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The tone of September's songs
Septembers songs prompt reflections on time and mortality

Paul Gaston
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For students and teachers, for theaters and orchestras, and for governments throughout the world, September is the month promising new beginnings. But WKSU commentator Paul Gaston and been listening to – and thinking about – the songs of September.

Paul Gaston: A sense of urgency, of mortality

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     Why is it that the songs of September--and there are memorable ones--share a sense of regret, of sadness, of time that will never be recovered? 

     Al Dubin’s 1937 lyrics for “September in the Rain” offer three images for a season of dying gardens and shorter days: “leaves of brown . . . tumbling down,” the sun going out “like a dying ember,” and, well, the rain.

     It doesn’t get any brighter in “September Song” one year later. That 1938 song by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Maxwell Anderson and the edgy composer, Kurt Weill, begins with charming patter about the fleeting joys of youthful love. But at its heart lies wistful regret that there’s not much time left. A year goes by quickly. So does life.

     “It’s a long, long while from May to December / But the days grow short when you reach September.” Gone is the leisure of summer, the heady spirit of a season you hope will never end. Now there is a sense of urgency, of mortality.   

     One more? Sammy Cahn’s 1965 lyrics for “The September of My Years” gave Frank Sinatra the name for one of his last albums. Here, too, September prompts reflections on time and mortality. “One day you turn around, and it’s summer / Next day you turn around, and it’s fall.” Time for a sigh as the Chairman of the Board accepts “The warm September of my years.”

     You probably have your own favorite.

     But where are the songs that capture the other side of September, the month of openings, fresh starts, renewed energy? Our performing arts organizations, from the Cleveland Playhouse to the Akron Symphony, begin their new seasons. The Holden Arboretum welcomes fall visitors to its most brilliant colors. From Case Western Reserve to Walsh University, Wooster College to Kent State Tuscarawas, college classes get under way. New friendships form. New ambitions emerge.

     The days grow shorter, sure. But the earlier evenings have their charm. It’s not exactly a song. But in his “Ode to Autumn,” John Keats offers reassurance to the fall season, which has its own music.

     Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft

     The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;

     And gathering swallows twitter in the skies. 

     I remind myself of September’s positives partly to cheer myself up. But there are some Septembers when the songs of September seem particularly sobering--songs of loss, of regret, of life’s limited span. And this is one of those Septembers.


Listener Comments:

September along the Gulf Coast is lovely and fun as the humidity and heat of summer start to change for the better. It is also a time of deep anxiety every time a new tropical storm is named, even one thousands of miles away. Hurricane Betsy ripped and flooded New Orleans and the Mississippi coast on Sept. 9, 1965, and we are all still experiencing PKSD (post-Katrina stress disorder) from the devastation of Aug. 29, 2005, and the September that followed. We look forward to the end of September and watch the Weather Service's statistical graph that plots a steep decilne in hurricane formation as October approaches.

Posted by: Earl Higgins (New Orleans) on September 10, 2011 12:09PM
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