The Prairie Sings
Texts by Carl Sandburg

    Kristin Wunderlich, soprano
    Marjorie Wharton, piano
    ca. 17 minutes

...of waters by night


...laughing corn


...of late summer


...of passing night


...of beauty


The prairie is sometimes described as an endless ocean of grass. To depict this, I chose to use ostinati. An ostinato is a short repeated accompaniment pattern. Sometimes an ostinato contains melodic elements, which can be manipulated and transformed and caused to undulate like windblown grass. You will hear ostinati in all but one of the songs (...of late summer).

In ...waters by night, I have written quiet, legato patterns to depict the sounds of soft rains and murmuring creeks. In ...laughing corn, short staccato notes tell the listener that the corn is chuckling/giggling and energetic triplet patterns tell that the corn is bursting out in laughter. Have you ever ridden on a train and become aware of the distinctive rhythmic patterns? You will hear them in ...passing night. These patterns become the basis for the return of water in ...of beauty; the patterns begin in the highest registers of the piano before falling gently at the ends of phrases.

In France in the early part of the twentieth century, it was not unusual to see a piano in an artist’s studio. Artists, musicians, poets, fashion and costume designers were all exploring new modes of expression; they delighted in artistic exchange and responded to each other’s work in their own media. I wrote The Prairie Sings in response to Kristi Carlson’s vision of the prairie. I was fortunate to find the wonderful poetry of Carl Sandburg to give me further inspiration. This song cycle was written to celebrate the opening of Kristi Carlson’s thesis exhibit and is dedicated to her.

Texts (and their original titles):

Prairie Waters by Night from Cornhuskers (1918)
Chatter of birds two by two raises a night song joining a litany of running water—sheer waters showing the russet of old stones remembering many rains.

And the long willows drowse on the shoulders of the running water, and sleep from much music; joined songs of day-end, feathery throats and stony waters, in a choir chanting new psalms.

It is too much for the long willows when low laughter of a red moon comes down; and the willows drowse and sleep on the shoulders of the running water.

Laughing Corn from Cornhuskers (1918)

There was a high majestic fooling
Day before yesterday in the yellow corn.

And day after to-morrow in the yellow corn
There will be high majestic fooling.

The ears ripen in late summer
And come on with a conquering laughter,
Come on with a high and conquering laughter.

The long-tailed blackbirds are hoarse.
One of the smaller blackbirds chitters on a stalk
And a spot of red is on its shoulder
And I never heard its name in my life.

Some of the ears are bursting.
A white juice works inside.
Cornsilk creeps in the end and dangles in the wind.
Always—I never knew it any other way—
The wind and the corn talk things over together.
And the rain and the corn and the sun and the corn
Talk things over together.

Over the road is the farmhouse.
The siding is white and a green blind is slung loose.
It will not be fixed till the corn is husked.
The farmer and his wife talk things over together.

Village in Late Summer from Cornhuskers (1918)
Lips half-willing in a doorway.
Lips half-singing at a window.
Eyes half-dreaming in the walls.
Feet half-dancing in a kitchen.
Even the clocks half-yawn the hours
And the farmers make half-answers.

Window from Chicago Poems (1916)
Night from a railroad car window
Is a great, dark, soft thing
Broken across with slashes of light.

Monotone from Chicago Poems (1916)
The monotone of the rain is beautiful,
And the sudden rise and slow relapse
Of the long multitudinous rain.

The sun on the hills is beautiful,
Or a captured sunset sea-flung,
Bannered with fire and gold.

A face I know is beautiful—
With fire and gold of sky and sea,
And the peace of long warm rain.