Wendell Berry's HomesteadDo not listen to the clip above! At least not yet. Our regular Sunday morning exercise is upon you.

This past Thursday our production staff gathered to listen to what will be next week’s show featuring an interview with Ellen Davis, and the voice of Wendell Berry, who kindly read some of his poetry for us. The show’s coming together, but one point of disagreement among the group is the music that provided the transition from Krista into one of Mr. Berry’s readings.

Music is, of course, just as subjective as any art form. So, our exercise. I’ve produced three versions of this short section of the show. The pieces are identical with the exception of the music that is used make that transition. While you are listening to these clips, consider a few questions:

How does the music change the way you heard the poetry?
In what way does it enhance or detract?
Does it create any images in your mind’s eye? Or take you to a place?
Or, perhaps you might suggest some alternatives?

Musical option #1 (mp3)

Musical option #2 (mp3)

Musical option #3 (mp3)

Now, this isn’t American Idol so don’t feel like you need to rank the contestants. To be honest, I’m not sure which, if any, of these will make the cut so you’ll have to check out next week’s show to find out.

And, as for the audio at the top of the page, if you resisted listening to it then I had a little fun with those who couldn’t resist temptation. You did follow directions, right?

By the way, if you’re curious whose music was used, Song #1 is David Byrne, Song #2 is Bill Frisell, and Song #3 is Ben Harper.

Share Your Reflection



Option number three if you must but the cultural sounds of Kentucky's hammered dulcimer or an instrumental by Ricky Skaggs would seem to suit the timber of Berry's voice in the rolling farm lands of his native Kentucky. One of the two would likely bring a broader smile to the occupants of heaven. Not to be "contrary" just saying...

I like option #3. Although I think possibly option #1 goes better.

I liked the first and third option. The first settled me down to "feel" the words. The third made me see sunshine...The second musical option made the words feel rushed. I had a hard time taking them in (deeply).

I'm a fan of option number 3 - it captures something of the Americana for me. When considering ideas before listening to the 3 options, I thought that some excerpt from the soundtrack to The Straight Story ( would suit... I'll be intrigued to hear what emerges.

I liked the first one by David Byrne. To me it had the Kentucky feeling to it.

I also would go with option 3 but really, why do we have to have the music at all. I think it just detracts from Wendell Berry's lovely voice... After all when we read poetry our minds don't stick in a music track to enhance it... Well, at any rate, mine doesn't... Perhaps silence is a type of music in itself>>

I like option one. It seems to capture this voice well. It has a good and even flow.

The first option enabled me to hear the the spoken word and verse with the music accenting rather than distracting me.

Option number one is my pick, even though this is not American Idol in "need" of my vote. Number one is suitably contemplative and reverential to suit Berry's lovely words and even lovelier voice and the song doe not detract in any way from the recording. The other two, for me, in some way got in the way of my listening...

#1 seems to lay back and let the words carry the weight they require.

My preference is the 3rd option. I can see the farmer on his porch finger picking as he is talking.

song 3- ben harper- for sure

My experience was that number one was more poignant and subdued, and enabled me to focus on the words themselves. The other two pieces added something to the reading, a sense of optimism and Americana, as a previous poster noted. I guess it depends on what you're going for.

Is there even a choice - Wendell Berry's voice lulls one into a melodic feast of words allowing the music to take a solely background role. In different setting, each option would have its place. For today, I am liking option one.

I'd opt for #3. It evokes for me more of a Kentucky feel, and more of a farmer feel.

Option 2 evoked in me the sense of southern music - dobro and slide guitar. This resonated more closely with Berry's voice and accent.

I felt #1 gave the the proper background for grace and elegance of Wendell Berry's words. I heard the words more easly and felt the transition to Kristin's speaking was more fluid. I liked #3 also but it seemed to overwhelm ever so slightly. Very interesting exercise. Thank you!!! Charlene Malone Hailey, Idaho

Yes, I agree to the word. Christina, PA

3, 1, 2.

I prefer No. 3 because it is fresher -- while I do like the first two, they both sounded like typical "NPRish" background music. Wendell Berry's soft southern accent saw more contrast with the third option of music, and seemed stronger as a result.

