Appalachian Spring: Dust in the Bottomland Revisited April 2016
That opening line of Rilke's poem from The Book of Hours "I live my life in widening circles," echoed in my head as I drove south through the Anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania and down Interstate 81 into the broad Shenandoah Valley, sheltered by the Alleghenies to the northwest and Blue Ridge to the southeast. It was spring break, and I was back in Appalachia, even if only briefly, revisiting Dust in the Bottomland in a series of performances with Nate May, composer, collaborator, and friend. It was a homecoming of sorts, or maybe more of a home-passing-through, and a time for me to reflect on my ongoing relationship with Appalachia, even as my work and passions take me elsewhere.
Dust in the Bottomland is itself a homecoming story. It is through the eyes of a young man returning to his home in rural West Virginia after ten years to find the social and physical landscape permanently altered by prescription opiate addiction and mountaintop removal coal mining. Nate May wrote the forty-five minute monodrama for me in 2013 as I was phasing out of my work as a community organizer in the coalfields and beginning my journey as a singer and collaborative artist. It is a bittersweet love song for the tangled, beautiful, abused, and loved land of central Appalachia.
We performed at Virginia Tech, hosted by Community Voices and at Winthrop University's Conservatory of Music. In our residency at Virginia Tech we had the opportunity to dig more deeply into the subject matter in a round-table discussion and podcast interview with Andy Morikawa and Virginia Tech graduate students Dana Hogg, Jordan Laney, and Cheryl Montgomery – they were rich discussions of opera and the role of arts in building a more just world, aesthetics and empathy, and the relationship of personal journeys to creative work – listen to the podcasthere and the round table here. If you do take the time to listen, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Click here to view a slide show from our performance at P. Buckley Moss Gallery in Blacksburg, Virginia. Above: Nate and me with two of our Community Voices hosts, Max Stephenson Jr. and Jordan Laney.
Now, I am back in the Hudson Valley, at the moment charging downriver aboard the Amtrak train to New York City where this evening I will share a song recital with two fellow singers from the Bel Canto at Caramoor Young Artist Program in a recital of song by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. It will be my first New York recital appearance, and has given me a taste of the work I’ll be doing this summer with the Caramoor International Music Festival. I’m looking forward to it.