Nine Epigrams from Poor Richard for voice and tape

Nine Epigrams from Poor Richard
for voice and tape (1986)
American Composers Alliance, 8 minutes

“This is a hilariously funny work with wildly expressive, unusual vocal sounds.” (NATS Journal)

Nine Epigrams was written for Joan LaBarbara during a residency at the Cummington Community of the Arts in the summer of 1986. The texts are humorous proverbs from Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac. Each proverb is sung, whispered or spoken, usually on tape, while the live voice makes commentary with sweeps of reinforced harmonics, glottal or yodel flutters, voiced whistles, and tongue clicks.

This piece may be performed by male or female voice. The singer prepares the tape from instructions in the score and performs with the resulting tape. Additionally, it is suggested that a male sing the section “Sally Laughs” in falsetto.

Nine Epigrams was premiered by Joan LaBarbara at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge as part of a concert series featuring women’s music. A male singer, Reinaldo Martinez, gave a performance at Memphis State University in 1992.


Nine Epigrams from Poor Richard

He that composes himself is wiser than he that composes music.

Truth is bitter but a lie is savoury at times.

Who lies down with dogs rises up with fleas.

Three can keep a secret if two are dead.

Wedlock, as old men note, hath likened been
Unto a public crowd or common rout;
Where those that are without would fain get in,
And those that are within would fain get out.

Sally laughs at everything you say.
Why? Because she has fine teeth.

Here comes Glib-Tongue who can outflatter
a dedication and lie like ten epitaphs.

People wrapped up in themselves make small packages.

Happy the nation, fortunate the age,
whose history is not diverting.

—Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac