While working on my last article, a reflection on the Katie Hill ordeal that was all over the news as October transitioned into November, I ran across this news headline: “Pence praises rule that would let adoption agencies exclude gay parents.” It immediately captured my attention. Pence said he “couldn’t be more proud” of the “decisive action” taken at “President Trump’s direction” on this issue. Great. Let’s narrow the pool of stable and loving families available to children in need of a secure home. Seems logical. 

On a more serious note this pronouncement was just the latest in a seemingly never-ending string of cruel and illogical policies that spew forth from the current administration on a daily basis. This White House has rendered fictional portrayals of politics in pop culture dull in comparison to the daily circus of inhumanity rolled out by Trump and company. An article published in The Atlantic in October of 2018 posited that Trumpsters find community by rejoicing in the suffering of those they hate and fear, that indeed the cruelty is the point for them. I can find no better explanation for their actions. 

Once I had settled on a subject matter, I had to choose a medium. As my undergraduate studies were in music and I spent the first 20 years of my professional life as a clarinetist in Army Bands, music seemed to be the right fit. I decided to write and record a song based on the aforementioned news item and the overall climate being set in related areas by the current administration. The project proved to be a challenge. As stated above, I do have plenty of experience with music, but my experience is generally as an instrumentalist, and specifically as one trained to perform the music of others, typically as part of an ensemble such as an orchestra, wind ensemble, or smaller chamber group. This project would call for a completely different skillset, and a skilled collaborator in the person of my wife. 

The first step for me was to write a poem that would serve as the basis of the song’s lyric:

                         LGBTQ/HUMAN TRUTH

                        They’ve got a letter for you

                        To demonize 

                        What we recognize

                        As human truth

                        There is a burning cross for you

                        They want the right to limit you

                        Jesus Pence will choose for you

                        A rally he can pander to

                        Children hunger for silent arms

                        To save them from a frozen sky

                        Red faces twist in fiery rage 

                        The flock would rather see them die

                        Weary arms behind their backs

                        They watch through briny tears 

                        Fear runs like water deep and black 

                        Spreads like kudzu through the years

                        Hold your breath and fly with them

                        The chosen one has decreed

                        Close your eyes and die with them

                        Lo, you sinners never bleed 

                        Build a world with empathy

                        Tear it down with black and white

                        Pro-life’s for the people here

                        Whose condemnation’s not their right

                        Do not smother them with blindness

                        In the shadow of Leviticus

                        Forge the bonds of loving kindness

                        Unwrap the cloak of loneliness

I decided to include rhyme because rhyme works well in songs. The difficulty with using rhyme is that it can easily sound trite, especially when dealing with a serious subject. My hope is that the music will prevent that. My wife and I worked together to come up with a simple chord progression in the key of D minor. Then she repeatedly played the 4-chord progression on the ukulele while we experimented with melodies on voice and clarinet until we came up with a basic framework. Next I edited the poem to help it fit the rhythm. The difficulty there is to make changes without losing the meaning of the poem and altering the original intent. We added a mechanical rhythmic track using a simple keyboard. The final product consists of an ostinato rhythm, the ukulele providing the simple harmonic framework, my wife’s vocals, and the clarinet as sort of background mood and punctuation to reinforce the meaning of the words. Finally, after some experimentation and a bit of rehearsal we recorded it with a somewhat rewritten lyric.

Gene Chieffo is retired Army Musician and teacher. He studied clarinet at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and holds a Bachelor of Science in Music (Clarinet Performance), and a Master of Education degree. A native Philadelphian, he performed with Army Bands all over North America, Europe, and Asia from 1985 until 2005. Upon his retirement from Army Bands, he taught in Philadelphia Area public schools for 15 years. He would like his third chapter to include taking his musical skills to the next level as a freelancer in the Hampton Roads area, publishing an article, or a poem…anything really, and perhaps finally figuring out what is happening inside of his head, and all around him, for the first time.