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Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Music of Lydia McCauley, In Retrospect

I am giving a performance tomorrow at Village Books in Fairhaven/Bellingham, WA. I'll be talking about my six recording projects and sharing songs from each. Twelve years have gone by since my first album, Sabbath Day's Journey. Looking back at the project I can see the beginning of patterns that would continue through my music to this day. There are several categories that showed up from the start: Appalachian/British Isles songs that are usually full of sweet sorrow, Medieval songs, Nature songs, Ecstatic prayers, Unity songs, and Relational songs.

At the time of writing the music for Sabbath Day's Journey, I walked most every day around a lake near my home. There is a marvelous stand of Fir trees at one side of the lake. It seemed that the trees became my companions as I often went to visit them. I named them "The Brotherwood". The photo shoot for the liner notes took place there. These solitary walks through the woods and along the shore influenced my writing. I kept journals of my thoughts and eventually they would find their way into songs.

The album starts out with Mother's Heart, which I can put into the Ecstatic prayer and Nature categories. "The morning air is clear/the morning skye is blue/my morning spirit closed/my morning heart a rue." It moves on to a Medieval sounding instrumental that celebrates St. Francis of Assisi and his band of merry men. It includes a piece about my ancestral family leaving Ireland, an Appalachian love-song, Black is the Colour of My True Love's Hair, and the story of my journey from youth to adulthood Apples on the Tree. There are a few more songs, Nature oriented, Relational, and one Unity song that sounds like a hymn, Burning Bush. The album ends with the most encouraging words I had ever heard at the time, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well" from the 14th Century English Mystic Julian of Norwich.

A follow-up release, Entrances, came out the very next year in 1999. The word has two meanings, one being an entrance such as a portal or gate, the other meaning being to fill with wonder. We recorded this one in Vancouver, B.C. by candlelight.

I stepped further into Nature poetry/Ecstatic prayer in Entrances, The Fire, and The Cloister Within. There's a Relational song Ashes and two Appalachian pieces Foggy Dew and Come All Ye Fair. I was reading St. Catherine of Siena, The Carmina Gadelica, and Etty Hillesum's Diaries (Hope Grows) at the time and each of them showed up in the album. Traveling Moorland celebrates our unity as a human race and leaves the listener with a blessing that is used in Scotland, "safe home."

By 2002, I had written several new songs for a project called The Beauty of the Earth.

The Beauty of the Earth, the title song, is both a Relational and Nature song. It weaves meadows, leaves, pears, and the wind around into a love-song. It holds the elements of bread and wine in a communion, and says "come my love and drink with me of the beauty so divine."

I Want to be Free was written in The Brotherwood at the lake. "I heard the wind in my soul, I heard the song of the earth and it's making me whole." Ecstatic prayer I think.

The River of Life was written on December 31, 1999, just at the turn of the new millennium. "Changed, formed and recreated... The sweetness and joy and the sadness and pain, the river of life I float upon."

There's The Lark in the Morn and Burning of the Piper's Hut, both from the British Isles. Aeternitas and Kyrie Eleison are both sung in Latin and are somewhat Medieval in character. Kyrie Eleison was written on September 11, 2001.

When You See is a Unity song inspired by a Jewish Midrash, or illustrated truth. "When you see a soul on the horizon that your heart has never known before, if you embrace the other as your sister or brother then you'll know that dawn is breaking in your heart, and the light has overcome the dark." It's interesting to me that most of the songs that I deem "Unity songs" sound like hymns. They are simply structured that way, not on purpose, but that's how I hear them to begin with as I compose them.

The photos from The Beauty of the Earth were taken in Italy.

We recorded The Moon of Wintertime just after The Beauty of the Earth. I mean, just one hour afterwards. We had been performing the songs for Solstice programs so we were familiar with the material. It was a quick and fun jaunt into the Winter season. There's only one original song on it, Gifts of the Magi, and I suppose we could classify it as the old favorite category Ecstatic, although it's not a prayer. It's Medieval sounding as well and I played it on the Appalachian dulcimer.

The rest of the material ranges from 14th Century Italy, to Medieval England, Scotland, and into the early Appalachian settlements. It's bright and merry with a little bit of mystery. True to form we used photos from The Brotherwood and Italy inside the liner notes.

That brings us to the album ForeignLander, which is a stepping back to my roots kind of recording. This is where a new category slips in: Birds. There are birds in several songs, which is quite normal in Appalachian music. It's full of sweet sorrow. I wrote one original piece for ForeignLander and it is called Swallow's Return. Stella is a Medieval piece and Softly and Tenderly is a hymn.

The liner notes include graphics of maps and boats, a hint of what was coming next...

New territory!
It was four years before I was ready to release another recording. I called it Quieting, because that's what I was doing at the time that the music came forward. It's an all instrumental album, which is new for me. Here's an excerpt from the liner notes:

This music celebrates a deepening connection with the natural world.
It is a place where every bug counts.
Cottonwood seeds hold the potential for one's very breath.
The shape of a mountain is a song in itself.
Frogs become close companions.
Hawthorn trees open the heart.
Pigs can dance. Bees can swing.
Children grow up into beautiful people while adults rediscover the wonder of childhood.
Wishes are granted.
Life and death are honored as one in the same.

Quieting includes several Nature inspired pieces. I lived in the woods at the time of writing them and couldn't help myself. It also opens a new category for me: Bugs! - Every Bug, Every Bee, Every Breath. And Pigs - Porcero Danza - Dance of the Pigs. And Humor - The Busy Bees of Sansepolcro. There is a frog chorus recorded from our own pond. I wrote a piece For My Daughters in remembrance of their childhood years, and one for my cat, Willow, rest her soul.

While contemplating a deeper connection with the natural world, I passed from youth to midlife through a quiet turnstyle. Here's a quote from William Wordsworth - "...with an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things."

The imagery for this project comes from Burma. The boat on the cover is from an astonishing place called Inle Lake.

From my journal: May 10, 2007 Thursday

It's simple.
You have what it takes.
Sing your own vision.
Contribute to the river.
The great river winding
round the world.
Everything counts.

What's next? Perhaps a new project full of boats and water, ravens, meadows. I suspect there will be some Ecstatic songs, Relational bits, Appalachian/Medieval stuff and maybe even a prayer. Here's one of the latest in the Unity category.

In the Same Boat

We are in a river
Headed downstream
All of us together
In an earthly dream
Traveling together
But we think we don't
Separate in our vessels
In the same boat
Row, heave ho

Headed for the ocean
In a crooked line
Wending round the boulders
Yours and mine
Looking for an answer
In a simple rhyme
Headed for the ocean
Row, heave ho

Will we live forever
We don't know
No one here can tell us
Exactly where we'll go
But we'll go together
In the same boat
Headed for the ocean
To find our way home
Row, heave ho

Okay, now I guess I'm ready for my talk tomorrow!