Tag Archives: copyright

We Do Not Say Good-bye

At this time of year, Unitarian Universalist churches often have worship services that reference All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, and/or Día de los Muertos, and that acknowledge and celebrate the influence that the dead can have on the lives of the living. These services might include, for example, the naming of people who have passed away in the preceding year, and the placing of pictures and mementos on an ofrenda or other altar. In this post, I would like to publicize a sonnet by a little-known American poet that can fit in wonderfully with such services. Four years ago I set the poem to music (which anyone can download and print for free), but even if you don’t like the music, the poem itself could be beautiful in a worship service.

Also, I will say something about the history of the sonnet and its author, and how it happens that I found the poem in a book on a shelf in our living room.

The poem is “We Do Not Say Good-bye”: 1

We do not say good-bye. Somehow the soul

Keeps all that has been loved with it always.

The bodies break, friends go, the seasons roll;

But of each cherished thing the spirit stays.

They are like summer shining on the air —

These forms, this breathing earth, these radiant friends.

From their remembered splendor I shall wear

Some light about me till my moment ends.

I cannot carve your lovely shape in stone,

Staying awhile its excellence from decay,

Nor fix your beauty into paint. Alone

A look upon my face will sometimes say

How beautiful are the things which I have known

That came from earth, that turn again to clay.

— Lawrence Lee, from Tomorrow Good-bye (Gaylordsville: The Slide Mountain Press, 1933)

Here is a recording of my SATB a cappella arrangement of the poem, and here is the score, which is free to download and print. 2

The Lawrence Lee who wrote this poem was a Southerner, born in Alabama in 1903. There is a brief biography of him on the Kent State Library page that lists the collection of his papers held by the library. His book Tomorrow Good-bye is hard to come by; its WorldCat library entry lists copies in only 23 libraries. The catalog entry also notes that only 200 copies were printed.

So how did two of those 200 copies wind up on a shelf in our living room?

What the Kent State biography doesn’t mention is that Lawrence Lee was friends with my wife Bella’s grandparents; Bella’s grandfather Lambert Davis worked for the Virgina Quarterly Review in the 1930’s, so he and Lee ran in the same literary circles — and in fact Lee was best man at the marriage of Lambert and Bella’s grandmother Isabella. One of the two copies of Tomorrow Good-bye on our shelf is inscribed to Lambert and Isabella, and includes a hand-written poem 3 that mentions that Isabella is “large with your first leaping child” — a child who would grow up to become Bella’s mother.

Thirteen years ago, I pulled one of these copies off our shelf of old, unusual, or inherited books, and leafed through it for the first time. It contains only five poems, all sonnets, and We Do Not Say Good-bye is the fifth. It stood out to me, though — because at that time, thirteen years ago, close friends of ours were facing a great loss, and the poem spoke to that loss.

Lawrence Lee died in 1978. Bella’s grandparents lived longer, but by the time I found Tomorrow Good-bye on our shelf, they had passed away as well. And yet this book, written by a man now dead, and given to friends now dead, had found its way to our living room, and spoke meaningfully to us of loss and memory. All Souls’ Day and Día de los Muertos celebrate exactly this connection we have to those that have come before us, and Lawrence Lee’s own words, shining on the air, remind us of the beauty of those we knew who have turned again to clay.

  1. There are later versions of the poem in which the first line is changed to “Man does not say good-bye.” This is how the poem appears, for instance, in H.L. Mencken’s literary magazine The American Mercury (vol. 30, p. 337, 1933), and in Lee’s collection Monticello and Other Poems (New York: Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1937), which is easier to find than Tomorrow Good-bye. I much prefer the original formulation. 
  2. Lawrence Lee copyrighted Tomorrow Good-bye in 1933, but (according to a copyright search I paid the U.S. Copyright Office to do) he did not renew the copyright after the initial 28 year period, so in 1961 the book came into the public domain. 
  3. “In Residence, Fifteenth Street,” which later appeared in Scribner’s Magazine and in Monticello and Other Poems

The Times They Are a-Changin’

(Hello world! This is the first post on this blog.)

Copyright law is complicated, and makes things complicated.

