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The Poet And His Songs, Larry Porter & Marjorie Johnson

Marjorie JohnsonThis recording documents some work Larry Porter did with Marjorie Johnson in New York in the mid-90s. The first three tracks are art songs based on the wonderful poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. These poems are particularly suited for being put to music, but "Becalmed" stands out as one of the most eloquent descriptions of inspiration ever written. The fourth track is an improvisational piece based on the raga Marwa and demonstrates Marjorie's considerable command of the Indian vocal style as well as Larry's ability to explore the harmonic possibilities of raga on the piano. Its title, in addition to being the act of sighing, is also a variation of "Sa", the keynote of the scale in Indian solfeggio.

MARJORIE JOHNSON currently sings with Weave, a New York City based group exploring vocal improvisation. She has toured extensively with David Hykes and The Harmonic Choir and appears on a number of recordings. Marjorie is a practitioner of North Indian raga singing as taught by Mme. Sheila Dahr of Delhi and has performed vocally with Janaki Patrik and the Kathak Dance Ensemble.

Listen to:

Music by Larry Porter
Poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Marjorie Johnson – vocal
Larry Porter – piano

New York, March 1996


As the birds come in the Spring,
We know not from where ;
As the stars come at evening
From depths of the air ;

As the rain comes from the cloud,
And the brook from the ground ;
As suddenly, low or loud,
Out of silence a sound ;

As the grape comes to the vine,
The fruit to the tree ;
As the wind comes to the pine,
And the tide to the sea ;

As come the white sails of ships
O’er the ocean’s verge ;
As comes the smile to the lips,
The foam to the surge ;

So come to the Poet his songs,
All hitherward blown
From the misty realm, that belongs
To the vast Unknown.

His, and not his, are the lays
He sings ; and their fame
Is his, and not his ; and the praise
And the pride of a name.

For voices pursue him by day,
And haunt him by night,
And he listens, and needs must obey,
When the Angel says, “ Write ! ”



Becalmed upon the sea of Thought,
Still unattained the land it sought,
My mind, with loosely-hanging sails,
Lies waiting the auspicious gales.

On either side, behind, before,
The ocean stretches like a floor,---
A level floor of amethyst,
Crowned by a golden dome of mist.

Blow, breath of inspiration, blow !
Shake and uplift this golden glow !
And flll the canvas of the mind
With wafts of thy celestial wind.

Blow, breath of song ! until I feel
The straining sail, the lifting keel,
The life of the awakening sea,
Its motion and its mystery !


The night is descending ;
The marsh is frozen,
The river dead.

Through clouds like ashes
The red sun flashes
On village windows
That glimmer red.

The snow recommences ;
The buried fences
Mark no longer
The road o'er the plain ;

While through the meadows,
Like fearful shadows,
Slowly passes
A funeral train.

The bell is pealing,
And every feeling
Within me responds
To the dismal knell ;

Shadows are trailing,
My heart is bewailing
And tolling within
Like a funeral bell.

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