Bourland chamber music: The Smiling Spider (1983)

March 6, 2010

The Smiling Spider by Odilon Redon

The Smiling Spider by Odilon Redon

The Smiling Spider for soprano, soprano sax, viola, cello, and piano (1983)
Words and music: Roger Bourland (quotes from Charlie Chaplin)
Performers: Composers in Red Sneakers, Karen McVoy, soprano
Publisher: Yelton Rhodes Music

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The story behind this piece is actually pretty funny. The Composers in Red Sneakers decided to offer their “Concert 8 and a half” anonymously. There was a perception that our faithful Boston Globe critic favored some of us over others. This would solve that.

At the time I was infatuated with the paintings of Odilon Redon, having composed an orchestral piece called “Scenes from Redon.” This was a painting that hadn’t found music yet.

Add to that, I had just watched [I think it was] Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” and heard this catchy little tune that I couldn’t get out of my head. You’ll also hear a quick quote of “Do Not Foresake Me Oh My Darling.”

Add to that, I had just seen a documentary on TV discussing the mating habits of tarantulas, how the female can eat the male after the mating ritual if he’s not careful. This seemed dramatically pregnant and at least amusing.

Add to that, a friend’s pet tarantula had just died and I asked whether I could have the body. He said yes.

For the performance, I tied the spider to a roofless umbrella which the soprano holds while singing to the spider. The piece opens with the soprano skipping onto the stage with the umbrella inside a guitar case. She opens it, takes out the umbrella, and begins to sing her love song to the dangling arachnid.

There is an amusing little dance break where she dances and spins the umbrella with the spider hurling in circles. At the end, she can’t stop singing “Ta ta ta taaaa…” until the sax player (her boyfriend actually) goes up and tickles her in the armpit.

It shouldn’t have been too difficult for the Boston audience and critic to tell that this piece was by me: who else could be so silly? And I still got a good review.

Ta ta ta ta ta taaaa
Ta ta ta ta ta taaaa

Tarantula my beloved spider
On my shoulder in the moonlight tonight
When your leggies touch my hands I shiver
And I quiver when you whisper my name.

Now you might think it rather odd
To be in love with such a beast
But I really rather like him
And he smiles a lot at least
And if he asks to marry you
You can be sure that he’ll be true
As a husband a tarantula is really quite a feast!

Hand in hand by the edge of the sand
Nuptial bliss, I’ll devour thee with a kiss.
Leggies locked, cosmic kisses of death
Dancing spiders, a crazy kind of love!

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