On Knowing Persons
I. Sentient II. Fragile III. Quick Flame
© 2017, MaLoMaLo Press
for Soprano or Mezzo-Soprano
Total Duration: 9:15 min.
Text: Journal Entry of Angela Hendryx
This piece came about as the result of a friend’s commission and regular artistic feedback throughout the writing process. The lyrics, excerpted from one of her journal entries, present a number of deep relational questions. I evoked a sense that the singer is giving a stream of consciousness account of her thoughts through ornamentation, melismas, holding out notes on consonants, and selective repetition of small portions of text.
The issues her thoughts raise, however, move beyond abstract philosophy. Can we know others fully? Do we even want to? How does marriage impact one’s life, and can we be ready for it? What choices do we make about relationships in the midst of conflicting emotions: desire, self-preservation, romanticism, and propriety? How we choose to relate to others and how they relate to us causes us joy, frustration, tension, despair, sense of accomplishment, and hope. I sought to convey the fickle realities of these emotions and the situations they create through frequent, but textually natural changes in tempo, dynamic, and register.
Today I am in the basement of a restaurant bar in Harlem. There are live musicians (singer songwriters) and cozy wooden furniture. The tables have collages of Middle Eastern images. I love this state of being: guitars, songs, bricks, wood and dim lights. I can see why Brahms sat in pubs for hours to compose or watch local artists. My waiter is very dark and has angular cheek bones with soft lips. He smells like perfume and has an accent. His beauty will only be enjoyed for a short while. I do love the richness of his skin. It seems endless if you look at it with intent. He wears a silver watch which accentuates the slender length of his flesh. His arm is smooth and iridescent like the watch. I wish I knew where his accent comes from. I wish beauty didn't have to be fleeting or distanced. It's not always this way of course. Sometimes you can drink it something beautiful for a long time. You can get to know something intimately and become familiar with every aspect of a painting, song, or piece of music. I would say a person too, but I don't know if you can ever know someone completely. If you could, would you want to? Do we want the whole knowledge of God on persons? Still, it's beautiful when you become familiar with someone; their details are something you recognize easily.
I do wonder about my fate. Whether I will ever be married. I've enjoyed traveling immensely. Maybe I could make a lifestyle of it. Maybe I could marry someone who's comfortable with me traveling. If they have a more steady job it could work. Or if they had a job that allowed them to travel with me? Sometimes I think fundamental relational skills will always be underdeveloped in me. I doubt that I will be able to emotionally mature enough to handle commitments like marriage and parenting.
The beautiful waiter just offered to give me free wine. I declined. Part of me was curious and did want to get to know this person. It's too dangerous, though. What if he expected a hookup of some sort? He's a complete stranger and what trust is there? The adventurous, romantic side of me will always be curious. Still, I think I made the right choice.