The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

A Garret of Old Playthings

Five Carl Sandburg songs full of wistfulness, gumption and glee

Words by Carl Sandburg

A Carl Sandburg song cycle exploring the blurred outlines of memory, vivid glimpses of nature’s wonder, and the poet’s notoriously wry wit.

I. A Garret of Old Playthings
II. God Is No Gentleman
III. Changing Light Winds
IV. Spring Grass

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

Halfway through my sophomore year in college I started skipping music theory class. It wasn’t that I disliked music theory – in fact I LOVE music theory! – but many classes were devoted to reviewing material I already knew and I was bored. Cutting class wouldn’t have been a big deal at a large university, but The College of Wooster had a small, engaged, teaching-focused music department. After a few weeks my theory professor had a little chat about my absences with composition professor Jack Gallagher, and together they came up with a special proposal for me. I would be officially exempted from attending certain “review-oriented” classes if I would write a series of theory-based composition exercises.

This was, of course, “an offer I couldn’t refuse,” which was perfectly fine with me because I didn’t want to refuse. Those modest exercises eventually became A Garret of Old Playthings. I wrote them for my friend Janet Youngdahl, who brought her pure     soprano voice and wide-open heart to the songs’ premiere.

By the end of the school year I was attending all the music theory classes again – we were studying 20th-century theory by then and I didn’t want to miss a single beat! – and I had decided to declare a major in music composition. All in all, I’d say it was a pretty good bargain.

Text

A Garret of Old Playthings

I. Upstairs

I too have a garret of old playthings.
I have tin soldiers with broken arms upstairs.
I have wagons with the wheels gone upstairs.
I have guns and a drum, and a jumping jack and a magic lantern.
And dust is on them, and I never look at them upstairs.
I too have a garret of old playthings.

II. God is No Gentleman

God gets up in the morning
and says, “Another day?”
God goes to work every day at regular hours.
God is no gentleman, for God puts
on overalls and gets dirty
running the universe we know
about and several other universes
nobody knows about but Him.

III. Changing Light Winds

Changing light winds
blew over the sea,
came blue, came gold,
came silver with spray,
came white in dreamsnow
with long foam feathers,
long sleepy snowfalls,
then gray over the flats
an overcast of monotone —
night and stars a while
then night and no stars.

IV. Spring Grass

Spring grass, there is a dance to be danced for you.
Come up, spring grass, if only for young feet.
Come up, spring grass, young feet ask you.
Smell of the young spring grass,
You’re a mascot riding on the wind horses.
You came to my nose and spiffed me.
This is your lucky year.
Young spring grass just after the winter,
Shoots of the big green whisper of the year,
Come up, if only for young feet.
Come up, young feet ask you.

V. I Sang

I sang to you and the moon
But only the moon remembers.
I sang
O reckless free-hearted
free-throated rhythms,
Even the moon remembers them
and is kind to me.

Carl Sandburg

“Upstairs” from Cornhuskers by Carl Sandburg; copyright 1918 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., copyright 1946 by Carl Sandburg, by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
“Changing Light Winds” from The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg; renewed 1978 by Margaret Sandburg, Helga Sandburg Crile and Janet Sandburg, by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
“Spring Grass” from Good Morning, America, copyright 1928, 1956 by Carl Sandburg by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
“I Sang” from Chicago Poems by Carl Sandburg; copyright 1916 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Copyright 1944 by Carl Sandburg, by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
“God Is No Gentleman” from Honey and Salt; copyright 1963 by Carl Sandburg, by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.

Performers

Performers

Premiere: Janet Youngdahl and Elizabeth Alexander (Wooster, OH)
Cheryl Coker and Chris Brunt. Millsaps College (Jackson, MS)
Cheryl Coker and Gail Olszewski. University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN)
Christine Killian and Jenya Trubnikava. McPhail Center for Music (Minneapolis, MN)
Harriet McCleary and Elizabeth Alexander. CD Release Party (St. Paul, MN)
Harriet McCleary and Jason Alfred. Tuesday Musicale (Bloomington, MN)
Harriet McCleary and Pam Sohriakoff. Hennepin Methodist Music Series (Minneapolis, MN)
Harriet McCleary and Ruth Palmer. Tuesday Musicale (Bloomington, MN)
Janet Youngdahl and Diane Grzesiak. Delta College (University Center, MI)
Janet Youngdahl and Vivian Montgomery. Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)
Kristen Park and Elizabeth Alexander. Benefit for The Task Force for Battered Women (Ithaca, NY)
Linda Larson and Christopher Morgan Loy. CRS Barn Studio (Ithaca, NY)
Susan Craft and Genevieve Jones. University of Wisconsin-Madison (Madison, WI)