I see martyrs and prisoners; I observe a famine at sea—I observe the sailors casting lots who shall be kill’d, to preserve the lives of the rest; I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon laborers, the poor, and upon negroes, and the like; All these—All the meanness and agony without end, I sitting, look out upon, See, hear, and am silent. 

VI. Long, Too Long America (Chorus

Long, too long America, Traveling roads all even and peaceful you learn’d from joys and prosperity only, But now, ah now, to learn from crises of anguish, advancing, grappling with direst fate and recoiling not, And now to conceive and show to the world what your children en-masse really are, (For who except myself has yet conceiv’d what your children en-masse really are?) 

VII. From This Hour, Freedom! (Chorus and Orchestra

From this hour, freedom! From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines, Going where I list, my own master, total and absolute, Listening to others, and considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me. I inhale great draughts of space; The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine. I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness. All seems beautiful to me; I can repeat over to men and women, You have done such good to me, I would do the same to you. I will recruit for myself and you as I go; I will scatter myself among men and women as I go; I will toss the new gladness and roughness among them; Whoever denies me, it shall not trouble me; Whoever accepts me, he or she shall be blessed, and shall bless me. 

VIII. Of These Years I Sing (Chorus and Orchestra

Of these years I sing, How they pass and have pass’d, through convuls’d pains as through parturitions; How America illustrates birth, muscular youth, the promise, the sure fulfillment, the Absolute Success, despite of people—illustrates evil as well as good; How many hold despairingly yet to the models departed, caste, myths, obedience, compulsion, and to infidelity; How few see the arrived models, the Athletes, the Western States—or see freedom or spirituality—or hold any faith in results, (But I see the Athletes—and I see the results of the war glorious and inevitable—and they again leading to other results.) How the great cities appear—How the Democratic masses, turbulent, wilful, as I love them; How the whirl, the contest, the wrestle of evil with good, the sounding and resounding, keep on and on; How society waits unform’d, and is for awhile between things ended and things begun; How America is the continent of glories, and of the triumph of freedom, and of the Democracies, and of the fruits of society, and of all that is begun; And how The States are complete in themselves—And how all triumphs and glories are complete in themselves, to lead onward, And how these of mine, and of The States, will in their turn be convuls’d, and serve other arturitions and transitions, And how all people, sights, combinations, the Democratic masses, too, serve—and how every fact, and war itself, with all its horrors, serves, And how  now, or at any time, each serves the exquisite transition of death. 

IX. Wandering at Morn (Mezzo-Soprano, Chorus and Orchestra

Wandering at morn, Emerging from the night, from gloomy thoughts—thee in my thoughts, Yearning for thee, harmonious Union! thee, Singing Bird divine! Thee, seated coil’d in evil times, my Country, with craft and black dismay— with every meanness, treason thrust upon thee; —Wandering at morn—this common marvel I beheld—the parent thrush I watch’d, feeding its young, (The singing thrush, whose tones of joy and faith ecstatic, Fail not to certify and cheer my soul.) There ponder’d, felt I, If worms, snakes, loathsome grubs, may to sweet spiritual songs be turn’d, If vermin so transposed, so used, so bless’d may be, Then may I trust in you, your fortunes, days, my country; —Who knows that these may be the lessons fit for you? From these your future Song may rise, with joyous trills, Destin’d to fill the world. 

X. With All Thy Gifts, America (Mezzo-Soprano and Orchestra

With all thy gifts, America, (Standing secure, rapidly tending, overlooking the world,) Power, wealth, extent, vouchsafed to thee—With these, and like of these, vouchsafed to thee, What if one gift thou lackest? (the ultimate human problem never solving;) The gift of Perfect Women fit for thee—What of that gift of gifts thou lackest? The towering Feminine of thee? the beauty, health, completion, fit for thee? The Mothers fit for thee? 

XI. One Song, America, Before I Go 

One song, America, before I go, I’d sing, o’er all the rest, with trumpet sound, For thee—the Future. I’d sow a seed for thee of endless Nationality; I’d fashion thy Ensemble, including Body and Soul; I’d show, away ahead, thy real Union, and how it may be accomplish’d. (The paths to the House I seek to make, But leave to those to come, the House itself.) Belief I sing—and Preparation; As Life and Nature are not great with reference to the Present only, But greater still from what is yet to come, Out of that formula for Thee I sing. 

Text adapted by Carlyle Sharpe from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass