In 1998, my school board decided that there were going to be some changes made to the Third Grade music curriculum. Instead of just listening to compositions, naming instruments, and watching Newsies multiple times a year as we always had, we had a new mandatory class: Chorus. I don’t know who voted on this measure because nobody asked the students if they, regardless of talent or level of comfort, would like to perform in front of several hundred people in a nearby high school’s auditorium a few times. It could only have been a final attempt before we hit sullen puberty to infuse us with passion for art after our attempts at flute and community mosaic failed horribly.
As embarrassing and exhausting as this time was, I still find that I owe our educational overlords a debt of gratitude. Somewhere between our rousing renditions of “Jingle Bells,” “The Dreidel Song,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “The Kwanzaa Song,” was musical version of Robert Frost’s, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Before I had to sing one with forty of my peers for hours at a time, I had never given poetry much thought. I mean, I was eight. I’d read myself sick on the Shel Silverstein canon, volumes of children’s verse in the doctor’s office I frequented, the psalms we memorized at CCD, but I would’ve called them rhymes or songs if asked. Something about having to enunciate each word with perfect posture and imperfect pitch made it click. In the middle of one of our practices, I lost sight of focusing on the diamond we were told to imagine would rip open our stomachs should we slouch while singing and thought, “Wait. This is a poem.”
Here’s the poem even people who don’t do poetry know, and a few songs that come from poems.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year. He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound’s the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake. The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.
“Unfruitful” by David Wax Museum, David Wax’s own translation of a Gonzalo Millan poem.
“Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday is Abel Meeropol’s poem of the same name.
“Unpretty” by TLC has its roots in a poem T-Boz wrote.
“Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen.