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Under the Arch
Under the Arch After living in Italy for four years, I had been back in Rhode Island for only a few months when I ran into Phil Edmonds on a RIPTA Bus (that's RI public transportation for those of you who aren't from around here) and if you know Phil, then you know he either travels by bike or hops on the bus. I had been thinking about calling him to help with recording some instrumentals I had written that I was aching to get out into the world, so my luck was good that day. He told me that he had some free time on his hands and to get him a cassette of the tunes. Thus began a bold new chapter in my musical storybook.
Phil not only learned all the tunes but he brought his own sensitivity and these wonderful subtle variations of interpretation to the melodies. We got together and worked over the tunes a half dozen times over the next six months - each time trying out new arrangements, adding whole sections, discarding fragments. It was inspiring and exciting to work with Phil so closely, and to take weeks at a time to let the tunes breathe and find a comfort level before finalizing them. Right up until the last minute I was throwing Phil "arrangement curve balls" that he caught without a flinch and threw right back at me. It became apparent to me during the process that Phil had become nothing less than a master on his instruments. I was fortunate indeed.
I was introduced to Engineer Steve Copel through John Juxo (we had recorded Time For The Show with Steve), and somewhere it came up that I was working on new music with Phil and that he was an old friend of Steve's wife, Sandy Parsons, through Phil's community activism in Providence. Steve invited us to record with him, which was one more stroke of luck in the whole process.
During this time, I stumbled upon the North Star Jazz Ensemble performing outdoors in Providence one Waterfire evening, with Mike Turk, Bruce Abbott, Paul Mason and Ron Fornier - all of whom I had known in the past - but who was the mysterious young bass player? None other than Dan Edinberg who, it turns out, I had already been told of by my old friend, composer Greg Mazel. When I approached Dan about recording, he was enthusiastic. We got together with Phil for two quick rehearsals and then headed up to Steve's home studio in Attleboro, MA.
(I have to mention here that only weeks before, I had been doing some casual research into my ancestors and had found that my great, great, great, great, grandfather, Joel Read (b 1753), had lived in Attleboro and had written The New-England Selection or Plain Psalmodist while living there - a guide to hymn singing! It felt good to be going to Attleboro to record!)
So one spring afternoon, we took 4-1/2 hours and put down all of the live music that you hear on the CD. During the production process, Steve recommended Nate Silva, a young, talented bagpiper, and Phil recommended Cathy Clasper-Torch (with whom he performs as the duo TRUA), to add some violin. John Juxo added his personal touch on accordion, which really put the icing on the cake, and Steve not only passed on a lot of valuable musical advice during the process, but also did a great job wrapping the project up and working his technical magic. We had a lot of laughs, especially about Phil's notes for the arrangements, which are the heiroglyphics that you see on the disc itself and the background to the inside photo. In fact, I am going to try and have our webmaster, Phyllis, put them up on this webpage for you to admire!
We were trying to come up with a name that suited the whole CD, when Steve threw a photo at us that he had taken years ago while traveling Europe. That sealed it for us to pick Under The Arch as the title cut. That photo is the one that became our cover. Thanks Steve! Steve and Sandy also got us going in the right direction with the CD design, and Phyllis took it from there. It really came out beautifully.
We hope that you enjoy the music on Under The Arch. It was a great experience making it. Playing it live is great fun as well, so we hope that you can come and hear us perform it. For the live show, we always mix in a bunch of my own songs that I sing among the instrumentals, and Phil and Cathy will, without a doubt, appear on some future recordings on my songs.
Along the Stone Walls - Walking along old stone walls always evokes a sense of mystery for me. Who built them and where did they come from, and how long did it take? Who has walked here before? How strange they must have seemed to native Americans originally living here. My appreciation for walls grew from living in Little Compton, RI.
Via Umbria - My wife and I lived in the Umbrian hill country in the green heart of Italy for four years. We watched over a farm that harvested olives, grapes, wheat and sunflowers and this tune speaks of the wind, the Tiber river, and the coming of spring.
Zorn - I wrote this tune on mandolin twenty years ago for Barbara Pollitt's shadow puppet adaptation of James Thurber's "The Thirteen Clocks," a humorous treatment of a medieval story. A captured princess falls in love and escapes . . . this musical moment comes when the prince, Zorn, had to hurriedly change into a disguise.
Never, If I Had My Way - A few years ago, three friends all had babies at around the same time and this song was for them. I tried writing lyrics but it was not to be . . . yet, If I had my way, these children should never know the insanity and the pain of our world.
Under The Arch - The beautiful hill towns of central Italy all have mysterious and ancient origins, and three or more main roads leading out from the old town center in different directions. At least one road points toward Rome. Each road always passes through a beautiful and ancient arch at the walls which encircle these old towns. There is almost always an evocative view from under the arch.
Through The Cracks - Sunlight comes through cracks in the walls, and weeds and wildflowers come through cracks in the pavement.
Dropping of The Rose - This is another tune from the shadow puppet adaptation of James Thurber's "A Thirteen Clocks," in which the princess leaves a trail of rose petals for her prince to follow her path, and running out of rose petals, she finally drops the rose.
Climate Change - Global warning . . .
Procession Home - A melody for a return home, wherever that may be . . .
Maria's Lullaby - This one is a Christmas song with lyrics which I hope to record with voice someday - Maria, mother of Jesus, is portrayed everywhere throughout Italy and this is a melody that might have been like one she would have sung to lull her baby to sleep.
Maura's Journey - When I was 14 years old, my family emigrated to America. For my mother, who had lived all her life in Killaloe, Co. Clare, Ireland, the journey was not an easy one. Never again did she find community in her life. This aire is dedicated to her. May we all create community in our lives.


