What Issa Heard, Poem by David Budbill, Music by Erik Nielsen as sung at the Memorial Celebration of David’s Life and Work on June 25, 2017



What I did to Rewrite the Play, Judevine, for the Opera, A Fleeting Animal.

by David Budbill

When Erik came to me with the idea of turning a part of JUDEVINE into an opera, I, of course, said yes. After we decided on which part of the play we would use for the opera, almost immediately, I came up with the idea of including some black characters. I have an especial interest in Black Americans and their plight (see my latest play DIFFERENT PLANET: go to my website: www.davidbudbill.com/ and plays. It’s the top one.) and this was my golden opportunity to address that interest. As everybody knows, Vermont is one of the whitest states in the United States. Where and how was I going to incorporate some black folks? Simple. Tommy Stames leaves Judevine, Vermont, and goes to Vietnam where he becomes friends with two black guys who subsequently visit Tommy, and Grace, in their trailer down along the river in Judevine. In the scene at the beginning of Act II, “At the Landing”, Doug refers to the two black guys Tommy has visiting him as “darkies” and “jungle-bunnies.” He does this to goad Tommy into a fury over his, Doug’s, racism. It works.

It all seemed so natural to add the two Black guys, since they were, although not of the same race, they were from the same class in the society–for lack of better words, from the working class, the working poor, that strata of society that fights all our wars.

Adding two black characters was easy enough, and while I had the play broken open, I could write new parts for Tommy and Grace also, which I did.

And then there was the matter of the Angel of Depression. Tommy, in his poems for Grace, in the book JUDEVINE, called OH! (a book within a book) mentions the Angel of Depression a number of times. In the book within that book, she is only referred to, but Erik and I saw an opportunity to make her into a character in the Opera and we did. There is a piece of a scene (Act II, Scene 2) between The Angel of Depression and Tommy that deepens Tommy’s struggle with his depression.

There is a picture (in rehearsal clothes) from the original production of Tommy and Grace and the Angle of Depression. If you’d like to see it; it’s at: http://www.davidbudbill.com/262/a-fleeting-animal. Scroll down to the first picture.

Additionally: I expanded the argument between Bobbie and Doug about Grace, ending with Bobbie telling Doug he can find his own way home and Antoine telling Doug that he’ll take him home.

Tommy, Grace, William and James then engage in a discussion about  who their people were and are now and Grace confesses that, although she wants to feel at home with William and James, she just does not.

Act I ends with somebody hitting a bear with their car and the bear in agony writhes around in the ditch. Tommy sees this and immediately has a flash-back to shooting his friend who is in agony in Vietnam. Act I ends with Tommy saying/singing “Don’t talk to me!”

Act II begins with the “At the Landing, a scene in which Doug goes after Tommy and his black friends. (see the first paragraph of this essay.)

This is followed by a Dream Sequence in which Grace, Tommy and the Angel of Depression sing to each other about Tommy’s up coming death.

Then some comic relief, sorely needed by now. We see the town playing softball and Grace watching Tommy. This scene also gave me lots of room to create plenty of double entendres.

Scene 4, Act II, is a Pastoral Interlude in which Grace, Tommy, William and James all sing to each other about how beautiful their lives are or could be.

Scene 5, Act II, is the scene this entire opera has been building toward: Tommy’s Death.

Scene 6: Act II: Grace, now alone, warns the people of Judevine that if they don’t wake up and start dealing with the veterans of Vietnam and their survivors that they will have hell to pay.

Then a final chorus, in which Grace, having lost her mind, talks about her new boy-friend in New York, then meets William and James and doesn’t recognize them.

The Angel of Depression, William and James lead Grace off. The Angel of Depression has the last lines. The opera is done.

Join us!

Make a tax-deductible contribution through the Monteverdi Music School, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, for this opera. Contributions may be directed to:

Monteverdi Music School, P.O. Box 1062 Montpelier, VT 05601-1062

Please put A Fleeting Animal in your check’s memo.

Or if you’d prefer to make a secure contribution online, go to:


Please put A Fleeting Animal in the “purpose” field.






On Being Native is also available through HD Download (On Being Native HD.mp4  1.15 GB):



A Duet for Poet and Improvised Bass

William Parker & David Budbill


Support a local, independent bookstore. Order this two CD set from:

The Galaxy Bookshop

or from

BOXHOLDER RECORDS P.O. Box 779 Woodstock, VT 05091-0779

T: 802-457-8150 F: 802-457-4254 Email: Boxholdr@aol.com

for information and bookings call: (802) 888-3729

* * * * * * * * * *

“In concert, Parker’s combination of elemental power and responsive generosity can be earth shaking. [He is] the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time.”

The Village Voice

“[Budbill’s writing is] wrenchingly real, fiercely emotional and unexpectedly funny.”

