CD: Whereas
Artist: Rebecca Oswald

From an early age, music has played a major role in Rebecca Oswald’s life. Coming from a musical family, she began playing duets on the piano with her father when she was only four, and began taking piano lessons at the age of six. She continued on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Music Theory and Composition and a Master’s degree in Music Composition. Rebecca has performed throughout the US, Canada, and Europe, and has twice won a Women’s Philharmonic competition. But that is just part of the picture – as a composer, she has written concert works for piano as well as a variety of chamber ensembles, orchestras, and more. In addition to her instrumental compositions, she has also composed numerous sacred and secular choral works.


Rebecca’s inspiration and the motivation behind the choral works she writes provide a glimpse into the mind and spirit of this gifted musician. As she explains: “When I look for or write texts, whether sacred or secular, the words have to have meaning for me. I ask myself: when people perform or hear this text, will truth, beauty, goodness, peace, love, and joy increase in the world?  If not, I’d rather not write such a text or set it to music. Once I write or find a text to set to music, my intention is to write meaningful music, which will augment the meaning of the words.”


With such a strong background in classical music it is not surprising that her influences include Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, Satie, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Mahler, and many others. She also enjoys a number of modern film composers. However it was interesting to learn that over the years, her inspirations have extended beyond the classical realm to rock and pop artists such as the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, and Dream Theatre. She also currently listens to a wide range of world music from performers like Astor Piazzolla, Snatam Kaur Khalsa, Antonio Carlos Jobim, the Gipsy Kings, Phoebe Legere, Angelique Kidjo, and Souad Massi, among others.


Her latest CD, Whereas, picks up on this geographical diversity a bit in that the music for it was written while Rebecca was on a six month sabbatical in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She later came back to the US to record the music in New York before returning to her home in Eugene, Oregon where she has lived since 1998. One of the most fascinating aspects of the musical compositions is how they were inspired. Rebecca explains: “ They are my creative response to a gift of unpublished, beautiful, personal poems whose themes include the joy of unity, the sorrow of separation, the desire to know and be known, and the bliss of loving and being loved. The songs’ titles are drawn from these poems. Whereas is a solo piano concept album of thirteen original songs that seamlessly integrate evocative, intriguing classical writing with the accessible, timeless appeal of new age music.”


Sitting down with the CD and reading over the decidedly poetic song names was indeed intriguing and piqued my curiosity as to what the music would be like that interpreted such evocative titles. The album begins with “The Whisper Of The Meaning” – with its gentle melody falling softly on the ears like a whisper, and hinting of deeper understanding to come in the music’s unfolding. One of the most compelling titles belongs to track two, “The Constantly Pulsing Universe Inside Me.” There is a definite sense of constancy in the music as rolling arpeggios sustain throughout its entirety providing a feeling of animation and evolution. I particularly enjoyed a track entitled “Each Flower Will Sing Your Song” which reflected Rebecca’s dynamic sensibilities, opening with a light bucolic air and growing more melodically fragrant as it began to bloom. And speaking of dynamics, the album as a whole has its yin and yang. A song called “The Place Where Dreams Shine And Fade,” exudes an airy lightness of being, while a more introspective and almost wistful feeling is reflected in the composition “To Solace My Heart.”


On track 12, “A Complete Life In Our Hands,” diverse elements appear – from the festive first and last movements to a more searching and pensive midsection. The final track, “Ordinary Bliss,” paints an impressionistic portrait of bliss as a feeling of contentment and joy in the simple pleasures of life rather than the over-the-rainbow “blissed out” state. Knowing that the music was related to specific poems added another dimension to the listening experience and gave context to the project. I would imagine that fans of solo piano artists like David Lanz, Liz Story, or George Winston would enjoy the music of Rebecca Oswald as well. There is a flow to her playing that is reflected by one of her compositional philosophies: “When a musical work develops momentum, sometimes it’s best to just get out of the way and see where it goes.” Not a bad bit of guidance for other areas of life as well.