It might be gilding a lily to add instrumentation to Tyree Daye’s “The World Grows,” so emotionally resonant is his voice. But, to my ear, the repetition of the word “once” in the poem called forth chordal notes surrounding his vocal C. And “Once, to see the ocean, / we took the back way out of town” became a piano figure in the outro, a ready-made hook drawn from the DNA of the vocal.
Once the arranging decision had been made to make chords on and from the “once”s, then the decision of which chords arose. Casting the arrangement in a minor key seemed to complement the melodies of memory in the poem. Balloons of happiness also color the poem–but musical minor keys are not always made of unalloyed melancholy, right?
The 108 beats per minute of the outro were determined by Ableton Live’s analysis of the original audio.
The World Grows
by Tyree Daye
Once, the world no bigger
than railroad-divided Youngsville.
Once, we made it to South Carolina;
all of us alive for the family reunion;
once, two miles from the city limits
my uncle pulled out of the car
to have his coin-filled pockets searched.
Once, to see the ocean,
we took the back way out of town,
we lived in a circled path
and made do behind a kerosene’s heat.
Once, my mother the shape of God
pointing to the moon in a screen door.
Around a card table with her brothers and sister
in gin they trusted the squash would sprout a way.
Once, I trusted a hand pointing north;
once, I called for a wolf
and a man walked out of the night.
I walked Youngsville and marked myself down on a map
I was making.
Once, for my birthday,
my family gathered near the rusted cars in our backyard
and my happiness the color of balloons.
Used by permission of the author.
Explore more of Tyree Daye’s work here.
Find the original audio of the poem on the Oxford American’s website.