Chicago Sun Times


Poems from Budbill’s book, MOMENT TO MOMENT: POEMS OF A MOUNTAIN RECLUSE plus the music of world-renown bassist, composer and multi-instrumentalist William Parker playing his original compositions on acoustic bass, Gralle–a double reed from Barcelona–the Shakuhachi–a vertical, Japanese bamboo flute–pocket trumpet, slit drum, valve trombone and innumerable bells, gongs and other percussion.




for the most recent review published in September 2001 go to: http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=Akzfexqe0ld6e

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“The plaintive rawness of Budbill’s Taoist and Zen-inspired poetry keeps perfect company with Parker’s spontaneous, experimental music. . . . [Here also is] the almost-forgotten pleasure of hearing words and music presented in such a direct and unadorned way.”

SHAMBHALA SUN, January 2000

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“PICK OF THE YEAR: “In a year of great awareness and music, it is incredibly difficult to pick one favorite CD….I thought of Belle and Sebastian, Thievery Corporation, Matthew Shipp, Sun Ra in Egypt, Johnny Cash in Jail and Captain Beefhart. All this finally ended with ZEN MOUNTAINS-ZEN STREETS….Under Budbill’s Zen reflections, Parker lays deep, deep soulful bass lines with the feeling of sunlight. Working together, the two create a world similar to the reflection of your face in a windswept lake, making you feel brisk chills and stand in awe.”

WOOVE, Fall 1999
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia

  * * * * *

“When I came to hear Budbill and Parker, I knew I was going to hear great poetry and bass playing. What I didn’t know is that the audience would respond to this work by becoming deeply silent and rapt in the experience. Slowly, this evening, I realized I was in a sitting meditation with a hundred other people.”


  * * * * *

“Budbill is…a wide-open, vulnerable, questioning rural-mystic acutely aware of the difference between a wise man and a wise guy….Parker is the perfect accompanist: ever-present and never overbearing….[His] compositions…gently impel and embellish the spoken words with an electrical impulse of their own….

“The seemingly mismatched men–Parker’s cool, urban, African-American and Budbill’s white, poetically anxious, rural recluse–are in fact as comfortable together as a pair of socks….

“‘My life is like the bird’s path across the sky. It will leave no trail,’ Budbill says plaintively. It’s likely ZEN MOUNTAINS-ZEN STREETS will prove him wrong….

“…a brilliant collaboration.”

SEVEN DAYS, 30 June 1999

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Both Budbill and Parker are students of the human condition and this is what stands out.

Parker alternates between backing Budbill’s voice and doing his own extemporaneous improvisations [on] . . . many instruments . . . in addition to his upright bass. . . Budbill . . . has a powerful and commanding voice that reveals a love of performance as well as a heartfelt belief that what he is saying matters.

This disc deserves a fine place in the cupboard of improvisation.

Micah Holmquist
JAZZ REVIEW, Volume 60

  * * * * *

“Without a doubt, the finest jazz/poetry project to come along in a very long while. Featuring the beautiful poetry of David Budbill whose words come from what the Taoists call Wu-wei, spontaneous action in accordance with one’s own nature. And for fans of William Parker, well, all we can say is that this may be his finest recorded performance. With a great bonus of hearing William also perform on the Gralle, the Shakuhachi, pocket trumpet, valve trombone.”

* * * * *

“From the ritualistic opening of double reed and gong, we are on a long journey that David illuminates with scenes and observations from his life story. A friendly voice, a wise voice, a natural voice like the wind blowing freely through the woods of Judevine Mountain….William does a fine job allowing these poems to unfold at their own pace, while he accompanies the stories with haunting resolve and a constant inner dialogue. David’s observations often ring true for all of us–the lifelong struggle for survival, our darker side taking over our positive side and the healing power of music and poetry. There are even a few funny moments to ponder. There is a refreshing unrushed purity to this entire endeavor, quite moving.”


* * * * *

“The pairing is supremely sensitive, supportive and successful, with Parker’s soulful musical commentary flowing as easily as Budbill’s fully organic, resonant bon mots.”

SIGNAL TO NOISE, Sept/Oct 1999



History of performances


IN 2008

Sept 25: The Hardwick Townhouse, Hardwick, VT, 7:00 p.m.

Sept 27: The Flynn Space, Burlington, VT, 8:00 p.m.

Sept 28: The Unitarian Universalist Church, Woodstock, VT, 4:00 p.m.

Sept 29: Marlboro College, Marlboro, VT, Whittemore Theatre, 7:00 p.m.

Sept 30: workshop with Marlboro College students, Campus Center, 10:00 to 11:30 a.m


IN 2001

March 21: The Prism, Charlottesville, VA, 9:00 p.m


IN 2000

April 27: The Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, 7:00 p.m.

November 30: New England College, Simon Center, Henniker, NH, 7:30 p.m.


IN 1999

Oct 3: The Nuyorican Poets Cafe, New York, NY, 4:00 p.m.


IN 1998

Oct 14: New England College, Simon Center, Henniker, NH, 7:00 p.m.

Oct 15: Conway New Music Society, Unitarian Meeting House, Amherst, MA, 8:00p.m.

Oct 16: Pentangle Arts Council, Little Theatre, Woodstock, VT, 7:30 p.m.

Oct 17: Onion River Arts Council, Bethany Church, Montpelier, VT, 8:00 p.m.

Oct 18: On-Stage Series at the Flynn Theatre, Burlington, VT, 4:00 and 7:00 p.m.

