I first got the idea for this piece from Ken Booker, a colleague of mine at the University of Texas. He told me at a concert that he had often thought it would be fun to set a bunch of personal ads to music, but that he had never gotten around to doing it. The idea stuck with me, and several months later I began reading the personals every week looking for possible song texts. Another friend and colleague at Texas, soprano Crate Herbert, had talked to me several times about writing a piece for her, and this personals cycle seemed like the perfect thing. The next time I saw Ken I asked him whether or not he still intended to write his personals cycle, because I had found some good texts and thought I might like to try it myself. He said he didn’t have time to do it, and didn’t mind if I did, as long as I gave him credit for the idea. By that time I had cut out around thirty possible song texts, which I narrowed down to six. I began setting them to music sometime in the spring of 1995, and finished the last song in December of the same year.
As I read the notices every week looking for texts, I was struck by the poignancy, even poetry in many of the ads. For the most part, I singled out ads of high literary quality, or those with a quirky sense of humor or some other feature that seemed to make them unique. I also included one text, “Plain Jane,” that I felt was representative of the masses of ads that make no attempt at poetry or creativity, but are instead lists of the author’s characteristics and the preferred traits of the person she seeks. These are ads that seem rather ordinary on the whole, but when I remember that there is a lonely person behind each one, I can not help being moved by them.
The nature of these texts made some editing inevitable. I was, however, able to use one text exactly as written (“babe”). In editing the others, the goal was usually to make them more universal by cutting references to age, smoking preferences, and the like.
Further Notes on Single Female Seeks…
After writing this song cycle for Crate Herbert in 1995, I never managed to get a copy of it into her hands, because by that time she had moved away from Austin and we lost touch. Ten years later, in 2005, I got an email from my PayPal account saying someone had purchased scores from my website, including a copy of this song cycle. It turned out to be Crate! She had googled me and found my site and bought copies of the only piano/voice scores I had available on the site—Penelope and SFS. She then followed up with an email, saying she remembered that I was a composer and wondered if it might be o.k. for her to put something of mine on a recital she was planning in New York. I told her that would be terrific, and then I said, “Crate, you do know that I wrote those personal ads songs for you, right?!” So finally she got a copy of the songs, but by now her voice had become a mezzo-soprano, so I still had the task of transposing the songs to the mezzo range, something I had wanted to do for a while anyway. I’m very happy that the singer for whom they were written will finally get a chance to sing them. Thanks, Crate!