Michael Allen Harrison Mt. Hood Concerto II

I thought musical option #2 was the most thematically linked to the poem. It's just eccentric and contrarian enough without getting in the way of the words.

I like the third piece, by Ben Harper, as it has that lovely lilting guitar, casual, melodic, and not forced, like the strains of Wendell Berry's poetry.

#1 was the only one that really led me in & created a space that did not detract at all from the beaty of the phrasing & the sound of Berry's voice.
#3 was ver ynice; felt "of the land" & matched the energy of the piece, but it drew my attention slightly away from the narrative.

Enjoyed them all, but I agree that #1 allowed the words to be the focus ....

I liked #3 of the options for background music. This was an interesting exercise. thank you!

Although music can serve as a transition, it can also be distracting. I found the music somewhat distracting, especially in the first two clips. Therefore I preferred the guitar music used in the third clip.

Liked #1, makes me think of big sky and rolling prairies, made a good landscape to couch the poetry

I liked version 2: a perfect match for Mr. Berry's regional "accent."

I like the first option as it seems to relate so well with the words...a good marriage!

Thank you for this exercise. I started with opt 3 then 2 then 1 and was surprised by the emotion that opt 1 evoked as well as bringing to mind images of grand landscapes.

To my ear, the third selection sounded more like Kentucky and Mr Berry. It suited the mood he created and te flow oft piece. But even more intriguing was the discovery that I could play ALL three at once. Forget the music, now I can create something new with all sorts of nuance and echo in the poet's voice. But then, perhaps I am jut being a contrarian. I can click all three in rapid succession and then pause one or the other to change the way the streams sync. More fun than following directions.

go with first one

I agree with Jed on # 3. Wendell Berry has a folksy, earthy voice and poetry to match. The first two pieces were too edgy for his writing. Ben Harper's music seemed to be the kind that Wendell might have playing in the background at his home.

I would prefer to hear no music at all while he reads, but of the three, the third is best...

What was the first poem read before today's show started?

Having seen and heard Wendall Berry during the Duke Divintiy School Convocation some years ago, I feel the third piece by Ben Harper best fits Mr. Berry. In many ways he is the contrary farmer whose life is spent in God's soil.

I feel as though his poems stand alone as music of the spoken word. But if one must add music, number 3.

I didn't think any of them added to the poetry as well as they might have, but two is my choice of the three

selection 2 was the best for that poem.

My preference is option #3 --- more upbeat, helps me listen with attention but a lightness that adds to absorbing both spirit and meaning from the words.

I don't think music is needed. The poetry is music itself.

did anyone LISTEN to Berry's words here? It does not matter what music, 321 or 132 or 795. The creature man here is speaking as contrarian, he went IN the OUT and OUT the IN, just to do it. Maybe the music should be calliope, better even, a steam calliope, or , as someone said,no music. or it should be drawkcab. the mad farmer is a revolutionary, let's NOT discuss which music, let us all throw out the directions, head for the entrance, and go romp n the woods.

Please tell me that ONE (1) other person tried playing the three samples ar the same time, even if you did not comment on it, and i will be a happy creature.

I put some Wendell Berry poetry to music twice. Would you like to hear it? It is played and engineered professionally.


I found the first piece of music to sort of weave through as the poem was being read. I found it did not distract from the reading but gave it a soft background to Mr. Berry's lilting voice. The last piece by Ben Harper was anlagous to the history of Mr. Berry with it's blue grassy feel. I was fond of this piece, but found it took my focus away from the poem.

I didn't think any of the choices suit this poem. I liked the music and loved the poem; but none of them complimented the poem. Sometimes I write intentionally with music in mind to help me set the tone of what I'm writing; so, I don't have a problem with music accompanying poems--especially since the medium is radio. I'm actually responding to this query because I was hoping to discover the name of another piece you played which got my attention and it turned out to be the Appalachian Trio. I'm an American living sustainably in Ireland; so, Wendell Berry, and certain music makes me homesick.

