A Cuban in Vermont

A Cuban in Vermont, Five Simple Songs, for mezzo-soprano or soprano and piano, (2003) dur. c. 13 minutes. Words by the composer. Commissioned by the Vermont Music Teachers Association. World premiere October 25, 2003 in Boston with Jessica Grigg, mezzo-soprano and Jorge Martín, piano; March 13, 2005 Jessica Grigg and David Holkeboer, Middlebury College, VT; May 20, 2007 Elizabeth Caballero and Leesa Dahl, Berkeley, CA; June 12, 2010 Elizabeth Caballero and Elaine Rinaldi, at First Presbyterian Church of Miami, FL. “Nocturno” is featured in the film “Voices From Mariel.”

Also arranged for mezzo-soprano and string ensemble (3-3-2-2-1). This version was premiered by the Nu-Deco Ensemble in Miami on March 9, 10, and 11, 2017. Elena Galván was the vocal soloist.


Program Notes


This is the first work for which I have attempted to write the words myself. Sometimes the music came first and sometimes the words; each took turns taking the lead, and at a certain point, when I could stand back and see what was taking shape, I could then more fully understand what the piece was “about,” both musically and poetically, and then finish polishing up the details and the form. The process seems to me like interpreting a dream, but also in some respects like deciding which way the dream will go even as you’re having the dream. This is the second work in which I have taken some Cuban styles as musical material. That, the overall dimensions, the medium, and my decision to write a “sunny” work were my only starting points. The title, though obviously referring to myself, is really intended more abstractly: the image suggests the experience of cultural mixture and mixed individual identity; English language and Latin rhythms “live happily” together.

poems by Jorge Martín
©2003 all rights reserved

1. Frutas

Mamey, mamey, way up in that tree,
My momma, she tells me you’re very sweet.
I love all the fruits she’s given me to eat, oh yes!
There’s níspero, caimito, mamoncillo, anón,
Guanábana, papaya, piña, mango
And now I possess in my mouth
The knowledge of your sweetness!

Mamey, mamey, so far away,
I barely remember your luscious taste.
I loved all the fruits of childhood days, long gone.
Oh, níspero, caimito, mamoncillo, anón,
Guanábana, papaya, piña, mango
At least I possess in your names
The memory of your sweetness!

Mamey, mamey, so long ago. . . .
Your sweetness then is not your sweetness now.

2. Sol y brisas

Sing, sweet bird, your tune!
The breezes blow soft, the warmth makes a
mellow afternoon.
The sun so bright, the sky so fair!
Remind me when I feel cold and dark despair:
This hour declares I can find happiness in air!
If sunshine can clear away my fears,
If birdsong can open up my ears,
Then I can find happiness in air!

3. Nocturno

Where is my home?
Is it here where peonies bloom?
Is it the land I was born on that I barely knew,
Where palm trees grew?
Is it moonless night can tell me where I belong?
Is darkness there not darkness here,
Where I sleep?
Is home a place we keep from fear?
Is home in earth, or in the space of my song?
What is home?

4. Amor brujo

I have a love,
a love, small as a mouse.
I have a love,
a love, roars like a lion.
I have a love,
a love, fills up the house.
I have a love,
a love, richer than wine.

And we live happily
in my song.

5. En el fin

The earth I came from
I shall return to;
What earth has given me
I shall give back
With added love.

The air I breathe
I must return;
What air has given me
I shall give back
With added song.