Lovers of classical and new age music will love the soothing songs of Carolyn Southworth. Carolyn inherited a rich tradition of music in her family and has passed that love on to her daughter, former Linescratchers interviewee Jennifer Thomas, with whom she has released an album of lullabies. Carolyn has a thing or two to say about how she grew up with music, where her inspiration comes from, her musical family, the writing process, and how her faith influences what she does.
By listening to your CD, I can tell that you have a passion for music. Where does this passion come from?
A: Music runs in my family. My grandfather (on my mother’s side) played piano, clarinet, banjo, violin and probably more instruments that I am not aware of. He had a small dance band in Provo, Utah and would play for all the local dances. He died before I was born, but I wanted to play the violin because he did… I guess it was my way of connecting to him. My great-grandfather on my father’s side joined the church in New Zealand… and at the time he was conductor of the local orchestra. He also had a wonderful voice and later when he served a mission, he would sing solos all the time. I have a lot of cousins who are musical as well, so it must be something in the genes!
As I child, I started playing the piano at age 6 and violin at age 8. My mother tells me that whenever I heard music of any kind, that I would start swaying of moving to the music. As I grew, I added the viola, guitar and organ to my list of instruments. In High School, I was asked by the orchestra teacher to help her teach the grade school Suzuki classes… which is where I learned that I loved to teach. I have been teaching both violin and piano ever since then.
I loved playing in our High School Orchestra (Pendleton, Oregon) and also the neighboring Walla Walla (Washington) Symphony. I gained a love and appreciate for all the great Classical music from that experience. While I was in High School and College I also played guitar and old time fiddle in a bluegrass band, which was a lot of fun. I had a high school music teacher that taught us 2 years of college music theory, which is where I started to compose… and discovered that I loved it! He exposed us to all different styles of music; jazz, baroque, blues, country, contemporary, classical, etc, and required us to try our hand at composing in all those different styles. I also learned the value of a good teacher, and felt that I wanted to have that same type of impact on my students.
I have to tell you, I have really enjoyed your CD At The End of The Day. There are quite a few collaborations on this CD. Tell me what it was like to work with these various artists.
A: If I had to put it in one word, it would be “incredible”. As a musician, you have an idea of what you think your song should sound like, but then after you listen to what another artists feels, it opens up whole new possibilities. Paul Speer co-produced this album, and I learned so much from him… he became a good friend in the process. I wanted Paul to play guitar on several of the tracks, and his vision of what the music could sound like was invaluable. The song that turned out completely different than what I had imagined, was “Where Eagles Soar.” The piano solo by itself, is just this ethereal new age type of sound, but when you add the guitar, drums, bass, synthesizer and percussion, as Paul said “it really rocks!”
Nancy Rumbel who plays oboe and English Horn, was a delight! She has such a sense of humor and is one of the most creative people that I know besides being a Grammy winner. It was amazing to watch she and Richard Warner ( flute and soprano saxophone) improvise and rework something until we came up with something that was incredible. They were so concerned that I was happy with everything they did, and were so willing to re-record something if I wasn’t 100% okay with it. It was a fantastic learning experience watching how they go about their craft.
What can I say about Steve Hill (drums) and Douglas Barnett (bass guitar)? They are some of the best in the business, and I feel very very fortunate to have been able to work with them. And Matthew Burgess on percussion was the final touch… like frosting on the cake… (he also kept us laughing in the studio the entire time.) All of these musicians lived in the Seattle area at the time, and Paul Speer knew all of them, so their musical contributions were well worth it.
I don’t have to be “the soloist.” I am very happy to let other artists take the spotlight… I guess that is because I have played in either an orchestra, a bluegrass band, a piano trio or some kind of string ensemble so I am quite happy being part of a group. I feel that when you are involved in collaborations like this album was, it can only improve the quality of the final product.
Speaking of At The End of the Day, I personally put it to the test when I took it to work and played it throughout the day (my job can be quite stressful). I found that I was honestly more relaxed and handled stress more efficiently while listening! Was this your vision for this project?
A: This album came about quite differently than my latest album The Lullaby Album, which was originally conceived as a soothing album for bedtime for both children and adults. At the End of the Day is a collection of songs that I have written over several years, and finally got to the point of recording them. I gave Paul Speer ( a Grammy nominated guitarist and producer) a “scratch recording” of about 16 or 17 songs, and then had him pick the ones he thought would work the best. He chose about 6 songs and wanted me to choose the rest. They are all quite different, but I think there is an overall feeling to my compositions of being fairly laid-back and relaxing. I usually don’t compose intense or dramatic music unless it is being using for a specific purpose. We finally chose the title At the End of the Day after my husband took the photo on the front cover… sunset over the San Juan Islands of Washington State.
