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Songs Inspired by Zhuangzi
for soprano, clarinet and piano
(2000)

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Freedom
(The Lute)
Awake to Disbelief
(The Butterfly)
Words and Haughty Pride
(The Scholar)

The words for these songs are based on ideas borrowed from the writings of the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi. Musically, the piano and flute parts of Freedom play freely repeated notes in a way that imitate certain types of Chinese music. The song then flows lyrically out of these ideas as it attempts to understand Zhuangzi's notions about freedom. The character of Awake to Disbelief is light, with agile leaps and sudden contrasts, much as one would expect of a butterfly. The words of this song describe how Zhuangzi dreamed he was a butterfly, then became confused as to whether he was really a man or a butterfly. Words and Haughty Pride finishes the set with the smooth flow of a still pond and a lyrical contemplation of Zhuangzi's imagined meeting between Confucius (who was playing a Chinese lute before a gathering of students) and an earthy fisherman.

A slightly modified version of these songs for soprano, flute and piano is also available.
(performance time for all three songs ca. 12 - 12.5 minutes)
 


The words for Songs Inspired by Zhuangzi are listed below.
(poems ©2000, Paul SanGregory)

 

Freedom
(the lute)

A wise man promised to show me freedom.
So putting down my lute, I took up his ways.
After years had passed, I mastered his vision
and I came upon his freedom.

There it lie dormant
in a place no knowledge knew.
Beneath discarded words
and under lost ideals,
the weight of passing years
gently pressed it to the earth.

In silent slow decay,
I saw it leave forever.

Utter sadness found me there
as I reached to touch the strings.
For all those years had aged it so,
that my lute no longer played.

 

Awake to Disbelief
(the butterfly)

a butterfly is dancing
just as I am dreaming
flirting antics floating
keep passing through my mind

watch me as I'm rising
falling to a leaf
so still I find me dreaming
awake in disbelief

I dream the dance of flying
and lying on the ground
the playfulness and floating
are passing through my mind

but watch me as I'm lying
such calm and silent sleep
so still I must be dreaming
awake to disbelief

this butterfly keeps dancing
just as I keep dreaming
and just as I keep floating
I'm passing through my mind

Now am I really dreaming?
a butterfly that's free
Or is the insect dreaming?
a still and silent me

 

Words and Haughty Pride
(the scholar)

the fisherman sage
in his silence
spoke an honest truth
a solitary figure
who laughed
as the scholar earnestly played

and when he uttered
his single phrase
spoke his simple truth
the scholar thought he knew
those words
and sought to follow the sage

But the fisherman replied
"you're lost
in words and haughty pride.
Whatever makes you think
I need
lost scholars by my side?"

so the old man left
in his silence
the scholar quite aloof
a solitary figure
who stared
as the fisherman drifted away