On “All Things Considered,” they’re running a “Winter Songs” series, in which they ask various folks to pick their favorite songs in the category. Last night, they spoke to the choreographer Bill T. Jones, and he chose Schubert’s “Der Leiermann” (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man), the last song in Schubert’s song cycle “Winterreise.”
Jones spoke of the song’s meaning for him:
” … this bleak landscape takes me back to a day when I was in fourth grade out on the edge of town, looking at a snow-covered highway many, many yards away from my window — I should’ve been paying attention, but I was dreaming.
“And then I saw a lone figure walking across on a very, very cold day, and you know how it is when the wind blows and you have to turn your back against the wind, and I felt so sorry for that person, and then I realized it was my father. That my father, who was completely out of work, had been the director of his own business as a contractor in the heyday of the migrant stream back in the late ’50s, but now that business had died.
“He was up in the chilly North with family, broke and sick, and he had to get to this very insignificant job in a factory, miles and miles away. A black man with no car, trying to hitchhike, and no one picking him up, and he has to walk that 10 miles to get to the factory. And I’m sitting in this warm classroom, getting educated, not paying attention to the teacher, and suddenly feeling torn between two worlds. And this music, when I hear it, I feel for my father. There’s something about art that can be, yes, depressing, but helps us bear the pain through sheer beauty and intensity.”