Around ten years ago, in the middle of intense political rallies and battles, I found a quiet little island of beauty and solitude in the music of Ohio composer Rick Sowash … especially his gorgeous “Sanctuary at 3:00 am.” Now, ten years later, the political battles and rallies seem even more intense. But each Sunday morning, I receive a wonderful post from Rick which includes a short composition of his. Reading his beautiful words and listening to his music is so much better than listening to all of the yelling back-and-forth on the Sunday news programs. Take a few minutes to listen to the above read his recent post below for this Sunday morning in October when the Ohio trees are aflame with color. And then, go to his website below and read about this incredible artist and sign up for his free weekly post. It’s the best way to start off each week … still offering an island of sanctuary with true American music in our era of loud, harsh sounds.
Today, October 20, is one of the ‘high feast days’ on the Sowashian liturgical calendar. It’s the birthday of Charles Ives!
Ives is one of my heroes. HIs portrait hangs on the wall of my ‘cubbyhole’ (my study, a little room comprising the second floor of our 1830 house) along with Henry Thoreau, Theodore Roosevelt, Odell Shepard, Gandalf and Babar the Elephant. Heroes, all!
Ives was tremendously important for me during my early twenties, when I was finding my voice as a composer. I studied his scores, listened to recordings, visited his home and grave in Danbury, CT, interviewed people who knew him including John Kirkpatrick and Charles Seeger (Pete’s father).
Ives was an inspiration and a model for the young Rick Sowash. Not that I imitated his music. As Whitman said, “He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher.”
Don’t take too seriously that verb “destroy.” Walt loves to make us gasp, remember. I did not “destroy” ives in honoring him. Rather, I kept at bay his penchant for musical experimentalism and his curiosity about dissonance and poly-rhythms and embraced, instead, his determination to write music that was true to his authentic self and to make his way well outside of the musical establishment of his time.
Charles Ives and I both strived to create a music that would express our lives as experienced in a particular geographical location. South-western Connecticut for Ives, north central Ohio (originally Connecticut’s Western Reserve) for me.
We both dismissed pressures to cater to what the mainstream establishment of our respective times was blessing. In Ives’ day, the musical establishment was conservative; thus, much of his music was avant garde. In the 1970’s, when I was coming of age as a composer, the musical establishment embraced serialism, John Cage and the avant garde, pronounced tonality dead; thus, my music was conservative, tonal, melodic.
Ives’ music sounds American. So does mine.
We both wrote books and were inspired by literature and Nature.
Ives gave away his music to anyone whom he thought might find it interesting; I do the same.
We both married once and for keeps. We supported our families by working outside the world of music. Oh, and we both sported white beards; we both favored wool sweaters and hats.
That’s a lot to have in common with another composer, even if my music sounds nothing like his.
The writer Odell Shepard was another Connecticut artist at odds with the cultural establishment of his day. He eschewed the influence of modernist writers like Hemingway and wrote “tonal” prose that was old-fashioned but authentic.
He wrote poems, too, including the following, which served as the basis for the final movement of my “October Reveries” for cello & piano:
A Spirit dances down the world
On swift and shining sandals
Who makes the woods rejoice and spills
A splendor of flame upon the hills
And lights the sumac candles.
Her clear voice calls my very name —
Calls, and will have an answer;
And all my heart is bound away
Into the colored hills to stray
After that hidden dancer.
Farewell to friend and wife and child
And all things wise or sober!
For I have drunk deep of vivid stains
And feel like magic in my veins
The wild wine of October.
To hear cellist Josh Aerie and pianist Greg Kostraba performing The Wild Wine of October from October Reveries (music which grew out of my setting of this poem as an art song), click here. To see a PDF of the score, click here.
I’d love to know what you think about this music; reply if you’re inclined. But please don’t feel that you are expected to reply. I’m just glad to share my work in this way. As always, feel free to forward this message to friends who might enjoy it.
Anyone can be on my little list of recipients for these mpFrees (as I call these musical emails). To sign up, people can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, sending just one word: “Yes.” I’ll know what it means.
Oct. 20, 2019