Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Across the Blue Aegean Sea

Hunting for Gena Branscombe’s published music has become a hobby for me. In my first blog post I wrote about an original three-measure manuscript that I found online.

Searching E-bay and other internet sites countless times for Gena’s sheet music has made me lucky enough to buy many of her compositions. Along the way I communicated with sellers asking if they had any of Gena’s other works or if they would be so kind as to remember me if they found additional songs or piano works. I have made E-bay/internet vintage sheet music friends!

Many of the sellers went to my website and read about my project and commented what a remarkable story I have told over the past 10 years.

Of all these transactions and communications the most recent one touches my heart deeply. Listed on E-bay was a book of piano pieces Gena had published in the early 1900’s. I quickly put a bid on it then waited for the days to pass, all the while hoping I won the auction, and, of course, I did. The seller notified me that he was mailing the music the next day and added, “I hope our E-bay paths cross again sometime in the future.” My response was the usual that if he found any other pieces to please let me know.

One day later I received an e-mail from him saying he had found a song of Gena’s and would gladly sell it to me. In addition, he had quite a pile of vintage sheet music and would continue searching through it to see if there was any of her other works. He held on to that song and if anything else was found he would then put everything together in one sale.

Imagine my surprise during Christmas week when an envelope arrived from the seller, enclosed was the song….no invoice included for the sale ….just a note saying that now the song was home where it belonged and this was a little Christmas gift from him to me!

In a season filled with mindless over-spending, gift giving, here was a gift given from the heart to a stranger many miles away. It gave me pause and a moment to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. Something so simple, so true, kind, selfless and from the heart.

The internet is a marvelous tool. The seller searched my website, read all about my project and commented what an act of love this was. I, in turn, found his website where I learned he is a living legend St. Louis Blues performer! No wonder we found one another and we are both mid West people!

When I e-mailed my heart-felt thank you, in response I received one of the most poetic replies I have ever read, quoted verbatim below:

“Over 75 years ago in New York City, Anna Moody wrote those poignant words to “Across the Blue Aegean Sea.” Gena Branscombe, in her inimitable way, composed the perfect musical accompaniment for them. A publisher on 46th Street printed the women’s composition onto fragile pages of paper, and flung the sheet music to the four winds. One of those pieces drifted west toward the heartland of America, and settled to earth upon Midwestern soils.
Through the Depression Era, and for decades to come, Midwestern hearts cherished Ms. Moody’s words and Ms. Branscombe’s music; they passed those fragile bits of paper from generation to generation of steady Midwestern hands. A fractured soul in Missouri kept it safe and dry through spring and autumn Mississippi River flooding; a joyful spirit in Oklahoma kept it safe and dry through dust storms and wildfires; a librarian in Arkansas kept it safe and dry through summer thunderstorms and tornadoes; a piano teacher in Illinois kept it safe and dry through blizzards and snowstorms; a migrant farmer in Tennessee kept it safe and dry through hail storms and heat waves.

And now, 75 years later, grateful Midwestern hearts return this precious gem back to New York where its journey began, to the one person on earth who would truly know its worth: Ms. Kathleen Shimeta. Remember us, Ms. Shimeta. Remember the steady Midwestern hands that kept Ms. Moody’s words and Ms. Branscombe’s fragile legacy safe and dry, so they could return home to you…where they belong.”

I read and reread his words overwhelmed with the philosophy of how connected we all are. The history of who touched, protected, played/sang and loved that piece of music over the past 75 years until it came to me is priceless.

My seller purchased one of my CDs as a gift to his brother-in-law who was intrigued by Gena Branscombe’s music and my project. I autographed the CD then gift wrapped it sending it off knowing how deeply our souls are connected through the power of music.

We are hoping that one day in the future I will be able to take my Gena show to the St. Louis area and there get to meet my new found dear friends.

By the way, I have kept my seller’s name private, yet I think now is the time to thank Mr. Leroy Jodie Pierson for his thoughtfulness, kindness and friendship. Thank you Leroy!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Something New!

Nearly three and a half years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Barbara Dana, wonderful actor and author. Our friendship began as we lost our mutual friend, Tim, and as we were both dealing with our deep sense of loss.
I soon learned that Barbara was writing a young adult book about Emily Dickinson, "A Voice of Her Own." Now published and for sale at AMAZON.com. Her author's journey included years of researching Emily, her life, her poetry and her very essence as a person.
At the time of our meeting Barbara was finishing her writing and close to submitting the manuscript to her publisher. What an act of love and admiration for one of our nation's most beloved poets.
Barbara's passion for Emily Dickinson was infectious. Once her book was published her dream was to create an Emily one-woman show with text taken from her book. I asked Barbara if she would be open to collaborating on this project by adding song settings of Emily’s poetry. She quickly responded, “Yes!” Thus began our journey of creating an Emily Dickinson show where music meets drama having two Emilys on stage with one being the real life Emily and the other the “eternal” Emily. How exciting!

As an added piece of information, Barbara has performed and will continue performing the “Belle of Amherst” by William Luce. It was a privilege to observe Barbara in her final rehearsals before her first performance of the Belle! She is amazing as Emily and I highly recommend you try to attend one of her performances!

I immediately went to work researching songs trying to find compositions that were attentive and sensitive to Emily’s succinct yet passionate poetry. There are thousands of songs with Emily Dickinson poetry yet many of them are not true to the poetry and seem too “Wagnerian” rather than of Emily’s inner soul. I struggled finding what I thought were effective songs. Barbara gave me a list of her favorite poems and I searched long and hard for song settings.

Eventually I came forward with over 50 songs that we would consider. In those songs were four or five by women composers, one of which is the first known setting of an Emily poem dating from 1896, then Arthur Farwell, Clarence Dickinson, Floy Little Bartlett and many others. We invited three composers to write songs for me and they came forward with lovely settings. Now, how to whittle 50 songs down to 20 and eventually 10-13 for the performance.

Barbara and I spent several afternoons considering the songs, their musical content and how the composer handled the poetry also if that particular poem would fit into the script and story line Barbara was writing. After several sessions we narrowed the songs down to 18 and still, we must cut a few more songs!

At Barbara’s suggestion we invited Kate Bushman to be our director and help us develop our idea into a well polished and intriguing show. One year ago we had our first meeting and our show, “I Told My Soul to Sing” is now in the creative process.
Stay Tuned!