Gettysburg: July 1, 1863

"Gettysburg: July 1, 1863" is a song by William Bolcom setting the poetry of Jane Kenyon. In the poem, Kenyon imagines the death of a soldier during the Civil War. The song was commissioned by SongFest and underwritten by the Sorel Organization. The mission of The Sorel Organization is to keep musical excellence alive and to help expand the boundaries for women in music. SongFest is grateful for the support of The Sorel Organization.

Rosemary Ritter, SongFest Founder and Artistic Director, wrote of the commission:

"I was first introduced to Jane Kenyon by Tory Browers, a wonderful singer and friend. I was drawn to the warmth and openness I felt in her poems. At the suggestion of John Musto and Lucas Wong, I decided to ask William Bolcom to write a commission for SongFest. I hoped he would agree to set one of Jane Kenyon’s poems and actually had chosen a few of my favorites. Mr. Bolcom graciously accepted and commented that he had been waiting for an opportunity to set 'Gettysburg: July 1, 1863.' We are so fortunate to have such wonderful artists come to SongFest and share their stories and view of the world through words and music.

"I am often asked what it is that we do at SongFest and why. A friend wrote '... this often neglected genre of voice and piano song will provide the singers and pianists with a rich view of this world which will nourish them for their entire lives.'"

The world premiere performance of this song was given by the 2012 SongFest Marc and Eva Stern Fellow Nathan Wyatt, baritone, and Lucas Wong, piano, on June 20, 2012 at The Colburn School (Zipper Hall) as part of SongFest.
The audio recording of "Gettysburg: July 1, 1863", is made possible through a collaboration between the Hampsong Foundation and SongFest. The recording is that of the world premiere (information provided above).

Date: 2012Composer: William BolcomText: Jane Kenyon

Print vitals & song text




    Gettysburg: July 1, 1863
    by Jane Kenyon

    The young man, hardly more
    than a boy, who fired the shot
    had looked at him with an air
    not of anger but of concentration,
    as if he were surveying a road,
    or feeding a length of wood into a saw:
    It had to be done just so.
    The bullet passed through
    his upper chest, below the collarbone.
    The pain was not what he might
    have feared. Strangely exhilarated
    he staggered out of the pasture
    and into a grove of trees.
    He pressed and pressed
    the wound, trying to stanch
    the blood, but he could only press
    what he could reach, and he could
    not reach his back, where the bullet
    had exited.

    He lay on the earth
    smelling the leaves and mosses,
    musty and damp and cool
    after the blaze of the open afternoon.
    How good the earth smelled,
    as it had when he was a boy
    hiding from his father,
    who was intent on strapping him
    for doing his chores
    late one time too many.
    A cowbird razzed from a rail fence.
    It isn’t mockery, he thought,
    no malice in it … just a noise.
    Stray bullets nicked the oaks
    overhead. Leaves and splinters fell.
    Someone near him groaned.
    But it was his own voice he heard.
    His fingers and feet tingled,
    the roof of his mouth,
    and the bridge of his nose….
    He became dry, dry, and thought
    of Christ, who said, I thirst.
    His man-smell, the smell of his hair
    and skin, his sweat, the salt smell
    of his cock and the little ferny hairs
    that two women had known
    left him, and a sharp, almost sweet
    smell began to rise from his open mouth
    in the warm shade of the oaks.
    A streak of sun climbed the rough
    trunk of a tree, but he did not
    see it with his open eye.

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