Painting for the Blind

Painting for the Blind

Painting for the Blind

(Kevin Elmore) for tenor and orchestra

Program Notes

  1. Painting for the Blind
  2. Solid Colors
  3. Blue City
  4. No Wake

Painting for the Blind is a cycle of four songs for tenor and orchestra set to poems by American poet Kevin Elmore. I met Kevin in graduate school at Indiana University, where he was studying oboe as well as literature. Many composers took advantage of his enthusiasm for new music and wrote oboe pieces for him, and many others set his beautiful poems to music.

For me these four poems are about solitude and loneliness (certainly related, but not the same thing at all). I have worked simply and directly with the texts, trying to capture in music the power of the imagery, while leaving the words clear and intelligible. There are certain cyclical aspects to the work, as movements I and III have some harmonic and motivic connections, as do II and IV.

Painting for the Blind was written for tenor Michael Denham, my colleague on the faculty at Lamar University, and for the Symphony of Southeast Texas, Diane Wittry, music director. The beautiful lyric quality of Mr. Denham’s voice and his extraordinary musicality were very much on my mind as I composed these songs.

Mr. Denham, Ms. Wittry, and the Symphony of Southeast Texas gave the premiere of the work in April of 1995. Mr. Denham has also performed the work with the Louisville Orchestra, conducted by Kimcherie Lloyd.

I. Painting for the Blind

This is wind I know.
Empty branches rattle against
paraffin clouds that press down
on egg shell houses.
I count change in my pocket by sound
Leaves skate pavement.

This is the way, I remember
how we came. Lights blink off
to a rhythm I can’t follow. A bird
jumps off a branch, swims heavy air
These are pictures

I never took.
All the stained wood frames shine
on white walls that sigh into stone.
Frost steps from a leaf
and crawls up the pane.  I reread a note

you left me on a black box.
I press my hands
on calloused glass.  Before water runs

down my wrist, I
fingerpaint initials
on the night

This moon
never sang to a cloud, caught
between tides.  Tangled city balances
on power lines, pulled through
willows, loose as the grasp
of empty leather gloves.

This is the pain I need:
If I trap the wind
in a porcelain thimble
send it to you postage paid,
would you share my name?
Would you send it back?
II. Solid Colors

An acid breeze
and etches the sky.
Patchwork black sulks

over the lawn. I
can taste lead through branches
with a glance, too heavy
to stand in a nest

of bird shadows.
I watch leaf piles burn
on roadsides and smell
solid colors in my clothes.
Oaks breathe and weave

dreamfear. I sway
like a street-corner philosopher
and bitch about my cold hands
that cannot pull smoke
from my eyes, or stop
the wind in my hair.

III. Blue City

The moon’s a white
eyelash on a black
silk pillow. June
plays high tension wires
like an out of tune
cello. I sit on

the roof, smoking
a cigarette; Chicago’s
sticky glow swallows
the lowest stars.

I look out over the suburbs
counting streetlights stuck
on corners, watching cars pass through
yellow haze. A steady
slippery rain combs
the town wet black. I hear
a man holler at his wife,
waking their child to cry.

I lean against the chimney,
pull my legs close to my chest
and rest my head on my knees.
I begin to shake off
the cold heavy water when wind finds
a door left open and slams it shut.

IV. No Wake

Night sky. Swarth cyan
turned on by the moon

Your hands
teach my hips to sway
on liquid rhythm. Cloud hands

slip in front of stars.

pull me
the way water walks. I balance
my weight, immured by wet light.
Beneath a vast translucent quilt
I trust waves I know. A beached ship

like held breath, and I
can’t dance this way alone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

A message is required.
Name is required.
E-mail address is required.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.