Musical Setting of Sara Pirkle Hughes’s “What Hurts”

Neil Olmstead

“What Hurts” is based on a poem by Sara Pirkle Hughes. It is the first piece in a song cycle of five art songs for mezzo soprano and piano that I composed within the last year and recorded this past August. This piece questions the reasonableness of our efforts to forget pain, physical or emotional, in order to “get on with life.” I was inspired by this viewpoint and also by the overall rhythm and form of the piece. The poem is a “pantoum,” a verse in quatrains, in which the second and fourth lines are repeated as the first and third lines of the following quatrain. Sara gave me permission to omit a section of the poem and to change the wording slightly to satisfy the music. Although such omissions are considered taboo in some circles, this flexibility is a benefit of working with living poets.
– Neil Olmstead
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