U.S. Lowball (2000-01)

Commissioned by the Dogs of Desire, an amplified chamber orchestra with voices drawn from the Albany Symphony (N.Y.) under the direction of David Alan Miller. Performed by the same with Barbara Hannigan and Alexandra Sweeton as soloists on March 23, 2001 at the New York State Museum in Albany.

Program Notes:

I set out to parody a work I like very much, Harry Partch's "U.S. Highball." Why? I thought of the Dogs earlier concerts where they had composers do "covers" of rock songs. I thought it would be fresh to "cover" a 20th century serious masterwork, like Weird Al Yankovich might do...if he were a classical composer.

Success to a good parody depends on an intimate knowledge with the work being inhabited. I gained that knowledge in the summer of 1996 when I studied it with composer Ben Johnston en route to learning the vocal part to his then new arrangement of it for string quartet for the Kronos Quartet. (I was eventually passed over as singer for the part.)

I wrote the libretto, incorporating some of Partch's approach (such as the use of the objective and subjective voice amongst two singers; or the soni-rhythmic wordplay that permeates the original), and intensely referenced people, places and things of an autobiographical nature. Partch's piece describes a trip by boxcar from Carmel, CA to Chicago. His goal, salvation. My character, equally poor, travels from Cleveland to Wichita, first by bus, then by Amish carriage, motorcycle, and hitchhike. The androgyne's destination is to buy a cheap minivan s/he saw on E-bay. This will help his/her business: selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door.

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U.S. Lowball
A Musical Burlesque After Harry Partch

Leaving Cleveland, O - heave - land!1

Leaving Elyria, O - hyria!2

I got an E-mail and the E-mail said:
"Your bid is good for 3 days.
Thank you for shopping Ebay."3
And that's why I'm going to Wichita.

Leaving Norwalk, O - hi- alk!4

'92 Dodge Caravan, new brakes, needs work:
Eight hundred thirty-two dollars

Hey. How many stops is this bus gonna make, buddy?!

Leaving Upper Sandusky, O - husky5

No more stuffing Kirbys in the back o' my brother's Chevette!
Now I can take four vacuum cleaners into the field, maybe more!6

Hey, that driver don't know how to handle these roads!7
Now Fast Eddie8, there was a bus driver....

Leaving Lima, O - hi - ma

Don't eat at the Bob Evans in Lima, boy.
It'll give you the chuck horrors for sure!9

"Gonna ride this here bus to Kokomo, then head to Indy for the 500.
How 'bout it, Slick?"10

Another breakdown!
Bum a tear o' that beef jerky11, pal?
These Amish folk12 are right nice out here.
Think I'll catch a carriage over the state line.
Can't wait for another bus.
Sell ya my pass?
Gotta get to Wichita before somebody lowballs me on a minivan.
832 bucks! Why, I'll make that back on commission for two Kirby's!

Leaving Willshire.......and....O - hire.

Folks say I'm crazy. Say I oughtta get a real job.
I say, "Money's the root of all...." well, you know.
'In dwelling, live close to the ground, In thinking, keep to the simple.'
That's what the Tao Te Ching13 says.
You know the Tao Te Ching? The Tao Te.....

"Know a mechanic in Bluffton, Got bikes for sale cheap,
Don't ride much m'self, but....."

Why, thank you kindly, Zeke.14
I'd love to live your way for just a day, sir.
Maybe longer, maybe longer.
I really think you're on to something here....

Leaving Gas City In - di - a - ni - ty!

I got an email and the email said:
"Your bid is good." da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da

"Champaign-Urbana15 YMCA.
Notice to boarders:
This YMCA gives you one bed, coffee and donuts,
and one complimentary step aerobics class for fifty dollars."16
Fifty dollars!? To hell with it. I'll head over to Jack Parkin's!17

Leaving Monticello, Illinois - i - o!18

Wichita, Wichita, Wichi-Wichi-Wichita ita ita, itchy, itchy, Wichita!

Leaving Springfield

Goin' west, mister? Goin' west, mister? Goin' west, mister?19

Leaving Jeff City, Mo-Mo-Mo-Mity!

