Rosemary Lawton’s premiere CD, Painted Glass is a delightful listen–full of colour, tone and nuance and a few surprises. What follows is an excerpt of our conversation:
GH: Can we begin by talking about the title, Painted Glass? It is a very evocative title and I can imagine so many interpretations, what did you have in mind when you picked the title?
RL: Well, when I was working on this project, I thought of how each tune I had chosen came from someplace different in Newfoundland. The whole project is comprised of old and new tunes but all fits together somehow. It reminded me of a patchwork quilt or something pieced together to create something special. When I finally got the artwork from Trevor de Verteuil, It made me think of stained glass, which still fit that idea so I thought I might name it “Pane of Glass.” When I mentioned it to my dad, he thought I had said “Painted Glass” and I actually liked it better so that’s what it became.
GH: The first track is your arrangement of the Emile Benoit tune, Sally’s Waltz. It is sweet but not sentimental and has a mellow quality. What would you like to tell us about this track?
RL: When I was working on my undergrad at Memorial University, I took a course from Dr. Andrew Staniland. Throughout the course I learned how to compose and arrange for all different types of ensembles. After I graduated, I was hired by Beyond the Overpass Theatre Company to work out in Twillingate for 4 months. During that period, I had time to write and compose, and that is when I started to fool around with some arranging of traditional Newfoundland tunes. Sally’s Waltz happens to be the very first one I arranged and it is what ignited the flame that is now “Painted Glass.”
GH: It is followed by the traditional Kitchener’s Army. I found this arrangement driven by melody rather than rhythm. It made for an easy going army! Can you tell me about some of the decisions you made with this piece?
RL: I was guided towards this tune set by Christina Smith who recommended that I look in the Memorial University Folklore Archives and the Centre for Newfoundland Studies for a specific set of field recordings from the Codroy Valley done by Margaret Bennett at the University of Edinburgh. They were tunes performed by the MacArthur family and from these field recordings, I transcribed their versions of the tunes. The tunes are both commonly known Scottish session tunes however; I thought it was very interesting that the tunes were preserved in such a rural area of Newfoundland. Not only were they preserved, but the second tune was also assigned a Gaelic name when its original name was in English. Looking back on the process now, I suppose I took the feel of their recordings with me when I arranged them, which provides a more peaceful arrangement to something with “army” in the title.
GH: Next came one of your own compositions, The Siren, which I thought made a great contrast with the prior tracks.
RL: Thank you.
GH: You sing on The Siren! I realized that although I’ve heard you play violin for years, I was unaware of your vocal talents. What do you want to tell me about this side of your creativity?
RL: When I was a kid, I loved all forms of music including dance, musical theatre, violin, and singing. I was very shy and had trouble performing in front of people so my mother put me into singing lessons. I pursued singing throughout my school years and actually got accepted to do vocal studies in university as well as violin but I had to make a choice and the choice was violin. I never stopped singing although, I was eventually labeled as a violinist. When I decided to record this CD, I saw it as a chance to break out and sing more.
GH: The image of the captain having to choose between the pull of the deadly siren and the safety of home harbour is a wonderful metaphor for so much in life. It’s universal and yet very appropriate to Newfoundland. What was going through your mind when you wrote The Siren?
RL: I am absolutely passionate about traditional Newfoundland music. I had heard of many songs of men leaving their wives and children behind while they work on the water, but when I was living in Twillingate, I started to branch out and do some more research. I heard of songs written about women dressing as men to rescue their husbands and fathers, ghost stories, mermaids, and more. I decided that I wanted to write my own Newfoundland folk song. I really liked the idea of having two powerful female images in a folk song and that is really where the story unfolded. I had read a book called the Sea Captain’s Wife by Beth Powning, which I found to be a great inspiration. In the book, a young woman’s husband is off at sea when she gives birth to her daughter, and he does not get the chance to meet his child until she is three. I used this story in the song and her child became “the daughter he never knew” in the song. The fear of her husband never coming home was always present, thus the repetition of “head towards the rocks,” which I decided to include as a percussive type of vocal sound. I really wanted the arrangement to create the soundscape of a stormy sea, and the high vocal lines were meant to imitate the call of the Siren.
GH: The progression or build on the Dave Panting medley of Circumstance Waltz, Stomp and Rockaway was very appealing. Why did you pick this one for your CD?
RL: When I was putting this project together, I knew I wanted to create this blend of old and new, with well-known tunes and lesser-known tunes too. I contacted Dave Panting who was incredibly kind to give me three of his tunes that have never been recorded before. I decided that I wanted to have a Dave Panting tune set so I strung the tunes together. I started with the waltz because I really liked the idea of making the arrangement grow throughout and leave the audience “rocking away” by the end.
GH: There has got to be a story behind your composition The Movie Jigs. Can you share it?
RL: There is indeed! While completing my undergraduate degree, I took many courses from the incredible Dr. Andrew Staniland as mentioned before and another one of those courses was Electronic Music. During the course, I had to write a score for a short film about a girl who adopts a baby dragon. There is a scene where the dragon gets loose in the market and has fun chasing some chickens and another scene where he is kidnapped and the girl has to set off on a quest to find him. I decided to write some jigs to fit the score and thought they would be a good addition to this project. Looking back, I could have called them something more interesting like the “Dragon Jigs” or something but as of now, they remain “Movie Jigs 1 and 2”.
GH: Your album ends with the traditional, Ghostly Lover. I’ve always found the lyrics to this piece almost achingly beautiful. Why did you choose to end your album on such a melancholy note?
RL: I actively sought out a ballad to end the album. I liked the idea of fading out for the end. I looked through various ballad collections and found this song in a Greenleaf edition. The supernatural aspect of the tune interested me but what drew me to the piece was the melody. I am a very melody-driven musician and I will often hear a song many times before I even notice the words. There were many ballads that I saw with stunning poetry but the melody decided it for me. It was my producer Ian Foster’s idea to add the gentle strings to the background, which I feel really set the scene for the last song.