Bruce Babcock

Robert Thies, piano

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW - Four Poems of Dorothy Parker (2009)

Commissioned by Juliana Gondek, Professor of Voice and Chair of the Vocal Studies Department at UCLA

for soprano, alto saxophone, and piano THE RED DRESS ~ 3 FAIR WEATHER ~ 4 SOMEBODY’S SONG ~ 6 INTERIOR ~ 4

After Juliana Gondek heard fellow UCLA faculty member Doug Masek performing my piece entitled Irrational Exuberance, she commissioned me to write a set of songs. It was Juliana’s idea to use the poetry of Dorothy Parker (1893-1967). Parker, a celebrated member of the Algonquin Round Table, wrote witty and frequently acerbic poetry, short stories, and screen plays. Her work regularly appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Esquire. She was nominated for two Oscars and won the O. Henry Prize for her short story The Big Blonde. Said Ogden Nash, “Mrs. Parker has an eye for people, an ear for language, and a feeling for the little things of life that are so immensely a part of the process of living.” She bequeathed her entire estate to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and I thank them for authorizing this use of Dorothy Parker’s work.


I narrowed the possible choices to 15-20 poems. Juliana then made the final selections, which include Somebody’s Song, The Red Dress, Interior, and Fair Weather. This is not the wisecracking satirist Dorothy Parker. This is the lovelorn Dorothy Parker writing about matters of the heart, each poem successively a bit darker. While these poems were written in the jazz age, and the song features a saxophone, this is not jazz music. Juliana wanted Doug included in this piece so the saxophone came to be used as the author’s emotional foil.


© Bruce Babcock