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  • Writer's picturePeter Dayton

9.21.20: The Passing of Great Ladies

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

Dear Friends,

September 2020 has been a difficult month. The Federal mismanagement of COVID-19 has led to the deaths of now nearly 200,000 Americans, we have lost a titanic figure in the advancement of gender equality in the United States, and my family has suffered a more personal loss.

Remembering Mimi C

After a struggle against several competing illnesses, my paternal grandmother, Barbara (Née Clapp) Dayton Copeland passed away on Wednesday, September 9. We always called her Mimi C. While I collaborated with my sisters on her obituary, which I would encourage you to take a few moments to read. This woman had a remarkable life and I carry her memory with me every day. I would like to put down a few lines to speak to the important musical influence this wonderful woman had on my life.

I am sure it wasn't the first musical production I saw, but going to see The Music Man around the age of 10 with Mimi C and her husband, my step-grandfather, Pa Bill, on Broadway made a deep impression on me. I remember getting the cast soundtrack and listening to it over and over. Another important childhood introduction for me was the movie version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum starring comedic master Zero Mostel. Hardly age-appropriate for when I saw it, I'm so glad I did, its mix of absurdity, wordplay, ham-acting, and cross-dressing makes it one of my favorite movie-musicals. Another memory: I usually connect The Nutcracker to my maternal grandmother Blanche Maier who passed in 2009, but, while I think we had a copy of the VHS at home, I better remember watching the Baryshnikov production of The Nutcracker at Mimi C's. I have been told that one time I watched the VHS tape and then when it finished begged to watch it straight through again (I feel like an affinity for repetition is building in this story...). Another VHS classic at Mimi C's was a bootlegged tape of various Charlie Brown cartoons - my introduction to the marvelous jazz world of Vince Guaraldi. While music from the Christmas special is ubiquitous during the winter months, it still has a truly personal nostalgic connection for me, listening to that soundtrack as much as I did during formative years.

So far I have danced around the biggest continuing influence from Mimi C: the piano. As I type this blog entry, my computer is perched on a foam-core creation that Doug created, which neatly slots into the front of the Acrosonic upright piano which sat in Mimi C's lower room for decades. Apparently Pa Bill bought it, intending to learn how to play, but that never got around to happening. When I came along, it began to get a little more use and I want to take this moment to apologize to everyone who had to listen to me for years before I began to get a handle on actually reading and playing music. But once I actually began to play with some competency, every holiday visit (and those in between), I was downstairs at the piano, sending music around the corner and up the stairs to the kitchen where the rest of the family was talking. Once I graduated Vanderbilt in 2012 (and after a start-and-stop at SUNY Stony Brook), I moved back to Nashville in 2013 and asked if I could have the piano that was all but silent now that I was no longer in Cincinnati and now that Mimi C was coming down to our house for the holidays (Pa Bill passed in 2011). Since that time, close to 8 years ago, nearly every piece of music I have composed was written with the aid of that piano - yes, I am one of those composers who wants to hear it sounded out on the piano. This includes everything from my Gertrude Stein opera May She | She May to my 3 string sonatas to enough text settings to choke a horse (as Mimi was fond of saying). The piano has been silent for most of the pandemic because it fell out of tune and I have not wanted to bring someone in to tune it (this despite a long history of resilience when it comes to intonation: when it first was moved down from Hamilton, OH to Nashville, TN, I didn't have it tuned the entire time I lived in Nashville and it sounded fine! Before that, apparently, it had not been tuned for more than a decade). But when I can finally get that maintenance taken care of (which, I imagine, would coincide with no longer needing a makeshift work-at-home desk), I can't wait to an acoustic piano back under my fingers and resume sounding my ideas off of it.

In 2005, only a few years into my exploration of writing music through a borrowed copy of Finale Notepad, I composed a short piece for solo piano and dedicated it to Mimi C and Pa Bill. The score hung in a frame in their house for the last 15 years (one thing Mimi's obituary notes is that she was fiercely supportive of her grandchildren). Rifling through old things at home while we saw Mimi through her final days, I found a copy of the score and would like to share the piece with you, in honor of her memory.


Further Music News

While the completion of the enormous Sonata for Alto Saxophone & Piano has earned me a rest, I have managed to draft the last outstanding movement of another piece, one that I used to bounce away from the sonata when I needed variety before coming back to it. Wilde Colors is a song set for soprano and either 5-octave celesta or, since that might be difficult to find, vibraphone (at greatest need, piano can be used) that sets some of Oscar Wilde's gothic, atmospheric poetry. This piece is, in part, an apology to its dedicatee Arianna Arnold that the setting of Edgar Allan Poe's The Valley of Unrest ended up being a choral work. Hopefully, in timbre and mood, these settings of Wilde's attempt to emulate James Whistler's nearly-abstract color renderings (themselves inspired by music) will provide some of the same mystery and drama that Arianna can turn into true magic with her expressive and beautiful singing.

This puts me nearly back 'in the black' as far as projects go. I still hope to compose a piece to respond to John Hitchens's Grounds painting, but my next immediate project is a song set requested by magnificent soprano Jessica Ng, exploring poets' reactions to the myth of Persephone. It promises to be a very different kind of ancient greek song cycle from Entwine Our Tongues (although I am again collaborating with poet Jordi Alonso on this project), and I am excited to have a docket cleared enough to concentrate on it.


Signoff: RBG

Those of us who believe in women's bodily sovereignty and independence mourn the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. From a range of jurisprudence, her leadership in advancing gender and reproductive rights has made its mark on American history and society. This administration will try to undo as much of these advances and freedoms as it can, using whatever means (already it is engaged in genocidal tampering with the bodies of immigrants and refugees detained by ICE in the recently-revealed mass hysterectomies). We must triumph over fascism and white supremacy and the congresspeople that aid and abet its encroachment on our freedoms and democracy. Vote blue, against all of the congressional toadies who have found the corruption, criminality, violence, and death of these 4 hellish years to be an acceptable tradeoff for tightening their own grasp on power and monetary gain. As unsatisfyingly moderate-to-conservative many of the Democratic candidates are (from the presidential ticket on down), those who believe in the institutions of our government are still a better bet than those who have already proven that their only motivation in governing is to stop government from effectively functioning. Whether the system has already been dismantled to the point of insolvency remains to be seen, we'll find out in 7 weeks - may it be a resounding rejection of Trump and the entire party that flocked to him.



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1 Comment

Sep 21, 2020

Beautiful reflections on your grandmother, Peter. I lost a beloved grandfather in January of this year, which has turned out to be a year of loss for nearly everyone is some way. Our thoughts are with you.

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