Here Comes the Train (reposted from Facebook)
I wrote this song to Tchaikovsky's "Theme from Pathetique" back in early 2013 when I was experimenting with creating my own librettos to classic pieces ("Endymion and Selene" to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," "The Romance of Madame White Snake" to Rubinstein's "Romance," etc.). Because I was focusing on classical pieces I could actually play, I was limited in my choices, but I'd been doing this Tchaikovsky number since I was eight.
To come up with a libretto, I had to first listen to the music and then hear an emotion. Obviously, this number already has a terrible sadness and a plaintiveness to it, but it also evoked the sensation of a train to me. Particularly, the bass notes always sounded like a train's engines. I thought, "What is the saddest narrative I can think of that involves a train," and of course the Holocaust instantly sprung to mind. At that point, I re-read Elie Wiesel's NIGHT and watched a number of interviews with Holocaust survivors and began piecing together a thread of a narrative, namely that of two parents and their child, being carted off, knowing in their hearts what awaited them but holding out hope that humanity could not possibly be capable of perpetrating such deeds, hoping that in the end commonality would be recognized and triumph over tribalism, and imploring their child to sleep because all would be well.
The train, of course, besides being a literal feature, is also a symbolic juggernaut. In its positive deployment it can represent the relentless march of progress and sweeping reform. Seen in a negative light, it can be an unstoppable opponent crushing everything in its path and laying waste to its own environment. When I wrote this particular narrative, of course, I had in mind the Holocaust that occurred in Germany during the second World War. However, I had in mind a larger message that such horrors seem to be historically recurring: the Native American genocide, the Armenian genocide, the Bosnian genocide, the attempts in Uganda and Russia to commit a gay genocide, the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II (which very easily could have become a genocide) and so forth. It is incumbent that we prevent such atrocities in the future my learning to see the humanity in all of our brothers and sisters lest we lose our own humanity.
The female vocals are performed by Rumson NJ entertainer Lisa Sherman.
And you can hear the song while reading the lyrics at this YouTube video if you so desire. (It's also available for download on iTunes, eMusic, Amazon, etc. Hard copies are available through me as part of a six-song EP, "The Trick.")
HERE COMES THE TRAIN
The rumours came:
We'd go to Hungary, far from the front lines to man factories.
Grab food and some clothes, they said.
In the dark of night, we were led to trains deporting us from Germany.
Sleep, child in my arms; you'll come to no harm.
This train shall carry us from jeopardy.
There: See the camp gates open to the yard.
There: See the German soldiers standing guard.
We fed and sheltered them in our homes in Berlin,
Where generations of our families
Lived as German citizens for centuries.
They would not wish us ill! Like them, we're German still.
See how the smoke stacks rise against the night?
Smoke, silhouetted by pinpoints of light.
In Heaven, stars divine the Fatherland's design
And all is surely right as flows the Rhine.
Child, sleep through the night.
Far from our houses, our ancestral home,
From any comfort we have ever known.
Hear the car rattle, herded like cattle.
Please, child in my arms, sleep! Pray, hear the engine drone.
Sleep while you can, dear.
Rest, Mother is here.
Let slumber carry fears away and gone.
Sleep and peace.
Dream, and cease to worry what Fate shall bring of us.
The train arrives. We are alive.
Women to the left, men to the right.
The rumours came: We'd go to Hungary.
This barb-wired fence, this smoky factory. Here comes the train!
Here comes the train!
Here comes another train that no one ever boards.
A follow-up entry written in 2015 and published on Facebook 14 March 2017
I wrote this song back in early 2013 and had originally intended the single/EP upon which it appeared, “The Trick,” to be released sufficiently early enough to be a jumping-off point for discussion on either Holocaust Memorial Day (in January) or Holocaust Remembrance Day (in April). Of course, numerous extraneous factors led to the EP being released in July of 2014 instead of November of 2013 as intended. So, here, before I forget, is my musical narrative honoring this special day.
The music, of course, is instantly recognizable as Tchaikovsky’s “Theme from Pathetique.” Initially, I simply was playing in the studio with the Tchaikovsky music, adding my own arrangement to it, and before long I realized that the low strings sounded like the rumbling of a train, while the high violins sounded like a train whistle. Pondering a narrative, I needed very little time to conjure up the saddest event I could think of that would involve trains; before long, I was mining interviews with Holocaust survivors, re-reading Elie Wiesel’s NIGHT, and crafting the lyrics to this song.
The female voice(s) is/are Lisa Sherman, although in many places I’ve doubled her vocal line with a falsetto of my own. Here are the lyrics.