Scrag Mountain Music celebrates the poetry of the late Vermont poet David Budbill in music, in a program originally scheduled for May 2020. The poet’s longtime collaborator, legendary jazz musician and composer William Parker and his Sutras ensemble, along with the Vermont composers Erik Nielsen and Evan Premo.
“David’s lyrics lend themselves so naturally to melody and rhythm. I’m drawn to his openness and honesty about his connection to the cultural and natural landscapes of Vermont as well as his life as an artist,” says Premo, co-artistic director with his wife, soprano Mary Bonhag.
“Sutras for a Suffering World: The Poetry of David Budbill Set to Music” will be presented in person at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 17 at First Congregational Church in Burlington; and at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday June 18 at the Béthanie church in Montpelier (broadcast live simultaneously). An in-person roundtable will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15 at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpellier.
The program includes the world premiere of two works by Parker, “While We’ve Still Got Feet: The Poetry of David Budbill” and “Need, Necessity, Delight, or A Washing Machine for a Flower Pot by Parker”. The concert will also feature “Songs from a Mountain Recluse” by Premo and “Reflections on the Way” by Nielsen.
Budbill (1940-2016) was born in Cleveland and died in Montpellier. He is best known for celebrating his chosen home of the Northeastern Kingdom of Vermont. He brought the harsh life of the region and its colorful people to life in his deeply understanding poetry. His poems about the fictional town of Judevine became the source for his play “Judevine” and the opera with Nielsen, “A Fleeting Animal: An Opera from Judevine”.
Premo’s ‘Songs From a Mountain Recluse’ was commissioned by Capital City Concerts in 2017 and included five poems: ‘Come Inside Now’, ‘Dilemma’, ‘That Night’, ‘You False Masters of Serenity’ and ‘Happy Life’ .
“I approached it first from an emotional perspective, what each piece meant to me, and then there’s the matter of being inspired by the form of poetry,” Premo said of the composition. “Poems give so many ideas for song form, which I like to put into poetry. Even though it’s not a direct collaboration, it’s still an artistic collaboration that’s so visceral that way.
Premo started writing the script with all of this in mind.
“Then, of course, there’s a lot of rhythm to the speech when you also read the words of the poem, which I sometimes embrace and sometimes counteract, as needed,” he said. “I always start with the emotional impulse and then find the rhythms and melodies of the words surrounding that emotional impulse.”
And the poem creates the form.
“Just like with the rhythm of the words, you can use that form directly, or you can change it, or lengthen it, which I did in the last of the pieces in this setting where there are real periods of music instrumental and vocalizing periods on the (soprano Mary Bonhag) part,” Premo said. “So I kept adding non-words, just pure emotion at that point after a particularly powerful line of David’s words.”
Music by Premo and Nielsen will be performed by Bonhag (soprano), Premo (double bass), Jacqueline Cordova-Arrington (flute) and Dan Sedgwick (piano). Sutras features Lisa Sokolov (vocals), Kyoko Kitamura (vocals), Morley Shanti Kamen (vocals), Andrea Wolper (vocals), Amirtha Kidambi (vocals) and Hamid Drake (drums).
The set will come together for a closing piece from Parker.