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‘Lantern in a Poet’s Garden’ sure to please

By Staff | Nov 26, 2010

Editor’s Note: The Chronicle Staff does not write reviews. However, the paper will accept reader-submitted content reviewing books, CDs, bands, art shows or other happenings around town.

Musician/composer Terry Tucker shines more than light on a poet’s garden. On her latest CD, she provides a triumphant renaissance for poems penned more than a century ago by two prominent Jefferson County residents with songs that alternately tug at the heart strings and inspire one’s own spirited romp in the woods.

“Lantern in a Poet’s Garden” is classical music spun with words that dazzle, and it is nothing short of brilliant.

A long-time resident of Shepherdstown, Tucker began the project nearly a decade ago when a friend gave her copies of poems by Danske Bedinger Dandridge and, later, Daniel Bedinger Lucas. The Bedinger kin had deep roots in Jefferson County. Daniel, born in 1836, was a lawyer who served, at different times, as a judge and state legislator. His cousin Danske was born in 1854, and Rosebrake, a historic estate just south of Shepherdstown, was home for most of her life.

From the hundreds of poems by these published writers, Tucker chose those that spoke to her in an intimate way. Early on, she realized a common bond with Danske, a love of nature that goes beyond the garden and into the woods of fairies and sunlight mystically streaming patterns around great-limbed trees. A native of Webster County, Tucker similarly spun her own childhood dreams. She studied classical music at Wesleyan College in Buckhannon and has traveled far and wide for a variety of musical experiences, as a lyricist, composer and performer.

At home with just about any genre of music, Tucker most often is called a “folkie.” Although her first passion was classical music, she says it is the folk music of Appalachia “that’s in my blood.”

It’s no surprise that the music in “Lantern in a Poet’s Garden” is classical, and the voice is folk. The 11 songs were written in nine different keys and just about as many major as minor voices. Tucker plays the piano throughout, and nine other local musicians perform on different cuts. Here a flute, there an African drum, a trombone, French horn, trumpet and strings – violin, cello, bass.

Tucker sings all the songs, joined on many by Ardyth Gilbertson. The two have sung together a long time.

In “Lantern,” their harmony soars pitch-perfect to new heights, seeming to rise to the urgency or fantasy of the words.

In “Sympathy,” for instance, Tucker solos into a falsetto higher than her usual alto, portraying the poet stoically reflecting her sadness. The softer-voiced mezzo-soprano, Gilbertson joins in almost as a lithesome echo when the first two stanzas are repeated. It’s as if Gilbertson is the other person in the poem, understanding and supportive. The voices glide beautifully together, poignant and resolute.

Their voices zoom at tongue-twisting speed in the whimsical “Fairy Camp.” In “The Stream and I,” Gilbertson chimes in briefly and at no more than a whisper, a brilliant contrast, perfectly suited to the mood of the poem where the “stream and I” are, perhaps, one entity. Tucker takes the low road, back to alto territory, in “Dreams,” where her background notes add a subtle richness to one of Danske’s more upbeat poems.

Tucker solos in “Folly-Land,” a reminiscence of a carefree childhood and prodding to return there (with, perhaps, her lover by her side). “The Struggle,” by contrast, is an anguished cry for death in no uncertain terms: “Body, I pray you, let me go!” Tucker solos from the heart, this time with a beautiful falsetto that cries for relief as much as the poet’s message. It is, perhaps, the strongest song on the album because the composer/singer has followed the poet into metaphysical territory.

“My Heart is in the Mountains” is a perfect ending for the album. The poem by Lucas is celebratory. Tucker adds her own tribute to the mountains by using a major key, away from the sadness and heaviness of some of the earlier poems.

The album overall is a journey into the soul of Danske Dandridge. It could be a journey into the soul of Terry Tucker, as well.

The CD is available at Ellsworth’s Music and O’Hurley’s General Store in Shepherdstown, Ellsworth’s Music in Charles Town and at www.terrytucker.net.

You can visit the website for more information about Tucker and to download copies of all of the poems in “Lantern in a Poet’s Garden.”

– Judy Jenner, a career writer and editor, has a formal background in classical music. She is co-owner of the Harmony Healing Arts Center where she teaches three yoga classes each week.