Prayers of Steel


-High voice solo with piano
-Low voice solo with piano



Nathaniel Watson, baritone (low version)
Carmen Pelton soprano (high version)
Gil Kalish, piano

Steven Sametz Publications

Program Notes

1.  Prayers of Steel
2. Under the Harvest Moon
3. The Vaudeville Dancer
4. Stars, Songs, Faces

Prayers of Steel  was written from June to October, 1989 and dedicated to the memory of the great American mezzo-soprano, Jan DeGaetani.

I started setting poems of Sandburg soon after I heard the American Song recording that Jan and Gilbert Kalish made in the early part of 1989.  There was something so right in the directness – the American-ness – of the recording that compelled me to start setting a very American poet.  The result was a choral cycle, Five Sandburg Settings, and the song cycle Prayers of Steel.

Jan was much on my mind while I was writing the songs: her strength, her humor, the beauty she brought to the expression of text, the intelligence of her singing all seemed to inform the writing of the pieces.  Each became a sort of “aural snapshot” for me of Jan’s remarkable personality.  The last of the set was finished the night Jan died, and they were performed at the memorial service for her by soprano Carmen Pelton and pianist Gilbert Kalish.



1. Prayers of Steel

LAY me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a crowbar.
Let me pry loose old walls.
Let me lift and loosen old foundations.

Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me
into a steel spike.
Drive me into the girders that hold a skyscraper together.
Take red-hot rivets and fasten me into the central girders.
Let me be the great nail holding a skyscraper through blue nights into white stars.

2. Under the Harvest Moon

UNDER the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

3. The Vaudeville Dancer

Elsie Flimmerwon, you got a job now with a jazz outfit in vaudeville.
The houses go wild when you finish the act shimmying a fast shimmy to
The Livery Stable Blues.

It is long ago, Elsie Flimmerwon, I saw your mother over a
washtub in a grape arbor when your father came in with the locomotor ataxia shuffle.

It is long ago, Elsie, and now they spell your name with an electric sign.

Then you were a little thing in checked gingham and your mother wiped
your nose and said; You little fool, keep off the streets.

Now you are a big girl at last and streetfuls of people read your name and
a line of people shaped like the letter S stand at the box office to see
you shimmy.

4. Stars, Songs, Faces

Gather the stars if you wish it so.
Gather the songs and keep them.
Gather the faces of women.
Gather for keeping years and years.
And then . . .
Loosen your hands, let go and say good-by.
Let the stars and songs go.
Let the faces and years go.
Loosen your hands and say good-by.

–Carl Sandburg