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Sometimes It Happens So


A Song Cycle for Baritone and Piano,
on poems of Jane Flanders

Music by Kile Smith
 

Ben Flanders, Baritone
Sonya Szabo Reynolds, Piano

The song cycle “Sometimes It Happens So” takes its title from the final line of Jane Flanders’ poem “The Origin of Romanticism”. It speaks to tragedy and hope and a future that may or may not be inevitable. The first song “Blue Lobster”, performed at the 2021 Cincinnati SongSlam, was the first collaboration of composer Kile Smith and the late Jane Flanders’ twin children, Ben and Nell Flanders.

See the video of the performance here!

A Note from Ben and Nell Flanders
 

Working with a wonderful composer like Kile to bring a new song cycle into the world is an amazing endeavor at any time, but the chance to take these poems which are so near and dear, and to re-experience our mother’s poetry, and her life as an artist which was such a foundational element in our childhood and throughout our lives, was a profoundly moving experience.

 

Our parents Jane and Steven Flanders met in college at Haverford and Haverford’s sister school Bryn Mawr. The premiere performance of “Sometimes It Happens So” was to be at Bryn Mawr college during the combined Haverford/Bryn Mawr 60th class reunion with Ben Flanders-baritone and Nell Flanders-piano. Unfortunately, due to COVID, that performance had to be cancelled, then Nell moved across the country, and the song cycle remained unperformed. Many thanks to Chamberpalooza and Sonya Szabo-Reynolds for supporting the world premiere of “Sometimes It Happens So”.

Jane Flanders

Jane Flanders (March 26, 1940 – April 12, 2001) was an American poet. She was the author of three books of poetry and three posthumous volumes. Winner of the Discovery/The Nation Award, the Juniper Prize, and the Pushcart Prize three times, among many other awards, she was the Elliston Poet in Residence at the University of Cincinnati in 1991. Her work appeared in The Atlantic, Chelsea, Commonweal, The Massachusetts Review, The Nation, New England Review, The New Republic, The New Yorker, Poetry, and other periodicals.

Kile Smith
 

The music of Kile Smith has received three Grammy nominations and is hailed nationally and internationally for its strong voice, sheer beauty, and “profoundly direct emotional appeal.” Leading choral conductor Craig Hella Johnson has called Kile “one of our most important composers ... his voice is unlike any other. Utterly unique.”

 

He has been commissioned by The Crossing, Conspirare, Piffaro, Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble, Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Chor Leoni, William Ferris Chorale, Helena Symphony, Lyric Fest, Westminster Choir College, Mendelssohn Chorus of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania and iSing Girlchoirs, Choral Arts Washington (DC), Choral Arts Philadelphia, Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, Gaudete Brass, and many others. Kile’s first opera, The Book of Job, co-commissioned by Conspirare and The Crossing, premieres in Austin and Philadelphia to be announced. Two scenes from his second opera Nirākār premiered in Chicago in March 2023.

Sometimes It Happens So -- Lyrics

​1. Blue Lobster
2. Stasis
3. In an Accelerated Time Frame
4. Tante Fräni’s Handkerchief
5. The Origin of Romanticism

1. Blue Lobster

This samurai
from inner space clank clanks

his claws in iridescent slow motion.
 

Thanks to his suit
he has his own personal tank.

(One in a thousand is blue, the sign tells us.)
 

Not the pot for him! (Would he, if boiled, turn purple?)

But he’d look swell among the glazed

ceramicware,
might even be trained to crack

nuts, open bottles, serve the salad.
 

What goddess in
her cups thought up this shingled tail,

this gawky stance and puppet’s gait, these plates,
 

part tooth, part nail,
that thrust and parry? He can survey

his own hinged back with moveable eyes.
 

Call him Ulysses
Ulysses, the sea has boxed you in.

Perhaps sadness accounts for your bruised hue.
 

It’s always Blue
Monday at the Mystic Marine Aquarium.

Clanka clanka clank. Across the room
 

sea horses drift
in eel grass, sharks, like Cadillacs,

circle on cruise control, flash their grillwork.
 

An octopus oozes
from her shady den. Sheepsheads

hurry by—escapees from the slaughterhouse.
 

A school of children
in red, blue, green, yellow

slickers passes (It’s raining all over Connecticut.)
 

And the blue lobster
sways on his rock like a stranded rover.

What island this? Tell me. Tell me.

2. Stasis
 

Something out there
refuses to give up.

 

Always air rises
into the blue or gray
or heliotrope.

 

A leaf shuffles
across the street.

 

Under the ice
the pond steams and stirs.

 

This nameless season
that grips us from within

 

is far colder, darker,
very still.

 

3. In an Accelerated Time Frame
 

The jungle is full of green,
leafy snakes,
groping towards darkness.

 

Birds streak by. Orchids
go off with soft pops.
The sun beeps intermittently.

 

Debris rains down.
Your face emerges,
spilling its syllables.

 

And offshore,
the keening of whales rises
like birdsong.

 

4. Tante Fräni’s Handkerchief

Here is Tante Fräni’s handkerchief.
Her fingers do this, and this,
folding and tugging and knotting until,
from a fist of linen, voilà!

a little white mouse with lace whiskers
quivers in her palm.
His magnificent tail droops over her wrist.
His pointy ears tilt this way and that

for the sound of laughter—that’s what he likes.
He’s a natural clown, but nervous.
His body is stuffed with giggles.

 

“We are going to do a trick for the children,” says Tante. He makes a false start.
“No, no,” she scolds. “Not till I say so.
You must relax, calm down.”

She strokes his tail and whispers in his ear. He whispers back but she shakes her head. “Not today,” she says sternly.
He whispers again. She nods.

“Perhaps, if you do it right.”
 

He gathers himself together, almost stops quivering.
Tante Fräni says, “Not yet...not yet...now!”
And the marvelous white handkerchief leaps
high over the children’s hands and heads.

As a reward it will be permitted
to hide in Tante Fräni’s drawer
beside the lavender sachet.
And tomorrow, for love of her,
it will become a cradle or a rose.

5. The Origin of Romanticism
— 
a scene from Der Freischütz

“I am the white dove,” cries Agathe,
running across the stage in her white dress,
wreathed in the hermit’s white roses.

 

Her lover has already raised his gun
to fire at white, whatever its blurred shape.

 

The bullet begins its song, swaying
from white to the dark Other. Both fall.
The lights go up. And the century ends
in a woods of cardboard and smoke.

 

But no, she lifts her head.
Her lover weeps. The distraught chorus revives.
We will live our long lives after all.

Sometimes it happens so.

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