Pretty Polly 

Polly, pretty Polly, come go along with me,

Polly, pretty Polly, come go along with me,

before we get married, some pleasure to see.


O Willie, O Willie, I’m fraid of your ways,

O Willie, O Willie, I’m fraid of your ways,

I’m afraid you will lead my poor body astray.


Polly, pretty Polly, you’re guessing just right,

Polly, pretty Polly, you’re guessing just right,

I dug on your grave the best part of last night.


Well she stepped a few steps further and what did she spy?

She stepped a few steps further and what did she spy?

But a new-duggen grave and a spade lying by.


He stabbed her to the heart and her heart’s blood did flow,

He stabbed her to the heart and her heart’s blood did flow,

And into the grave pretty Polly she did go.


He threw a little dirt over her and started for home,

He threw a little dirt over her and started for home,

Leaving no one behind but the wild birds to mourn.


It’s a debt to the divil poor willie must pay,

It’s a debt to the divil poor willie must pay,

For killing pretty Polly and running away.


Program Notes for Portrait 2: Pretty Polly 

Portrait 2: Pretty Polly (written in 1987) uses musical quotations based on the old folk, *murder ballad, Pretty Polly.   The folk song describes the seduction and subsequent murder of a young girl, Pretty Polly, by a crafty and unscrupulous Willie (in some versions, Pretty Willie).  Toward the end of the song, there is the phrase: “It’s a debt to the devil poor Willie must pay.”   In pondering the fate of Willie’s soul and as a vehicle of musical inspiration, the composer projects a simple programmatic fantasy where the opposing forces of heaven and hell demonstrate their strength and weigh Willie’s soul upon the great scale of judgment.  The forces of hell are represented musically by march-like materials which are relatively dissonant in character.   Heaven is represented (naturally) by more pure and angelic sound materials.   The shifting motion of the great scale is reflected in the music by the arching movements of both pitch and temporal relationships.   There are three such scale motions, the third ending with the result of Willie’s soul being sent to the “depths of Hell” depicted by the use of a single double bass.   Leading to this point, and with the indication in the score of “whining and whimpering--the chattering of teeth,” the Musical Saw portrays the whining quality of Willie’s soul.   The Jawbone of an Ass, a percussion instrument, portrays the chattering of teeth.


After the first section, which is a basic musical statement of the folk song, the programmatic events are as follows:  Heavenly Procession.... Hell’s Troops March (an extending section where there is an alternation between the Heaven and Hell units).... Hell’s display of strength.... Heaven’s display of strength (bell-tone percussion).... The weighing of Willie’s soul: 1st arching movement of sound materials.... 2nd arching movement.... 3rd arching movement with whining and whimpering--the chattering of teeth and ending with Willie’s soul descending to the depths of hell.... a final section beginning with “A Weeping for Pretty Polly”


The work is dedicated to the memory of the composer’s father.

   *Log on to Wikipedia for description and additional reading references on this genre of folksong.



Program Notes for and left ol’ Joe a bone, AMAZING!  (on YouTube) 

The name of this composition “and left ol’ Joe a bone, AMAZING!”, is derived from the musical quotation of two popular songs, both being embedded in my mind at a very early age.  In order to entertain his many grandchildren, my grandfather, William Salmon (1875-1966), used to sing a folk song called “Old Joe Clark.” 

    I went down to ol’ Joe’s house;

    ol’ Joe wasn’t at home.

    ‘ate all the meat that ol’ Joe had,

     and left ol’ Joe a bone. 

The second quotation is a musical fragment from the old hymn tune, “Amazing Grace.”  (This quotation can be viewed on pages 35,36, and 37 of the score.)

I feel a strong attachment to this work.  It was composed and premiered during my two years in Rome (Italy) during the mid 70’s.  In my mind, it is intertwined with memories of my wonderful studio at the American Academy in Rome, and the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the Mediterranean area.  During its rehearsal with the Rome RAI orchestra (Massimo Pradella, conducting), the musicians stated with enthusiasm that it was “Nashville”.  Their reaction was primed because the Robert Altman film, “Nashville,” had just been released in Rome.  In a rehearsal break some of the musicians invited me to have a refreshment with them at the orchestra bar.  It was a real honor!  In contrast, the year before the same musicians had performed my student orchestra work, “Arrows”, with hardly a hint of interest. 

It was in the early 80s that Lukas Foss discovered the work and performed it with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra.  His comment was, “It doesn’t look like much on paper, but it really sounds”.    G. Plain






I have been using folk materials in my compositions since 1969 and my objective has always been to fuse these elements artfully into a modern sound fabric.

My Performance Conductors:

Gianluigi Gelmetti, Massimo Pradella, Oleg Kovalenko, Gerhard Samuel, Lukas Foss, Lawrence Foster, Michael Morgan, Kenneth Jean, Paul Polivnick, Gunther Schuller, Steven Smith, Sydney Hodkinson, Stewart Robertson, Andrew Davis, Edwin London, John McL. Williams


Cleveland Chamber Symphony, Louisville Orchestra,  Vermont Symphony Orchestra,  Richmond (VA) Symphony,  Atlantic Classical Orchestra,  Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra,  Long Beach Symphony,  Civic Orchestra of Chicago,  Alabama Symphony Orchestra,  Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra,  Brooklyn Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra,  Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Radiotelevisione Italiana Orchestra of Rome, Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, Philharmonic Orchestra of Monte Carlo.