I've been trying to explain to people what the recording is about and what type of music it encompasses. I have a lot of non-opera singer friends and they instantly get the look of worry on their faces when they think I am going to ask them to sit down and listen to an entire CD of opera. No, it isn't like that at all. I mean, it is still classical music and for the most part I still use my classically trained voice, but it certainly isn't a lesson in stylized operatic technique or an overview of lyric coloratura arias. I wanted this recording to be about honesty and authenticity. In order to accomplish that, I thought it would be best for me to present American music, since well, I'm American. I could have leaned towards the traditional and scholarly and recorded songs in German or Italian, but in order to be the most authentic, I knew I had to sing in English.
The next decision I made was about the theme. For as long as I have been singing, which is as long as I can remember, I have sought and connected to songs that spoke about the mystery of spirituality. At first the songs I sang when I was younger were connected to church and to a specific religion. I still love and cherish my old church hymns, but as I have grown up and encountered more of the world, I have gravitated towards music that has a universal mystical tone and reverence and one that is all inclusive. Basically, it means that you will connect to these songs whether you are Christian or Jew or Muslim or insert own religious belief here _______. You see, I do believe that out of all of the art forms, music has the power to connect us and show us that we are all really longing for the same things. We are all here loving each other and all asking a lot of the same questions. We all respond to the need to define why we are here and we search for meaning. We often find these answers in the same places, through love, beauty of earth and nature, loss and stillness. My desire for the recording project was to collect a group of songs by American composers that dealt with this theme of spiritual reverence without the influence of indoctrination. It was an uplifting process and it was difficult to choose which songs didn't make the cut. I have enough material for another recording!
My cornerstone for the project were the songs given to me by Jake Heggie. When I decided on my theme (which it really was decided for me, kind of always there as part of what I've always known I would do) I contacted Jake and filled him in on the broad details. He quickly sent a set of songs with text by Gene Scheer and without being too dramatic here, totally blew me away. They were perfect. The set is titled Rise and Fall. It is a set of four songs with texts inspired by Artifacts and Sculptures from the Sackler Collections at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. These artifacts are religious in nature, such as the incantation bowl which is also known as a devil trap bowl. It was believed by certain cultures to have magical capabilities of protection and were commonly used in homes of the deceased and was placed in a corner of a room to rid the space of any demon or negativity. Jake described the set as the story of a woman from her wedding day to her death, and then her role in the afterlife as a shaman, comforting others. Other artifacts include an ancient wedding jar with the image of a Phoenix on it; a modern water sculpture by Noguchi; the ancient incantation bowl; a modern sculpture of an angel’s wing; and an ancient shaman’s mask.
Not all of the songs are as esoteric as the ones in Rise and Fall. The songs I chose by Ricky Ian Gordon are more unmistakable in their meaning. Ricky's songs use some of our beloved American poets such as, Emily Dickinson, e.e. cummings, and Langston Hughes. Ricky was also very forthcoming for this project and presented me with songs from some of his earliest compositions which have never been published. Both Jake and Ricky play their own songs on this recording. I am still reeling in delight over having the two of them work with me on this project. They are the voice of American music for the 21st century and I am proud to present a wealth of their songs on this recording. There is an arc to the project as a whole, which takes us from praise of the earth, devotion to heaven, uncertainty of anything, back to praise in simplicity, and ending with responsibility and acknowledgment of gifts. This entire process has been a gift. It hasn't been without challenges and there is still work to be done, but it has been an enormous labor of love and a vessel for me to express authentically why I do what I do. It has become my statement of why I believe music is the answer in inching us closer to peace and understanding and the closest answer we have in defining the great mystery.
" This recording is the truest expression of myself, my passions, and my reflections on why we are here. It's that simple for me. It's all there... the praise, the prayers, the doubt, the hope, and the blessings. The process was daunting and there were times I didn't think it would happen. But it is there on that brilliant digital machine and knowing that the words I've longed to sing are finally there, give me much joy and peace." Leah Partridge