Wichi-Wichi-Wichi Wichita, ita, ita-ta-ta, ta-ta, ta-ta-ta

Eight hundred and thirty two bucks.
And more than that to spare for gas home. Ha!

Fort Scott, Kan - zot!20

Kan-sas, Kan-sas, Ka-Ka-Ka-Ka-Kan-sas
can's ass, can's ass, can's ass

I - oooooooooo - la!

Iola, Kanzola, Iola, Kanzola Kanzola-zola-zola

Ha, ha! This is just what I needed.
A break from that stinky old town. The rat race.
Clean livin'. Fix my liver. Find me a lover in Ole Kanzola. Shanty by the lake.
No more vacuum cleaners, credit checks, donut shops.
No more lotto, cheap lovin', breakdowns, E-commerce.

Wichita! Wichita! Wichita!

Whadya mean I'm too late?! I got an email and the email said, "Your bid is good for 3 days!"
What?! When?! Where?! Who?! You exclamation mark jerk!
I hope your semicolon asterisk Dodge falls right off its at-sign axles!21
I can stand everything but the jerks!22

"Lookin' for Dodge, stranger? Climb in."

(1st person)
Leaving Wichita, Kan - saw!

Where we headed? West?

"Dodge City. End of the road."

Well, I came for a Dodge. Didn't know it was a city.

"It's a place where folks live close to the ground, keep to the simple."

You know the Tao Te Ching?

"Tao Te who?"

Tao Te...
Oh well, 832 bucks can get a person started out here in can's ass, can's ass...
No more material world. Time to strip it bare, in Kansas.
Maybe I'll continue this trip after a spell. Go on to Californee-a.

"I hear Carmel is nice."

Thanks for the ride, Hoss!23

"May God's richest blessings be upon you."

Libretto © by Evan Hause

1 Partch's journey originates in Carmel, California.
2 Elyria, Ohio is a neighboring town to Oberlin, Ohio, where I went to college.
3 Partch "got a letter and the letter said: 'May God's richest blessings be upon you.'"
4 Hometown of NFL Coach Paul Brown.
5 When I was a kid, I was haunted by a bogus article in a Teen magazine that said the rock group KISS had died in a van accident in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and that impostors were carrying on in their stead. Hmm.
6 My brother was a true-to-life Kirby vacuum cleaner salesman.
7 Partch: "That engineer don't know how to drive this train!"
8 Fast Eddie drove the bus for the Oberlin Yeomen and Yeowomen athletic teams. He always cut an hour off of every trip in a way which defies physics.
9 This statement is absolutely true. In Partch's glossary, the "chuck horrors" is severe indigestion.
10 Partch: "We'll highball it down to Omaha then head for the carnival in Alabama. How 'bout it, Slim?" Slim was Partch's nickname; at least in U.S. Highball.
11 Classic road food for the unhealthy.
12 My great grandfather was the last of an Amish strain in my family.
13 I got a letter and the letter said this statement at the time I was composing this piece. btw-Singers are SUPPOSED to pronounce "Tao Te Ching" wrong! I always did.
14 Not just a Biblical and Amish name, but the name of one of my college dormitories.
15 Home of University of Illinois where the Partch music archive is, where Ben Johnston taught for 30 years, where Partch took several residencies, etc. The only city called in both "U.S. Highball" and "U.S. Lowball."
16 Partch: "The Salvation Army: Notice to transients: This town allows you two meals and bed for one night only. Do not leave this place after 6 PM. By order of the Chief of Police."
17 Partch: "Jack Parkin, 111 West William St., Champaign, Illinois. Telephone 8426 if hungry when there."
18 My mother was born and raised there.
19 Partch: "Goin' east, mister?"
20 Not far from Pittsburg, Kansas, where I lived for three years, and met my sweetie, who goes by the nickname, Mo.
21 Partch: "You exclamation mark bum! Get your semi-colon asterisk out o' these yards!" A reference to railroad security tossing Partch, the hobo, out of the rail yards.
22 Partch: verbatim quotation; except that Partch was referring to the sudden jerks of the fast-moving trains.
23 The name of my rock act and "correct" pronunciation of my last name.


Bb Clarinet
Eb Alto Saxophone
Bb Tenor Saxophone


2 Vocalists

Drumset/Temple Blocks

Solo Strings