“Song of Myself” was commissioned by Patrick Walders for the 5th Annual San Diego Summer Choral Festival, and premiered by the Festival Chorus and soprano Jennifer Paulino in August, 2017.
It was dedicated to my friend and colleague, Daniel Chaney, who passed away in the spring of 2017 after a long battle with lymphoma. Daniel was, in the spirit of Whitman, a true original. His huge expressiveness was also like Whitman’s — of such intensity that the lines “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world” don’t sound hyperbolic, if Daniel were the one to sing or say them. But Daniel was also allied to the humble things and little ones of the world, often sharing his sympathy with their plights. So the line “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love” also sounds perfectly “Daniel.” Finally, I think it is often the case with the “originals” around us, that we don’t know exactly what to make of them, but somehow they are vitally important in the scheme of things, in their inability to be anything other than their true selves. They give courage to everyone to be true, to trust oneself. So, I hear Daniel most clearly in these beautiful lines: “You will hardly know who I am or what I mean, but I shall be good health to you nevertheless.” Thank you Daniel, thank you Walt Whitman.
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me,
he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me
It flings my likeness…on the shadowed wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air, I shake my…locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
from Song of Myself, 52