Impossible Season

Song cycle for high voice and piano  |  18'30"

Available from Albany Records Hsiao-Ying Lin

Program Note

Impossible Season is a set of four songs on poetry by Dana Gioia. Each song was composed independently yet all connect through interlacing themes of relationship and absence. I was introduced to Dana’s poetry in 2010. Upon reading his works I was immediately taken by the narrative style of his writing, his sense of phrasing, and his vivid word choices. For the first time, I felt I found a poet who wrote how I would write if I had such a talent.

In the spring of 2010 I was asked to compose a song setting Dana’s poetry, and to participate in a panel discussion on music and words together with Dana and country music songwriter/producer Brad Crisler (songs for Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Brooks & Dunn, and many others). Brad too was asked to write a song using Dana’s poetry. The panel discussion included conversations about the process of composition and the union of text and music from the perspectives of a popular music songwriter and a “classical” composer. I eagerly read every poem provided to me and was faced with the challenging task of choosing only one (needless to say a collection of songs was inevitable). Without consultation, by some mysterious coincidence, Brad and I chose the same poem – “The End of a Season”. The result was a compelling discussion on varying musical treatments of the same text, the role of the composer in setting another’s words, and the marrying of the composer’s voice with that of the author’s. I ultimately placed “The End of a Season” as the final song in my complete set and it is the source for the set's title. The final stanza reads: But there is no one to come back to now, / only the night, its wind and rain, the chill / magnificence of its borrowed light, / the touch of this impossible season.

I am incredibly grateful for having been introduced to Dana’s poetry and for his continued support in allowing my music to live with his words.

The four songs of Impossible Season may be performed individually.


I. Accomplice
In dusty fields I harvested the vine
And sweated at the lever as the grapes were pressed.
My aching hands still clutched their vagrant wages,
Sleeping in the cold barracks of the dispossessed.

But now at dawn, beyond the reach of reason,
I wake in the chateau between your tangled sheets,
My sunburnt arm across your naked shoulder,
The mute accomplice of our mutual defeat.

II. Parts of Summer Weather
The window open and the summer air
drifts slowly through the darkened room.
The curtains lift enough to see
a starless night and heavy moon.

Upstairs a radio plays out
the songs we've overheard together
so many nights now that they seem
like one more part of summer weather.

And under darkness and the breeze
with sheets and blankets stripped away
we lie in silence saying more
than anything we hoped to say.

And yet I wake an hour later,
reach out and find myself alone.
No words spoken, no message left,
the room so quiet, and you gone.

III. The Heart of the Matter
The heart of the matter, the ghost of a chance,
A tremor, a fever, an ache in the chest.
The moth and the candle beginning their dance,
A cool white sheet on which nothing will rest.

Come sit beside me. I've waited alone.
What you need to confess I already know.
The scent of your shame is a heavy cologne
That lingers for hours after you go.

The dregs of the bottle, the end of the line,
The laggard, the loser, the last one to know.
The unfinished book, the dead-end sign,
And last summer's garden buried in snow.

You stand by the window and follow the cars
As their headlights climb the hill's black dome,
The lives that they carry are distant as stars,
And none will return to carry us home.

IV. The End of a Season
I wanted to tell you how I walked tonight
down the hillside to the lake
after the storm had blown away
and say how everything suddenly seemed so clear
against the sparkling, rain-soaked streets
cold and bright as starlight.

I wanted to wake you up, despite the hour,
and drag you out into the dark
crisp air to feel the end of winter,
the cold we cursed so long
slipping away – and suddenly so precious
now that it was leaving.

But there is no one to come back to now,
only the night, its wind and rain, the chill
magnificence of its borrowed light,
the touch of this impossible season.

“Accomplice,” from Interrogations at Noon, ©2001, Dana Gioia. (Graywolf Press)
“Parts of Summer Weather” and “The End of a Season,” from Daily Horoscope, ©1986, 2002, Dana Gioia. (Graywolf Press)
“The Heart of the Matter,” from Pity the Beautiful, ©2012, Dana Gioia. (Graywolf Press). Final stanza from the poet’s manuscript, obtained November 1, 2010
All poems used by permission of Dana Gioia.

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