Pippa’s Song by
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(355 Stories)

Prompted By Dawn

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My senior year in high school I took voice lessons from a former opera singer. One of the songs I worked on was “Pippa’s Song”, a Robert Browning poem set to music by British composer Ned Rorem. It is short but very difficult and VERY high in the soprano range. If you click on the link below, it will take you to YouTube to listen to the lovely song. The lyrics include the “day’s at the morn”.

Yes, I could hit all those notes in 1970. I no longer can, but still thrill to the song.

Many years later, Ned Rorem released a CD of new songs and came to our wonderful bookstore Bickerton and Ripley, around the corner from my home on Martha’s Vineyard to sell and sign the CD. The owners of the store set up a table under a lovely shade tree in front of their store and we stood in line for our chance to have a moment with the famous composer. I purchased my CD and told him I’d sung “Pippa’s Song” while taking voice lessons, many years earlier. He looked at me in astonishment. “You must have a VERY high voice”, he said. “I used to”, I replied. We chatted a bit longer as he signed his CD. It was a quick exchange, but more than just “how would you like me to sign this?” The lyrics of the song are truly charming, ending, “All’s right in the world”. How reassuring.

Ned Rorem signed his new CD for me

The bookstore closed ages ago. The building, referred to as the “Yellow House” (I’m not sure why – it was not painted yellow), owned by the local slumlord, stood vacant, decaying, until the town took it by eminent domain.

A small group of developers refurbished it and turned it into a Lululemon store! The facade on the side street is a private entrance, leading to an apartment above the store and that is painted yellow. The front entrance has been rearranged, with new landscaping added and now impinges on the lovely shade tree, under which I met Ned Rorem all those years ago.

Current view of the “Yellow House”

For a different take on dawn, here is a photo from a cousin’s Facebook page of the sunrise over the Dead Sea in Israel, photographed by Nechama Finer Lurie.

photo from my Israeli cousin Nechama

And another gorgeous photo, taken by camp friend Carl Staub, also found on Facebook.

As a new day dawns, all is right in the world.

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Characterizations: funny, moving, well written

Comments

  1. Thanx Betsy for this wonderfully sweet story, and thanx for Pippa’s song!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Happy to introduce this lovely song to our Retrospect group, Dana. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but obviously still have my sheet music, with all my teacher’s markings, even if those top notes are now out of reach.

  2. pattyv says:

    I hope you save all your stories. What a book you can make. Your reflections are detailed and always accompanied with precise photographs. The song is incredible, haughtily so. The range seemed impossible, and that ending gave me chills. That you managed to successfully sing this song is a rare accomplishment. Meeting and chatting with the composer under the “lovely shade tree” seems more like a wink from ‘God in his heaven’ than mere coincidence.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Oh Patty, I am so happy that you liked the direction I took this prompt. Of course all these stories are saved (as long as Retrospect stays alive; I’ve printed out the first batch, but not all of them). I, too, love this song – wish I still had the pipes for it, but can’t quite hit those high notes any longer (I can get up to A, this song goes up to D!). Meeting Ned Rorem was, indeed, the icing on the cake. I do still sing with the Newton Community Chorus, which is really fulfilling.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    Wow, Pippa’s song is indeed a tour de force. Congratulations on tackling it! The day at the morn has been an artistic inspiration for a long time, and I suspect will always be.

  4. Dave Ventre says:

    Damn, that song must have been a huge challenge. I think Minnie Ripperton would find it daunting!

    I have lately become fascinated with a certain singer with a crazy range, from tenor down to some note below the lowest note on a standard piano (a trick called “subharmonics” which I had never heard of before). His name is Geoff Castellucci and he is part of an a capella band called Voiceplay. If you like vocal gymnastics, he is worth a listen. “Oogie Boogie’s Song” is amazing.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Funny that you should mention Minnie Ripperton. I was just thinking about her too, but I don’t think I could have hit the notes that she did – she had a crazy high voice.

      Thanks for the recommendation of Voiceplay. I enjoy a capella singing and will look them up.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    One of my daughter’s have a lovely soprano voice. She sang Morning Has Broken at several events. Also a favorite song about dawn.

  6. Jim Willis says:

    A fun read, Betsy, with beautiful photos. The dawn is one of those concepts that can relate to so many aspects of life and living.

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