I would prefer no music at all. If I want to listen to music I listen to music and give it al my attention. If I want to hear the human voice (and Wendell Berry has a wonderful one) I want to give him my full attention without distraction. this is a poem, not a song!
The world I find has too much light and sound pollution and too much multitasking. Let us get back to one thing at a time. That seems more in the spirit of Wendell Berry.
What would Wendell do? Please ask him.

I prefer silence and this is why: Though I might like the music by itself, with the words, I find it either corny or condescending--it's obviously there guiding us as to how we should be feeling about the words. I'd rather not have someone else's interpretation. 

Perhaps we should listend to Wendell Berry himself about whether it's appropriate to put music behind his words.  It the poem aired today, "How To Be a Poet" are the lines:

"Stay away from anything
That obscures the place it is in"

The irony is delightful.


Mark -- who could not stay away from his screen.

Thank you.

Did anyone ask Wendell Berry? (By the way, the hyperlink to this page misspells his name).

I suspect he, as I, would feel that no music is needed to accompany the words - they are all a distraction and a clutter.

Dear On Being People, I can only speak as a poet who works within and without music. You are not asking the right question. It is one thing to chose to write to music, meaning music playing in the background. For me A. Part, Bach, Mozart, P Glass have been sustaining composers whose music I can play in another room to provide a kind of insectual hum or rational counterpoint while I write. But I just as often choose silence, letting the house thrum around me so language seems to emerge from some deep quietude. However the question of music and poetry reading is another, aesthetic domain. Is the poetry being performed in conjunction with music? Are composer and poet working together? If not, then the poetry is reading over the music, the voice is in competition with the music, is placed in competition with it because the choice is neither a collaboration nor an artistic decision but one of selection on the part of an audience. I have given many readings and nothing is more disheartening than having to compete with noise, which is what music not chosen by the poet becomes, no matter how well-meaning on the part of those choosing.
Regards, Patricia Waters

     My mother was pianist at our Baptist church in small-town Texas, and I began piano lessons at age 7.  Maybe because I am so tuned in to music, I generally find it distracting when played under the spoken word.  When it is loud or jarring, it is downright annoying to me, and the combination ruins both the music and the words. Adding music to everything is just one more way in which we clutter our lives.
     Fortunately, the music offered here was appropriate and unobtrusive, but can't we just focus on thing at a time?

Beautiful, nuanced, and content-rich poetry---heard for the first time by most of your listeners---gains nothing but loses much by any sort of aural overlay.  The best music in the world, played behind or over poetry, becomes, by definition, "noise."  By contrast, when the spoken material is widely familiar, "mood music" can enhance the listeners' experience.  This seems so obvious, so basic, that I'm astonished your team did not already understand it, and more astonished that you could make it the subject of a public poll.  The hour's final reading---a ghastly experience---indelibly made this point: an unrelated musical idea leads into Berry's first lines, "shaping" them in a direction unintended by the poem; then we hear some further spoken lines, clean and unadorned, and are permitted to absorb them for themselves; then a third mood intrudes during the final lines, as new music takes the poem in a different direction altogether.  This brief reading constituted one of the nastiest moments I've heard on radio all year.  And you took a poll !?

What irony, given the content of "How to Be a Poet"--
Please, please, please consider not playing any music (for this and other programs, too). It not only detracts, it also distracts. (As per the latest brain research results, there is no such thing as multitasking, but just very fast distrupt-and-retun attention mono-tasking, when we try to concentrate.)

I have single-sided deafness so the addition of background music to any poetry being read makes word discrimination more difficult for me.  Of the three, however, number 1 was the least distracting.  Thank you for providing the transcripts; I depend on them for all of the On Being programs in terms of filling in the words that are missed while listening due to music in the background.

Thanks for adding your experience to this discussion. It's very helpful in reminding us of the many needs of our listeners.

Poetry IS music. From a Southern poet no less. Why the need to add a soundtrack? I don't see one.

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it can take an eternity sometimes for this service to convert even the smallest

I liked number 3 the best.
Thank you.

I liked Option #3 the best, and am definitely a fan of pairing music with the poetry reading. It lends a meditative, even transcendent air (provided it's the right song, and not a distractive one.)