I think that a personal favorite of mine is the song “Where Eagles Soar.” Growing up close to a lake in Kentucky, I have watched bald eagles fly numerous times and felt extremely close to our Creator and nature alike. I can literally close my eyes and see them flying. I know this might be hard to explain, but what is your writing process? How can you create such imagery in your music?
A: I started “painting pictures” with music while I was still in junior high school. I was hired to accompany a dance class, and the teacher taught by improvisation… so I had to be just as creative. She would tell her students to be a thunder cloud, so I had to improvise music that sounded like a thunder cloud… or a bouncing rabbit, or a floating balloon and so forth. It forced me to think quickly and make emotions or feelings come to life with the sound of the piano. It was a wonderful experience.
When I wrote “Where Eagles Soar”, it was during a winter wind storm here on Camano Island, where I live. We have about 300 eagles that live full time on the island, so seeing them is pretty much an everyday occurrence… but I NEVER take it for granted… they are incredible to watch. This particular day, a family of three eagles were playing on the wind currents in a field close to our house. Branches were breaking off trees because of the strength of the wind (probably close to 50 mph) but the eagles were just soaring in circles… thoroughly enjoying the wind. The piano’s beginning ostinato is what I wrote for the eagles playful circling, but the piano’s heavy bass note crashes were the depictions of the branches crashing all around and the strength of the wind.
Through all of this however, there has to be a strong melody. I think that is where I am different from a lot of other “New Age” composers… I don’t write music that rambles around and just doesn’t go anywhere… I love a great melody, and feel that melody is what will pull a listener in to the audio landscape that I am trying to create. If I were to categorize my music, I would say it was “Contemporary Instrumental”.
To quote you: “Nothing can compare to touching someone’s heart with music.” Do you think you accomplish this? Why or why not? If so, How?
A: Music affects people in different ways, as well as different styles of music appeal to different people. I believe that most people want to make a difference in the world around them, for the better. I am no different. I’m sure that not everyone will find my music to their taste, but that is okay… I write what “feels right” to me, and in doing so, if that music touches someones life, then it is worth it. I feel that to connect with someone on an emotional level through music, is to connect with their very soul… much more than words alone can do. Music has the power to change our lives for the better or for the worse, which is why it is so important for us to listen to edifying and uplifting music. I conducted an experiment with a class that I was teaching one time; I played 6 or 7 clips of different styles of music, and then had the class members write down their feelings as they listened it each of the clips. The music clips ranged from hard rock to light classical and everything in-between. It was an eye-opening experience for the class members to realize how the different styles of music affected their emotions.
When I write music, I feel that a strong melody is one of the most important elements in a piece. If a person will leave the experience humming the melody, then I know that I have accomplished what I have set out to do in touching someone’s emotions.
I have been a stake music chairman three different times, and have been the director of many major productions in the Church because of that calling. In each of these programs, I have chosen music that the listener will find uplifting and enjoyable as well as entertaining. There is a lot of music available to church musicians, some of it wonderful and some of it not so wonderful. If it is a boring piece and doesn’t stir emotional feelings, then I will usually pass it by. My grandfather taught me: “Be the task great or small, do it well or not at all”. I try to approach each assignment with this same type of attitude, and by so doing, have created some memorable music within my stake. Creating music that touches someones heart, takes effort, practice at the art and craft of music, enlisting the talents of other musicians, patience and being able to feel the emotion in the music yourself. It is a very rewarding experience, and I would be so ungrateful to my Father in Heaven if I didn’t try to magnify the gifts that he has so graciously blessed me with.
In your personal life, you have a very artistic family! Everyone from your photographer husband to your musical daughter. Your recent project The Lullaby Album was done with Jennifer Thomas, not only your daughter, but a talented musician as well! Tell me how it was to work with your daughter on such a tender and sweet album.
A: I think all parents should have some kind of major project that they are able to work with one of their children on… you both gain a greater respect for each other’s talents and abilities. I think that Jenni thought she was going to have to talk me into doing the project, but as soon as she outlined what she wanted to do, I didn’t have to think about it at all……I jumped in with both feet. Jenni and I have strengths in different areas, and so doing The Lullaby Album together was a perfect opportunity for us to “push” each other… you don’t feel like you are all by yourself and so you will be a little more courageous than it might be otherwise.
The Lullaby Album started out as a very simple project; solo piano only for digital download only. However, it ended up as a double CD, one fully orchestrated. That was my fault. Jenni just wanted to do a very simple album, so it wouldn’t require lots of time, money and effort. But as I was working on one song, I could just hear in my head the string section of an orchestra and so I wanted to add it in and not keep it just as solo piano. I had to do some fast talking, but eventually convinced Jenni that it would make a better album and would appeal to a wider listening audience if we orchestrated it. We are so glad that we recorded it both as solo piano and piano with orchestra… it opens the floodgates of emotional possibilities that way.
