13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Tone Poems for Solo Guitar

© 2006 Harry Chalmiers All Rights Reserved

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens
Used by permission from Random House/Knopf

Lesson 7 - Imagine Golden Birds

Bringing out two melodic lines simultaneously

O thin men of Haddam
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

T his composition demonstrates the art of counterpoint. Counterpoint consists of one or more independent lines of equal importance. You should practice each of the two independent melodic lines separately, then together. Balance between two or more parts can be very challenging. You should be able to hear each of the two parts distinctly as you play them together.

Each verse of the poem is accessible, yet each also has a literary richness that offers many levels of meaning. Similarly, each piece of music is relatively simple and easily played by students in the early stages of learning to play guitar, yet provides many interpretive possibilities.

golden birds

Lesson 8 - Noble Accents

Bringing out the melody within an arpeggio

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

T his is a study in arpeggios; an arpeggio is performed by playing the notes singly and in succession usually allowing all notes to ring continuously for the duration of that chord. Arpeggios are very effective on the guitar, resonating richly for a full, pleasing sound, and technically being relatively easy to produce.

noble accents

Lesson 13 - In the Cedar Limbs

Playing harmonics

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar limbs.

T his poem creates a very special mood, and the performer should use all of his/her capabilities and resources to create a strong mood as well. The music lends itself to creative use of tone coloration, flexible and imaginative use of time, dynamics, accents, and articulation to establish an effective, haunting atmosphere.

cedar limbs