Rules and Regulations

Stefan Weisman

About this work:

I was very excited when Jessica Corbin asked me to write a piece for the Bella Voce Singers. Of course, the first question a composer faces when writing for voices is, “What will the words be?” Jessica solved that problem for me since she had already decided that the piece would be a setting of Lewis Carroll, who is best known for writing the novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but he is also an interesting poet and a logician (hence his attraction to word games in his writing).

I immediately ruled out anything that came directly from the Alice stories because—in my mind at least—those stories belong to Pulitzer prize-winning composer David Del Tredici, who has repeatedly set texts from Alice throughout his career. Jessica gave me a packet with numerous poems and other short writings by Carroll, and I found myself immediately drawn to “Rules and Regulations.” This poem ridicules the rigid expectations of proper etiquette for both children and adults in Victorian society. The most fascinating thing about this poem is that it was written when Carroll was only thirteen years old. It was part of a collection called Useful and Instructive Poetry, which he wrote for the amusement of his seven-year-old brother. In “Rules and Regulations,” absurd imagery (“Starve your canaries”) rubs casually against relatively good advice (“Don't waste your money”). Interestingly, one must know a little bit about Carroll’s biography to fully appreciate one personal and sensitive aspect of the poem. Throughout his life Carroll suffered with a severe stutter, and this becomes a “rule” on which he focuses most sharply (“Learn well your grammar, And never stammer,” and later “Eat bread with butter. Once more, don't stutter.”) In my musical setting, I have the chorus stutter and stammer repeatedly, not to mock Carroll, but to pay tribute to both his perseverance and to his eccentricities. 
—Stefan Weisman
Rules and Regulations
A short direction 
To avoid dejection, 
By variations 
In occupations,  
And prolongation  
Of relaxation, 
And combinations  
Of recreations,  
And disputation 
On the state of the nation 
In adaptation 
To your station, 
By invitations 
To friends and relations, 
By evitation 
Of amputation, 
By permutation 
In conversation, 
And deep reflection 
You'll avoid dejection.

Learn well your grammar, 
And never stammer, 
Write well and neatly, 
And sing most sweetly, 
Be enterprising, 
Love early rising, 
Go walk of six miles, 
Have ready quick smiles, 
With lightsome laughter, 
Soft flowing after.
Drink tea, not coffee;
Never eat toffy. 
Eat bread with butter.
Once more, don't stutter. 

Don't waste your money, 
Abstain from honey. 
Shut doors behind you, 
(Don't slam them, mind you.) 
Drink beer, not porter. 
Don't enter the water 
Till to swim you are able. 
Sit close to the table. 
Take care of a candle. 
Shut a door by the handle, 
Don't push with your shoulder 
Until you are older. 
Lose not a button. 
Refuse cold mutton. 
Starve your canaries. 
Believe in fairies. 
If you are able, 
Don't have a stable 
With any mangers. 
Be rude to strangers. 

Moral: Behave. 
—Lewis Carroll
Year composed: 2011
Duration: 00:07:00
Ensemble type: Chorus, with or without Solo Voices:Chorus, Unaccompanied
Instrumentation: 2 S, 2 A

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