The Steeple on the Common, Vol. 1
After the success of New England Christmastide, I began thinking about how to follow it up and had many discussions with Richard Waterman of North Star Records. I wanted to work with many of the same musicians and to choose a group of songs that had the same beauty and resonance as the traditional Christmas carols.
Since some of my earliest musical memories were of singing in church, it is not so suprising that I revisited some of these hymn melodies that had made such a deep and lasting impression on me as a child.
The talented multi-instrumentalist Everett Brown who had been a part of New England Christmastide was a major partner in this. Everett is a kind and generous soul and has a deep understanding of Christianity and a strong spiritual side. Engineer and recording studio owner (and musician) Steve Rizzo - also kind and generous - brought his considerable musical talents forward for this and all the subsequent recordings in the New England Music Collection.
As work began on the music and the arrangements, we became transfixed by the beauty of these melodies. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to explore in depth the character of each tune. They had all been composed for the purpose of praise and worship - most likely in a sincere and selfless context. It was a moving experience as we recorded, arranged, listened and mixed. I would read along in the hymnal and notice the extra verses not often used in church services. I became interested in the authors and the origins of the tunes - an interest which I pursue in my spare time to this day.
The selection process about which tunes to record was somewhat random and difficult but I eventually settled on Easter hymns as a starting point, since we planned to release it in the spring. We used a variety of different hymnals from different denominations, and Everett and I took suggestings from family, friends, clergy and musicians alike.
As I think back on the whole process that created Steeple on the Common, I think there is a remarkable innocence and simplicity to the performance and arrangements. I was concerned that just throwing together a number of hymns without a liturgical thread or a solid academic or historical theme to it might not work as a collection. I quickly overcame any hesitation once we began working on the music.
Without the opportunity given to me to do this recording, I would likely have taken only a passing interest in sacred music and rarely, if ever, listened to it in a secular setting. My musical life has been greatly enriched instead.
I asked many of the musicians to break away from the comfort of reading from prepared parts and to improvise while at the same time keeping it simple. This was awkward for some of the musicians and I greatly appreciated their allowing me this freedom and for trying out this approach, and working out ideas on the spot. I think that it brought a freshness and sparkle to the performances. I am grateful for their professionalism. Special thanks to Steven Jobe, Katherine Hawkes and Steve Snyder for their musical contributions.
I was interviewed on National Public Radio as a result of this recording, by author and journalist Noah Adams. And the magazine Christianity Today wrote a flattering review. We will try to post both of these on the website in the coming weeks.


New England Christmastide, Vol. 1
More info to come.


New England Christmastide, Vol. 2
More info to come.


And the Angels Sing
More info to come.

Deck The Halls
More info to come.

The Steeple on the Common, Vol. 2
More info to come.

The Wind In The Rigging
More info to come.

Time For The Show
More info to come.

Still A Kid At Heart
More info to come.

Big Lost Rainbow
More info to come.

Time for the Whippoorwill to Sing
More info to come.

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