Jonathan Santore, Composer
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Front Porch Poems (Tales from the Keniston Woods)

Listen to an excerpt from the Albany Records release New People, tracks 14–16.

  • Score: $8 (reproduction rights for two scores and viola part; additional charge for hard copies)
  • For mezzo soprano, viola, and piano
  • Secular text (about both life in early 20th century New Hampshire and the prowess of the violist!)
  • 11:00
  • Difficulty rating (1-5): 5 (viola); 4 (mezzo and piano)
  • View a PDF score excerpt
  • Purchase, request full review copy or more information, etc.

When I wrote Front Porch Poems, I had been living in the small town of Plymouth, NH, for almost 13 years. One of the most important events in the artistic life of Plymouth during that time has been the arrival of Eva Nagorka and Rodger Ellsworth—both successful musicians living and working in Washington, DC, when Rodger’s great aunt, Rachel Keniston, passed away.

The Keniston family homestead stands on a hill overlooking the town of Plymouth. Rachel was born there, and lived her entire life there with her sister, Miriam, who died in 1982. Miriam left behind many poems describing the passing of the seasons in northern New England, and the inspiring views from the homestead’s graceful front porch.

Upon Rachel’s death, the Keniston homestead passed to Rodger Ellsworth. Rather than let it leave the family’s hands, he and Eva decided to leave the nation’s capital and make their home in New Hampshire. Their work here as performers and teachers continues to have a significant impact on the cultural life of the region.

Upon receiving the 2006 Composer of the Year commission from the New Hampshire Music Teachers Association, I immediately thought of writing a piece for Rodger and Eva to perform together, and asked them to suggest texts for me to set. They responded with the Miriam Keniston poems set in the first two movements of this work. The third poem, my contribution to the set, is my response to Rodger and Eva’s request for a tango that they could perform together. I hope that the entire work stands as a tribute to Rodger, Eva, their lives together in the Keniston homestead, and the many ways their neighbors are enriched by their presence among us.

I. Fairies on My Hilltop

There are fairies on my hilltop.
Their magic you can see,
For they've crystalled every raindrop
And jeweled every tree.

The sunbeams gaily dancing
Make diamonds all around,
A scene that's more entrancing
Could nowhere else be found.

I gaze in wonder at the sight,
At the hill I love so much,
Changed to crystal over night,
Transformed by a magic touch.

Each sprite in gossamer and lace
Has come to the fairy ball.
The dainty green with charm and grace
Casts a magic spell over all.

Oh, there are fairies on my hilltop,
Don't you believe it's so?
Then you've never seen a fairy
So of course you wouldn't know.

          —Miriam Keniston

II. A Winter Night

The moon rides high in the wintry sky
While the north wind shouts with glee.
He rushes along with his noisy song,
For a boisterous fellow is he.

He blusters and roars and pounds at the doors,
And rattles the windows too,
In the tree tops tall you can hear him call
As he whistles the whole night through.

And the moon shines on 'til the coming of dawn,
Then sinks from sight in the west,
And the north wind gay after all his play
Calms down at last for a rest.


III. Tango Violistico

The very next time that you’re watching your local orchestra,
Please pay some very close attention to the strings—
The section usually begins
With those teeny violins
And moves down through the basses (Great big scary things—BRRRRR!)

But in the middle lies the noblest of all the instruments,
The one that balances the perfect highs and lows—
The one that plays the middle part
And sends its arrows to my heart—
In short, the section where my dear beloved goes.

he man can play viola,
He makes me lose control-a,
He is the Ayatollah of my bod …
The man can play viola,
He moves my very soul-a,
The man can play viola like a god.

The man can play viola
He turns my blood to cola,
I’ll shout his name from Cape Town to Cape Cod
He bows from tip to fro-og,
And I go all ago-og,
The man can play viola like a god.

Too long I loitered all alone in romance’s waiting room
Too long I tarried by the turnstile to the moon
Too long I waited for the dance
Too long I never got the chance
I needed moving, and I couldn’t move too soon

But then I heard him, and I knew there was no more waiting game,
I knew this yearning in my breast was heaven-sent
All his harmonic harmonies
They always weaken both my knees
And his fundamental stirs my fundament

The man can play viola,
He makes me lose control-a,
He is the Ayatollah of my bod …
The man can play viola,
He moves my very soul-a,
The man can play viola like a god.

The man can play viola,
From Newark to Angola,
He plants my inhibitions in the sod
The Germans call it Bratsche
But all I hear is “Gotcha!”
The man can play viola like a god.

How’d this violist get so?
Well … you see …
One day he met a mezzo!
The man can play viola like a god.


“Fairies on My Hilltop” and “A Winter Night” are used here by permission of the Estate of Miriam Keniston.

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Jonathan Santore
Plymouth, NH
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