With Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching I realize there are tons of performances of my holiday music going on around the country- some of them I know about and some I don't. But it's pretty astounding and often doesn't seem totally real to me that my music and the texts I so carefully choose are out there entertaining people or even doing more sometimes. There are two recent occurrences that were really unexpected and which I appreciated hearing about so much.
The first was in September, when I came across a blog by a young woman in Pennsylvania that touched me. I was able to exchange some thoughts with her via e-mail and it once again made me realize why we do what we do. What I do is hope that people will want to sing the texts I set, whether they are serious or silly (read more on "silly" further down). And so I am so thankful for the conductors and singers out there doing this- working hard in rehearsals, polishing things, trying to decipher what the heck I meant here and there (!)-- thank you all so much. You have no full idea how much it means to me, especially since I went twenty years without writing any music after leaving grad school.
Here are some excerpts from Alyssa Eichen's very thoughtful blog, and you can read the whole thing here. I was also able to connect with her director, Mark A. Boyle of Millersville University and start a nice relationship with him as well. Their concert which held my piece was just a few dys ago on Nov. 20th.
Good Music and a Clean Conscience
The Power of Words and Music to Reduce Perfectly Rational People to Emotional Messes (A.k.a., How Choir Made Me Cry)
Music can affect us at times and in ways we never expect. Warning: the following is purely emotional and neither scholarly nor academic :)
The music we sang in Cantilena, my alma mater's women's choir, absolutely killed me tonight. So emotional. First, we started learning "Life Has Loveliness to Sell", a setting by Paul Carey of the text of "Barter", by Sara . It's about loving little moments of life, and littlest things making the rest worthwhile. Especially the last two stanzas of it: "Spend all you have for loveliness"...it's so relatable, because it's what I'm doing right now; sure, I'm dirt-broke, but I'm taking in every good moment I have here. I stayed where I wanted to be, and though it's rough a lot of the time, it's absolutely beautiful at others. Also, the setting of the text is extremely modal, which just adds to its power.
Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children's faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.
Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.
Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.
I felt a little silly getting teary-eyed; it was a completely personal thing that connected me emotionally to the text. We moved on "Wanting Memories", by Ysaye M., and our choir director said "It's okay to cry", to be emotionally invested in the piece. It was all over from there; getting the words out through the tears just wasn't happening. It's about loss, wishing someone you lost was still there to comfort and lead you, but realizing that what they told you while they were there is enough. I do relate to it, since in the last year I've lost my maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother, the two grandparents who were the most influential in my upbringing. So, lines like "You said you'd rock me in the cradle of your arms. You said you'd hold me ‘til the storms of life were gone." and the rest, are something that gets to me. Even worse, "Since you've gone and left me, there's been so little beauty" and the rest of that section, kills me because it's how my grandfather has felt about my grandmother's passing. It's been almost 9 months now, and he's still completely lost without her. Songs like this, I just want to play for him, to let him know that everything will be alright.
PC speaking again:
The other new connection was more recent- my friend Susan Hahn, a former assistant of mine at the North Carolina Governor's School was attending the North Carolina MEA state conference and was texting me that a choir was about to launch into a program which included my Mashed Potato Love Poem. She later reported that they rocked the piece, and in fact their whole program rocked the audience. I found out the name of the choir and its director and we have been in contact now. The choir was the Panther Creek High School choir located in Cary, N. Carolina and their fine director is Brad Bensen. Here is their full program- pretty great, eh?Just as the Tide was flowing (Vaughn Williams)
Veni Creator Spiritus (M. Haydn)
Ce Beau Printemps (M. Sirrett)
Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day (Stroope)
Mashed Potato Love Poem (Carey)
Country Dances (arr. Ward Swingle)
Brad then told me an amusing anecdote about the experience of some of his singers while at NC MEA and what happened at a Carrabas restaurant - here's what he said:
We stopped...“at Carrabas restaurant. One of the students had gotten mashed potatoes as a side; the others noticed this as she was eating-- they took her plate, held it up high, and began serenading. After this occurred, the student was unable to eat the remainder of the creamy spuds as she kept laughing every time she tried to take a bite; somehow, something sacred occurred to that plate that night.”
How cool is that- kids launching into a fun song in public and having such great fun!
What does this mean to me? It mean that music can be serious or silly- but that it always has the power to connect us. And with Thanksgiving here I would like to lobby people about something they can do this year or some other year when they sing Mashed Potato Love Poem-- please consider doing some kind of small or large scale (you decide which) food drive for the hungry when you perform this piece. Please enjoy the humor during your concert but also realize the potential of outreach when you program a concert of food songs-- why couldn't we all easily do something for those in need in our local community? I first heard of someone using Mashed Potato Love Poem in this way a few years ago via an email from Sheree' Stoppel in Kansas. She received a ton of food donations when she did a musical food program that included this piece. So, once again, we see that even a droll,witty poem/song can do something serious awesome in our crazy world!
Btw, this tune is the middle item in the three part set titled "Play with your Food" (SATB/a.c., published by Walton). You can hear the piece here in a performance conducted by Steve Zielke
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!