Dramatis persona*

helenhead Helen Chick

I've always wanted a bumper sticker that said "I'm a female, LDS/Mormon, Scout leading, geocaching, piano-playing, bicycling, mathematics educator with a PhD in maths ... and I VOTE"!

I think this makes me a minority group of cardinality 1!

* Since there's only one of me and "personae" is plural (I think), I've gone with dramatis persona.
July 2019
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67. Playing the Melody [100 poems challenge]


67.          Playing the Melody

We, the o’ershadowed
Musical salt of the earth,
Are resigned to our fate
As unacclaimed
Harmonic anchors.
We live for that rare
And glorious moment
When limelight is ours;
For the singular bars
When altos have the tune.

27 June 2013


Comments: I am actually singing tenor at the moment, because that’s where there’s a need in the choir in which I sing (Loose Canon Chamber Singers). Tenors seem to be rarer than altos and I quite enjoy singing that part, although, to be honest, my range is really that of an alto (I do feel a fraud when low Ds are required).

The notoriously monotonous nature of the alto’s lot in life is a recurring theme of mine  — “recurring”, in the sense that I wrote another poem about it over 20 years ago. That earlier piece was called “The Alto’s Lament” and I actually set it to music at the time (indeed, it was conceived as a song). A comment from a friend of mine today — completely coincidental as far as tonight’s theme is concerned — suggested that I should record it. If I can get my piano playing skills back up to scratch and can find the tools to make a decent recording I may do that. It won’t be for a while though. In the meantime, I have appended the words of “The Alto’s Lament” to this post. It is in my head that one day I should write “The Alto’s Revenge”, for SAAAATB, in which the four alto parts have some wonderfully intricate polyphony and the other parts just plod. Unfortunately I don’t think my composing skills are up to the task.

Edited to add: You can now listen to The Alto’s Lament here.

Themes to come: 68. Hero; 69. Annoyance; 70. 67%; 71. Obsession; 72. Mischief Managed

Explanation about the 100 poems challenge here.


The Alto’s Lament

I am a humble alto,
And this is all I do;
I often have one note to sing
Though sometimes I have two.

I’m jealous of sopranos
For they get all the thrills:
Composers often give them lots of semiquaver runs,
And lots of little trills.

But me, I’m just an alto,
It’s dull to harmonize,
And so the fact that I go flat
Should come as no surprise.

I really can’t stand tenors,
They think they’re just the best
Their line has lots of intervals
While I have four bars’


The alto line lacks rhythm,
It makes me want to grieve;
We don’t get no syncopation
Just lengthy semibreves.

Although you might think basses
Are lowest of the low,
They still have some variety:
Doh, fah, soh, doh.

So sops and tenors, basses too,
While you’re all having fun,
Just spare a thought for me because
An alto’s lot is not a happy one

(happy one!).

late 1989

2 comments to 67. Playing the Melody [100 poems challenge]

  • […] Many many years ago (24 in fact) I wrote a song—words and music—that lamented the long suffering experiences of any alto who has ever sung in an SATB choirs, where we often end up with the most monotonous lines (Handel, to give him credit, treats altos with a little more respect). I have performed The Alto’s Lament a few times for various groups, and shared the sheet music with friends, but with the availability of modern technology—and prompted by the 100 poems challenge bringing it to mind again, a request for the sheet music from an old friend, and the suggestion of another friend who had seen me sing it—it seemed time to record a performance. So, I balanced my iPad on a music stand and pointed it in my general direction as I played the piano and sang (having moved said piano to a more photographically convenient position in the loungeroom), transferred the footage to my computer, edited the footage afterwards (well, cut the beginning and ending few seconds where I was pfaffing around getting organised), added some cheap-and-nasty credits, and uploaded the result to YouTube. It’s not a great performance because I am not a great singer and there are a few bung notes in there (what kind of a composer can’t play what he/she wrote?!), but it’ll give you an idea. The words can be found here at the end of one of my 100 poems posts. […]

  • jeanette koorey

    Lovely! Where can I get a copy of the music?

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