Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Pursley, Wilbur||Haugland, A. Oscar (Archie Oscar), 1922-2013||Weed, Maurice, 1912-2005

Degree Name

M. Mus. (Master of Music)

Legacy Department

Department of Music


In searching for a text on a contemporary subject that could readily be set to music that could be added to the repertoire of junior college, college and professional choirs, the composer was highly moved on reading three untitled texts by William Saroyan accompanying a photo­graph by Art Rothstein. The photograph was taken in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on the day president Kennedy was buried after his assassination. It pictorializes the flag-draped casket being placed on the caisson for the procession to the burial site, in the background are the Kennedy family and the myriads of dignitaries that attended the funeral. Saroyan captured this one split second of time and summarized in three texts the grandiose bewilderment of this tragic event in history. His words on this contemporary event of history, conveying contemporary philosophies, trends and ideas, met the composer's criteria in a way he could not have imagined. Of course, the primary purpose of setting a poet's text to music is to help convey the original meaning of the words to the listener, if the music does not accomplish this, the composer has failed in achieving his prime goal. It is of special importance in the case of this composer's attempt at setting the text by William Saroyan. The stark power of the words demands that justice be done in supplying music for the words. It is the composer's intent to capture in music, not just the meaning of the words, but also to augment this meaning and the irony the poet has used in the text. The musical means chosen to accomplish this end have been suggested by the text. No programmatic insights are intended by these choices other than those very obviously suggested by the text. Tenor soloist, mixed chorus, capable of dividing into eight parts, and orchestra are these choices. The orchestra consists of one flute, one oboe, one clarinet, one bassoon, two french horns, two trumpets, one trombone, one tuba, three timpani, various percussion instruments, strings and piano. The text is divided into three sections which serve as the criteria for the separation of movements. The basic idea behind the music is conversations between solo and orchestra, orchestra and chorus, and solo and chorus. The three sections, or movements, are separate and yet they are connected by musical ideas and motives. The first movement, "What Can I Say?", incorporates tenor soloist and orchestra. A male soloist is suggested by the text which is what President Kennedy might have said to the people watching his casket being placed on the caisson. The second movement, "He Didn't Know What Hit Him", for orchestra and chorus, requires the chorus to sing a cappella and the orchestra only to set the mood. The third movement, "Who Did It?", completes the work, using the soloist, chorus and orchestra, each serving a different purpose. The soloist acts as the narrator while the chorus and orchestra take turns commenting on the narration. Except for a few instances, each part, solo, orchestra, or chorus, is an entity in itself, only joining forces to accentuate a textual or musical idea.


Includes bibliographical references.


1 score (61 pages)




Northern Illinois University

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