Keith Kirchoff  
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Frederic Rzewski (b. 1938, Westfield, MA)

Frederic Rzewski is an American composer/pianist currently living in Brussels. He is widely considered to be one of the most important composers alive.

This piece is a set of variations on an early twentieth century American Yiddish ballad. The ballad recounts the working conditions of early twentieth century America. This time is a dark blemish on the country's history and is a sequence of events that is embarrassing to recount, even one hundred years later. During this time, there was an immense divide between the rich and the poor, more than any other time in America's history. The wealth was controlled by only a select few: the Rockefellers, the J.P. Morgans, the Andrew Carnegies, the Henry Fords, and a handful of others. The rest of society was forced to work long hours, often 18 or more hours a day, for mere pennies, simply to try putting food on the table for their families.

There were no unions, nor was there any means for the average worker to protest these conditions. When a group of workers gather together and protest or mount a strike, the company owners would call the Pinkertons from Detroit to kill all of the protesters. Those that protested were often hung in public places to remind other potential strikers of the futility of their actions.

This song, then, tells the story of a father who is forced to work in these conditions and consequently never sees his child. His child is in bed before he gets home, and the father leaves for work long before his son awakes.

While the United States certainly no longer experiences these sorts of conditions, their economic system is far from perfect and still leaves many in dire poverty. Yet this social issue of poverty is hardly limited to the United States's border, as there are countries whose economic situation is not that different from those depicted in the song. While we cannot singlehandedly change the economics of the world, it is important for all of to remember others in need and never take our situation for granted.

Before I play Mayn Yingele, you will hear me sing a translated version of the song:

I have a little boy at home,
A pretty little son.
I think sometimes the world is mine,
In him my only one.
But seldom, seldom do I see,
My child in heaven's light,
I find him always fast asleep.
I see him but at night.

When I look at my little boy,
It seems the world is mine.
But seldom is my boy awake,
During my at during my at home time.
My job drives me from home at dawn,
I don't get home till late.
I don't know how my son looks,
For he's asleep by eight.

I hear how nicely my child plays,
And how sweetly he speaks.
He asks my wife when I'll come home
And bring him a small treat.
I stand beside his little bed,
And look at him with love.
I hear him ask me sleepily,
Oh where is my Papa?

I lean down and kiss his blue eyes,
They open briefly then.
My son then quickly turns away,
And his eyes close again.
Depressed and sad I leave the room,
And as I reach the door,
I think how one day when he wakes,
He'll find me there no more.