BY TIM GRIMM, CO-COMPOSER & MUSICIAN
Twenty years ago, Jason Wilber and I began to work on songs for James Still’s Amber Waves. My wife, Jan Lucas, and I were to play the farm couple, Mike and Penny. In most ways neither of those tasks were a stretch. I spent many summers on my grandfather’s farm in northern Indiana, working with both him and my youngest uncle, Jim. He was the one brother Grimm who “stayed with the farm” while three others became lawyers and my father chose to become a schoolteacher. I learned about the weather and how farmers have an almost symbiotic relationship with its vagaries and blessings. I learned about hard physical work: the heat, the sweat, the fatigue. I learned a different lesson about the importance of family: that attitude and willingness to pitch in for friends and neighbors at the drop of a hat and the blowing in of a storm.
Jan and I together experienced the best parts of this rural farm life when we moved back “home” from the West Coast when our boys were young. We looked to the wisdom of the surrounding older farm couples, and my romantic vision of the small family farm blossomed.
James made our job easy, these songs we wrote, because the play itself is rich with elemental stories of the rural human condition and its relationship with the land—framed in the elegance of the four seasons and the tapestry of multiple generations.
“Amber Waves,” the title song, was the first song I wrote for the play. I wanted a song that could almost serve as an anthem, that distilled and spun the essence of James’s script. I wanted the song to be filled with hope and reverence and hardship, because that is the landscape of the play. I wanted to be able to come back to the melody during the evening, to find both its minor version and its more exuberant state.
Twenty years later we find ourselves now.... I have asked multi-instrumentalist Rachel Eddy to join me in creating the sonic landscape of Amber Waves. Rachel is a master of the fiddle and the banjo and likely will pick up another instrument or two in the evening. She comes from the old-time music tradition of Appalachia. It’s a tradition based on community—where everyone plays together, learning tunes that are passed down, and the notion of “performance” is almost frowned upon. On one hand, it seems very simple; on the other it is richly complex. I know I’ll learn some things from Rachel. I came up in folk music, steeped in the history of the troubadour: the writer of songs about “folks,” songs about the human condition and pretty much anything we love and are willing to fight for in this world. Together, Rachel and I will create the musical landscape of the farm, its inhabitants, and the seasons that they move through.
When I listen back to the songs that Jason and I wrote 20 years ago, it’s like sitting down with an old friend: you know them, and you trust they’ll be true. As I write this, I’m thinking there may be a new song or two in the mix. We’ll see as we dive into the creative process. In these past 20 years, I’ve found myself forever straddling the line between theatre and music, and I love these opportunities of blending and bending the two together. At the core, what I do is about storytelling. It always has been.
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