In October of 2007, I attended a week-long composer’s seminar hosted by Alice Parker at her home in rural Massachusetts, along with seven fortunate colleagues. Alice wanted to get us back to the basics — which for her, is, above all, an appreciation for melody itself. One of our assignments was to write a two-part arrangement of a simple folksong. At first I imagined that I would feel stifled by the constraint of limiting my arrangement to only two parts, but as soon as I jumped into the project — sprawled out on my bed in one of Alice’s guest farmhouses — the ideas flew, and I had a ball. When you have source material with lyrics that are bursting with life and a melody to match, the arrangement practically writes itself. This is the product of one sunny afternoon’s fun, unaltered from its creation except for a leaping octave on the final cadence, an inspiration of Alice herself as we sang it through together around the table in her light-filled studio the next morning.
O Charlie he’s a fine young man, Charlie he’s a dandy.
Charlie likes to kiss the girls, and he can do it handy.
I don’t want none of your weevily wheat,
I don’t want none of your barley;
I want fine flour in half an hour
To bake a cake for Charlie.
Coffee grows on white oak trees, rivers flow with brandy.
Choose you one to roam with you as sweet as ‘lasses candy.
Charlie’s here and Charlie’s there — Charlie’s over the ocean.
Charlie, he’ll come back some day, unless he takes a notion.