for soprano or mezzo-soprano and piano
2014 | 3"
Text by CARL SANDBURG
Commissioned by HEATHER MICHELE MEYER
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) | Chicago Poems (1916)
MAMIE beat her head against the bars of a little Indiana town and dreamed of romance and big things off somewhere the way the railroad trains all ran.
She could see the smoke of the engines get lost down where the streaks of steel flashed in the sun and when the newspapers came in on the morning mail she knew there was a big Chicago far off, where all the trains ran.
She got tired of the barber shop boys and the post office chatter and the church gossip and the old pieces the band played on the Fourth of July and Decoration Day
And sobbed at her fate and beat her head against the bars and was going to kill herself
When the thought came to her that if she was going to die she might as well die struggling for a clutch of romance among the streets of Chicago.
She has a job now at six dollars a week in the basement of the Boston Store
And even now she beats her head against the bars in the same old way and wonders if there is a bigger place the railroads run to from Chicago where maybe there is
and big things
and real dreams
that never go smash.
Range and Performance Notes
This song may be performed by either a soprano or a mezzo-soprano. The musical language draws heavily on vernacular American (folk) traditions, and the singer should feel free to move vocally in that direction (without going too far and becoming mannered), especially in more intimate performance spaces.
I first came across Carl Sandburg's poem "Mamie" when I was too young to really get it. I was still naïve, and prideful, and inexperienced, and (perhaps as a result) quite idealistic and full of expectations. The second time I encountered "Mamie" was several years later—after the 2008 financial crisis, and after my 2010 graduation from graduate school and entrance into the "real world." I got it, to put it mildly, and it stuck with me for a long time.
Music portrays or evokes some emotions more easily, more "natively," than others. Among these are what you might call the emotional "primary colors": joy, rage, sorrow, excitement, terror, etc. I wondered if, for "Mamie," I could write music "about" disappointment, music that not merely describes but embodies that state which is so common now among my friends and peers. How many Mamies (of any gender) are there out there right now, struggling to accept that a big city is not what they'd hoped, that a long-held and oft-encouraged dream really has "gone smash"?