Oct 20: Middlebury College, McCullough Student Center, Middlebury, VT, 8:00 p.m.


In Performance At The
Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe
in New York City,
October 3rd 1999





All pictures on this page by: Cathryn Dwyre









An Opera from Judevine



music by Erik Nielsen

libretto by David Budbill

Anne Decker, Music Director/Conductor

Tim Tavcar, Stage Director


The Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble


The Cast:
Joseph DiSalle, Lisa Jablow, Simon Chausse, William O. Beeman, Ann E. Fitch, Eric K. Brooks, Micheal Henderson, Elizabeth Page, Nora Zablow, Pamela Hurst, Celina Moore, William Pelton, Rob Rohr, Rebecca Smith, John Tisbert

* * *


Friday, October 20, 2000. 8 pm. Montpelier City Hall Arts Center

Saturday, October 21, 2000. 8 pm. Montpelier City Hall Arts Center

Sunday, October 22, 2000. 3 pm. Montpelier City Hall Arts Center

Friday, October 27, 2000. 8 pm. Vergennes Opera House

Saturday, October 28, 2000. 8 pm. Vergennes Opera House

Sunday, October 29, 2000. 3 pm. Randolph. Chandler Music Hall



* * *


The Angel of Depression (Elizabeth Page) brings Tommy (Joseph DiSalle) and Grace (Lisa Jablow) together.




Grace comforts Tommy. (photo credits: Stephan Hard)


* * *


“Don’t Talk To Me”
(1.1MB)“And Then The Night Birds Sing”

* * *

A FLEETING ANIMAL: AN OPERA FROM JUDEVINE tells the tragic story of the lives of Tommy Stames, a Vietnam Vet returned to Judevine, and Grace, the angry and put-upon welfare mother accused of abusing her children, and how their ill-fated union leads to suicide and madness. As someone said, “Ah, just the run-of -the-mill opera.”

Both Tommy and Grace are well know characters from David Budbill’s widely produced and acclaimed play JUDEVINE.

A FLEETING ANIMAL, however, expands and deepens Tommy and Grace’s story and includes major roles for new characters such as William and James, two friends of Tommy’s from Vietnam, and The Angel of Depression.

Other characters, well known to fans of JUDEVINE, such as the irrepressible and indomitable, Antoine–the town wag, Edith–logger and racist, Doug and Doug’s wife, Bobbie also take on major singing roles.

With eight principal singers and a chorus of twelve–representing the townspeople of Judevine–plus The Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble’s chamber ensemble [more on second page]–consisting of two violins, viola, cello, clarinet/bass clarinet, piano and percussion–this new opera takes opera goers into new and as yet uncharted operatic territory.

Erik Nielsen’s score [more on second page] has, as all his work does, the marks of the contemporary composer whose eclectic interests take him virtually everywhere for inspiration.

A FLEETING ANIMAL has music inspired by French Canadian fiddle tunes, the blues, jazz plus more traditional and contemporary forms of operatic musical expression.

* * *


There is a tremendously heroic quality to David Budbill and Erik Nielsen’s new operatic adventure, A Fleeting Animal . . . . The production was a revelation to me . . . and a wonder. . . . A Fleeting Animal is a great testament to the process of collaboration between two artists of power.


Jerome Lipani
January 2001



A Fleeting Animal, . . . celebrates the stark beauty of Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom” and the harsh lives of its people . . . . The music, wedded to powerful theatre, transports the listener.


Zeke Hecker
February 2001


A Fleeting Animal creates a portrait of rural Vermont that not only rings true but tears at the heartstrings . . . . with a powerful score that combines spicy modern styles and real operatic emotion, . . . A Fleeting Animal [is] a powerful and often beautiful experience. . . . [It’s] the real thing.


Jim Lowe
October 27, 2000


. . . two hours of evocative and often very beautiful music. . . . . . . a serious and dramatic script . . . Nielsen’s score was thoroughly modern but eclectic at the same time, not afraid of tonality and not averse to atonality either; so that the whole question of tonality-the great bugaboo of “modern” music-became nearly irrelevant.


M. Dickey Drysdale
November 2, 2000


[Erik Nielsen’s] vocal writing, for soloists and chorus alike, is filled with Nielsen’s . . . love of the human voice and of words. It has the certitude that guided Benjamin Britten in his vocal writing. . . .[and the] exemplary libretto–simple, tightly constructed . . . finds David Budbill at his best crafting of words. This is a keeper.


Dan Wolfe
November 2, 2000



Dear Erik,

Do you remember our conversation about “high art”? Well, I think you and David Budbill have achieved it. In truth, I am certainly no art critic–I simply judge with my heart–but the other night, Erik, my heart was very moved by your opera in a way that does not often happen. It was more than just a sentimental reaction. Through the truth portrayed in the characters and brought out in the power of your music, I was touched on a profound level. It cut deeply with both the tragedy and the beauty of the human soul. The whole thing was truly remarkable. I’m sorry I did not tell you in person the other night how highly I thought of it, but I was really so affected that I just wanted to leave without having to talk to anyone. It seemed any words I could have said would have been trite compared to what I had just experienced.

Ann Regan