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I’ll Tell You A Story, then…

A pensive journey of discovery, about what it means to be fully human
Nancy White

In Nancy White's compelling poem, "Just Once I Want to Write a Gentle Thing", the search for an elusive scent leads to a new understanding about what it is to be fully human. This intimate setting of this earthy poem brings tenderness and depth to each facet of this scent — as well as its surprising revelation.

Vocal Ranges:  Low: a-c" / Medium: b-d" / High: d'-f"

I'll Tell You a Story, then... may also be performed as part of the concert-length work, Go Out!

This song is also available in the collection A Love Like That: Songs of Unconditional Love.

Item Instrumentation/Voicing Duration Level Audio Peruse Delivery Method (Print vs. Digital) Price Quantity
SEA-069-00 Low voice, piano - Piano/Vocal Score
7' M Sheet Music $7.00
SEA-069-01 Medium voice, piano - Piano/Vocal Score
7' M Sheet Music $7.00
SEA-069-02 High voice, piano - Piano/Vocal Score
7' M Sheet Music $7.00

Just Once I Want to Write a Gentle Thing

Poem by Nancy White

 I'll tell you a story, then,
 of how as I was walking, I smelled something sugary,
 elusive, spicy, you could call it,
 and smoky in a sad sort of way. Also
 like blossom barely born, pale and half-undone
 to the wind that still might even be carrying snow.
 this scent I decided to follow.
 Sometimes I stumbled on the path, silver
 with stones worn smooth as kindness,
 or had to stop and rest among pines
 where the smell settled a little, at home
 with their religious and sensuous twang. Other times,
 I moved fast, snatching at its mulchy sweet threads
 through the air, the leaf and rotten-meat ribbons of scent,
 rough tongues of tigers who have recently feasted, the living decay
 of happiness, and saddle soap, the lemon urgency of sex,
 honey of the air - where did it come from?
 I rose panting up the slope, muscles strung on the searching
 bow of my body, raised the back of my hand
 to wipe away the sweat
 salting my lips
 and realized the smell -
the smell is me.

Composer's Note: 

If one of the purposes of art is to help us embrace life in the fullest way possible, then Nancy White’s warm and earthy poem succeeds on every level.  As I set her words to music, I revisited them day after day, mining them for their deepest qualities.  My “mission,” as I thought of it, was to bring tenderness and visceralness to each individual strand of this poem’s mysterious “scent.”  What a nourishing process that was for me!

A final, telling detail.  White’s original poem goes by a different title, one which hints at the suffering we create whenever we reject parts of our true human nature: “Just Once I Want to Write a Gentle Thing.”

Reviews and Responses: 

"The second half opened with just [Ruth] MacKenzie and [Dan] Chouinard at piano for a tender treatment of the Nancy White/Elizabeth Alexander ballad "I'll Tell You a Story, then..."  One can't help but be transported by the exquisite poetry...and how MacKenzie so passionately delivered such a nuanced performance, filled with soaring vocals and gestures of awakened discovery."   - Michael Reinbold, Saint Joan of Arc Newsletter (Minneapolis, MN)


Premiere: Ruth MacKenzie and Elizabeth Alexander (St. Paul, MN)
Beena David (Chicago, IL)
Christina Baldwin (Minneapolis, MN)
Elisabeth Harrington UUMN National Conference (Madison, WI)
Harriet McCleary (Minneapolis and Bloomington, MN)
Ruth MacKenzie and Dan Chouinard (Minneapolis, MN)
Ruth MacKenzie and Elizabeth Alexander (Minneapolis, Rochester, New Brighton MN)
Ruth MacKenzie, Jacqueline Ultan and Elizabeth Alexander. Open Eye Figure Theatre (Minneapolis, MN)


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