I was also hoping to find a poem or two that I might set to music as a song (or 'art song', although I don't really like that term as it seems to imply that 'popular' or folk songs are not art) as I was looking to write some again and would prefer to not deal with copyrights (as all of Whitman's works are in the public domain). I found this little poem that I thought would be perfect, called "Others May Praise What They Like":
Others may praise what they like;
But I, from the banks of the running Missouri, praise nothing in art or aught else,
Till it has well inhaled the atmosphere of this river, also the western prairie-scent,
And exudes it all again.
|Looking down the Missouri from the Nebraska side|
|Looking up the Missouri from the Nebraska side|
(Another aside: There are many different verses that have been collected over the years for 'Shenandoah' and it is of unknown origin, as I learned from the Song of American Project page on it. Some verses seem to speak of a pioneer's longing for his old home in the Shenandoah valley of Virginia that he left to go west, others of a Confederate soldier in the civil war longing for the same region, and still others of a Missouri River traveler who fell in love with the daughter of an Indian chief named 'Shenandoah'. Nebraska City is on the west side of the river, so I was singing it east towards Iowa and the east coast I'd left behind, making it the song really personal to me. Yet, I made an amazing discovery just a week or two ago, that just about 30 miles across the river in Iowa lies...Shenandoah, Iowa! Might this be the true [or one of the true], Shenandoah[s]? I'd love to think so, [and songwriter Richard Thompson suggests it is as well] and I'm going to drive through and visit it on my way back home.)
|Looking east from the Nebraska side to Iowa. Shenandoah, IA is just 30 miles beyond those trees.|
|Looking west at Nebraska from the Iowa side|
Nearly all of the music I have written has been written because of a musical impulse or inspiration rather than something outside of music. For instance, I have written music because I heard a piece that I consequently fell in love with and wanted to create something similar, or I found a cool musical idea through improvising (which is the ultimate way to squeeze that 'mental slosh' I was talking about) that I wanted to explore further, or I came upon a theme or musical idea that someone else came up with or used. For example, the Piano Concerto I'm currently writing is all about my relationship with Mozart's music. There have been times when I fitted music with something extra-musical, for instance the texts I have set to music in choral works and songs, or to the idea of "spinning" in my "Waltzing Dervish" for Wind (powered) Ensemble, but these are not as clear-cut as simply being inspired by the text or wind turbines. With 'Waltzing Dervish', it was the motion of Viennese waltz dancers and the musical style that accompanies it (as well as the circular motion of a conductor's hand when conducting a fast waltz in one beat), specifically that music's mood and joyful feeling, that I sought to portray. The connection with the extra-musical idea, the motion of spinning which extended to dancing and dervishes and wind turbines and clean energy, was already made for me. With setting texts, it is much more a process of trial and error, trying to find what music fits with the mood of the piece overall (I do believe that if there is one thing that music can express fairly concretely, it is a mood, as opposed to an emotion or other 'meaning', but that's a whole other discussion). Sometimes it's easier and sometimes harder. Then there are also cases where after writing the music I realize "oh, that fits really well with [insert non-musical idea here]."
I realize now that I've been trying to force myself to be inspired by something. I've enjoyed writing songs in the past and thought it had been long enough to end my song-'fast' (I've had other songs as well I've been trying to write in the past couple months, but they haven't really been working out either, except for one rare case where I had the music written but could find no text to fit with it, so I wrote a text myself to fit with the mood and form of the music.) I believe I do usually work better when I let the music come and don't try to fit it into something that I am not inspired by (yet), whether non-musical or musical (for example, if I was trying to write variations on a theme that I don't care for or see potential in).
|Another view from the Nebraska side|