I wrote words and music long before I was a songwriter. The results of my first efforts at combining the two were enough to put anyone off the idea for lifetimes. I found my way in, finally, by setting the lyrics of songs from The Tempest to new melodies for a production involving Sudanese gamelan and unaccompanied voices. That the new songs proved challenging for the singers to navigate and natural for my voice was an important clue.
Years ago I wrote a song cycle called “Angels at the Four Corners” about people I met while sharecropping tobacco in Madison County, North Carolina. The piece was inspired too by something I found in a notebook of William Blake:
If you have form’d a Circle to go into, / Go into it yourself & see how you would do.
I mustered up the nerve to invite Peter Blegvad and Jody Harris to perform the song cycle with me at the New Music Across America Festival in 1989. One thing led to another and it is now a great pleasure to find myself again in their company and to be a part of this project with such wonderful songwriters, many of my favorites on this earth.
Some favorite songs:
Michael Hurley – O My Stars, The Rue of Ruby Whores
Peter Blegvad – Meantime, Strong Simple Silences
Jody Harris – True Love
Sun Ra – Enlightment
Art Ensemble of Chicago – Theme de Yoyo
Randy Newman – If You Need Oil, Cowboy
Peter Case – Beneath the Spell of Wheels
Ronee Blakely – Dues
Melvin Van Peebles – Lilly Done the Zampoughi Every Time I Pulled Her Coattail