In 2012, the lead minister of my congregation (the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego) wanted to have a service that incorporated the music of Bob Dylan. The director of the JUUL Tones, the a-cappella group I sing with, wanted to perform The Times They Are a-Changin’, but could not find an SATB or SAB arrangement of it.

I composed an arrangement (and wrote it down, which may have been illegal, depending on how strictly you read copyright law), and contacted Bob Dylan’s Special Rider Music, which owns the copyright to the piece, at the phone number listed on their SESAC page. The woman who I talked with was very polite, and when I explained that I wanted to perform an arrangement of The Times They Are a-Changin’ for a church service, she said to just go ahead, with perhaps a slight tone of “why are you bothering me with this?” in her voice.

(It is legal to perform copyrighted music in church services without getting permission from the copyright holder, but I was making an arrangement and printing it out for the singers, which is why I wanted to check with Special Rider. Of course, you might ask how anyone could perform any piece without it being somehow an arrangement…)

A couple of years later, when our lead minister was going to retire, our a-cappella group wanted to sing the song again at his farewell gathering. This time we would not be covered by the religious service exemption, so I called Special Rider Music again, and then got in touch by email with Will Schwartz, one of the people there. He said that for this piece “there’s no license for performance rights. [Y]ou can go ahead and perform.” If we wanted to record a performance, we would have to pay a statutory rate of 9.1 cents per distributed copy, but he said we could make the recording and contact him afterwards. So we were clear to sing the piece at the farewell gathering.

But I was also interested in making the sheet music available to other musicians, in case anyone else would like to sing an a-cappella version of The Times…. I asked Mr. Schwartz about this, and he said to contact Kevin McGee at Music Sales Corporation.

The powers that be in the music world seem to find a request to distribute sheet music to be unusual. I submitted a permissions request, and when Music Sales Corporation finally got back to me (after 10 months and two followup emails), they sent me a proposed license to perform and record the piece, with permission to create 10 copies of the sheet music to be distributed to the members of the JUUL Tones. This was not at all what I asked for, or was hoping to get.

Fortunately, Duron Bentley, the colleague of Kevin McGee’s who I was now in touch with, kindly and patiently kept up the conversation as I tried to explain what it was I was hoping to do. Initially, he said that they would not be able to modify the license to let me print out more than 10 copies of the music, and he suggested that if another group wanted the music, they should contact him to obtain a license.

Finally, though, when I explained that no license is needed to perform works in worship services, he was willing to modify the license to let me print more copies of the music (on condition that I send Music Sales Corporation $1.50 for each copy). He did ask that each copy of the music carry the following notice (in addition to the copyright notice):

This arrangement may not be duplicated, promoted, sold or otherwise made available to any third party. This includes all recordings, social media, personal websites, YouTube and the like. Performance is permitted only during a religious service. Please contact Music Sales Corporation for permission to create an arrangement.

The restriction on performance seemed to be in conflict with what Will Schwartz had told me earlier, so I asked for some clarification. Mr. Bentley had not known that the copyright holders were not asking for performance licenses, he gave me words for a modified notice. Here is the final version:

This arrangement may not be duplicated, promoted, sold or otherwise made available to any third party without further permission from the publisher, Special Rider Music. This includes all recordings, social media, personal websites, YouTube and the like. Please contact Music Sales Corporation for permission to create an arrangement.

That seems reasonable enough. I preface the notice by saying “I have to put this notice here,” and suggest that people consult copyright attorneys to determine their rights. Also, I mention that Special Rider Music does not require further license for live performances.

So, in the end? I think I did everything in accordance with copyright law. It took a year of waiting, and some persistence, and $275 for the general license plus $1.50 for each copy I print, but… I did everything in accordance with copyright law. Perhaps this was a little silly, because there’s no indication that anyone wants this sheet music, but I thought it would be an interesting experiment to try. Besides, this way I won’t feel guilty about depriving Bob Dylan of his retirement income.

Interested in seeing the music? That would make me happy. Please get in touch with me.

(Note: Bob Dylan himself is not so careful about copyright issues…)

Photo credit: Rowland Scherman. The image is in the public domain, and is part of the U.S. National Archives. More information here.