September Song

 
 

          Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December, but the days grow short when you reach September.

            “September Song” always comes into my mind and out of my vocal chords at this time of year. I sang it in the shower this morning and thought about the ways in which Kurt Weill’s music in this popular standard captures the emotions of early autumn.

            What works best about “September Song” is the tempo. As Maxwell Anderson’s lyrics in the song’s two verses remind us, September is the time of the year (and the time in our life, if we buy into the song’s metaphor of the calendar year as a stand-in for a person’s lifespan) at which the pace starts picking up, and human existence becomes particularly precious.

            The song’s singer/narrator is an older man recalling the days of his youth, days in which he waited patiently for love and life’s treasures to come his way. In September, he explains, we “haven’t got time for the waiting game.” Winter lurks right behind autumn. Death follows middle age.

            In contrast to this “gather ye rosebuds” mentality, Kurt Weill’s melody embraces and enhances the shortening days by belying the lyrics and taking its time. The song moves at a pace that seems lazy but is instead deliberate. Its mode is entirely conversational. In fact, it was premiered in 1938 by Walter Huston, a non-singer who talked his way through the piece. There simply isn’t any way to rush through this music. The joy of “September Song” for both a singer and an audience is its suspension of time.

            For the time it takes to sing the song, the old man character slows down the motions of the earth and the heavens–and makes a few moments in September seem to last forever.

            As I walk down the street with my dog Truffle on a sunny September day, I often feel the same sense of time suspended that “September Song” evokes. True, we see signs of age and of the onset of winter all around us. A maple tree starts to turn orange. The dammed-up mountain stream in which we swim grows cooler and more challenging. Sunset arrives earlier and earlier.

            We also feel signs of new beginnings, however. With summer’s heat gone, Truffle has a new spring in her step. And I somehow always find that  September is the ideal time for embarking on new projects—going on a diet, learning new music, starting a blog. Like the narrator of “September Song,” I know that I need to make stronger decisions than I did earlier in the year and in my life. Like him as well, I have faith in the power of art, nature, and sheer endurance to help humans embrace and extend the time we have.

            And these few precious days I’ll spend with you. These precious days I’ll spend with you.

                                                                               – Tinky

            To hear Walter Huston sing “September Song” in the musical Knickerbocker Holiday, visit http://beemp3.com/download.php?file=255209&song=September+Song. (Note that his lyrics are a little different from the standard version!)

 

Composer Kurt Weill Copyright 2003 Milken Family Foundation

Composer Kurt Weill Copyright 2003 Milken Family Foundation

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply