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Rumsfeld speaks and people make music

Ron Harris Associated Press

After hearing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld dress down the media at Pentagon press briefings, two San Francisco musicians came to an inevitable conclusion: His words simply must be set to chamber music.

So they’ve taken Rumsfeld’s explanations of world affairs and set them to airy classical compositions.

“The Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld and Other Fresh American Songs” includes “The Unknown” from Rumsfeld’s Feb. 12, 2002, briefing on the situation in Iraq:

“As we know,

“There are known knowns.

“There are things we know we know.

“We also know there are known unknowns …”

Now those words are lyrics sung by soprano Elender Wall, set to the lofty chords of composer and pianist Bryant Kong.

The self-published CD has been featured on National Public Radio and several Web sites, including Kong’s own

Kong, no fan of the Bush administration, says Rumsfeld’s unscripted remarks are at once deliberate and casual, and often simply odd — a perfect combination, he says, for classical music.

“What we show in the songs is that we believe that Rumsfeld is telling a story that doesn’t hold up — that he is trying to sell a war that is not justified,” Kong said. “These classically based forms are a great way of doing that.”

Among those enjoying the sendup: Rumsfeld himself.

“Someone gave me a copy of this thing, and here is this woman with a wonderful voice singing my press conference,” Rumsfeld marveled at a meeting of the Newspaper Association of America last month. “Now, if that doesn’t tell you something about the state of the world!”

Last year, journalist-humorist Hart Seely took selected Rumsfeld briefings and, without changing a word, presented them in the form of free verse, sonnets and haiku in his book “Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld” (Free Press, $12.95).

Kong, who got permission to use Seely’s work for his musical compositions, has considered whether the words of other top politicians might work as forms of art. He thinks President Bush’s statements lack the necessary substance, while Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry would put people to sleep.

“Public figures deserve what they get in terms of artistic treatment and George Bush’s misstatements are a desk calendar,” Kong said wryly. “I guess John Kerry’s speech would be a very long tone poem. It would have to be at least 45 minutes long.”

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