I still teach violin and piano, which I have been doing since I was in high school, and have taught all of my children either violin or cello along with piano. Jenni and I both love playing in an orchestra, and we love the depth of sound and passion that can be heard.
Being LDS, does your faith influence your music?
A: Of course, being LDS has a great influence on music that I write. In fact, a good deal of my compositions have been church related in one way or another. I remember in a high school composition class, using a passage from the Doctrine and Covenants as a text.
Many years ago, when President Ezra Taft Benson asked for LDS artists and musicians to focus their artwork on The Book of Mormon, I felt like he was speaking directly to me that day. Another member of my stake, Jack. R. Jenkins who is a writer, felt the same thing. We collaborated on a 3 Act stage play called “Abinadi”, which portrayed the life of the prophet and his family. I wrote 11 songs for that play, including the orchestration, within three months. The play was performed extensively throughout the Pacific Northwest and has been extremely well received. It has been a great missionary tool. I believe it is available through Encore Productions, in Orem, Utah.
Two of the songs on my album At the End of the Day were written for LDS events… “In My Fondest Dream” from the play “Abinadi”, and “Anchor in the Storm” for a stake relief society women’s conference. Although the lyrics are not on the album, both songs were originally written with lyrics.
In the thirteenth Article of Faith it states: “if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” I feel that the music I write fits into that category. There is so much in the world today that is discouraging, down-heartening or depressing, that I want to create things are uplifting, beautiful and inspiring to others. I don’t always succeed, but usually if I myself can feel an emotional pull in what I write, then others most likely will as well.
Have you found that your music has helped you grow spiritually?
A: Music can literally speak to the soul. I think we can learn things faster and more complete with music. Music can also cross language and cultural barriers, where sometimes words can be a stumbling block or be misunderstood or misinterpreted. I love the hymns of the church. How many times have you listened to the prelude music at church, and the words of the hymn will come into your mind? For example, last week as I was playing the organ prelude for Sacrament Meeting, I started playing “Count Your Blessings”… for me, it was an answer to prayer. I had been worried about specific things in my life and how I was going to handle them. Then as I started to play this hymn, the words came to my mind and it was like a floodgate opened from the Holy Ghost, giving me the comfort and knowledge that I had been seeking. Music can help facilitate teaching us things of the Spirit. I’m sure that there will be lots of music in heaven, as evidenced from the music in the scriptures. Our Heavenly Father, who is the Master Teacher, would certainly tap into this tremendous learning tool.
From your pictures on your website, it looks as though you have grown up being musically talented on various instruments. 🙂 Do you prefer the piano?
A: I enjoy playing the piano, because I don’t need anyone else to make music… I can do it all by myself. But it would be extremely hard for me to say which instrument I prefer over another. I love playing the violin and viola. I don’t play guitar much any more, but I thoroughly enjoyed that as well. I enjoy just about all types and genres of music, from classical and jazz, to bluegrass and contemporary. Different instruments allow me to play with all of those styles. However, when I compose, I do it with the piano. At the present time I am working on a Christmas album… piano with orchestration… hopefully finished in 2011.
Is there a reason in particular why you have chosen to focus on instrumental music?
A: I’ve only recorded instrumental music, but probably 70% of the music I have written, has lyrics. Personally, I prefer listening to instrumental music… it is more relaxing. If there are lyrics, I start listening to them! In the future I might add a song or two on an album that will have lyrics… just depends on the song and the album. If the music doesn’t have lyrics, the listener can put their own “lyrics” to it, or their own ponderings… it isn’t confined to just one subject that way.
When listening to your music, I feel like I could hear your music on the big screen! What are your long-term goals when it comes to your music?
A: I would love to hear some of my music in a movie! Depending on the storyline of the movie, I think that there are songs from both At the End of the Day and The Lullaby Album that would lend themselves very nicely to film (“Sideways”, “Where Eagles Soar”, “Silver Lining”, “Unseen Angel”, “Dream Weaver”, “In the Wake of the Storm” are some that I feel evoke pictures in the mind and would be perfect for film). I would like to license songs that I have already written. I don’t want to be a composer for film scores however… I have too many other things that keep me busy in my life, i.e. family, church, my husband (who is the Stake President right now) grandkids, photography. My long-term goals are to keep writing and recording beautiful music that others find uplifting and edifying and that can help people visual their own personal “cinematic big screen” in their minds. If one day, some of that music has the privilege of being licensed for a movie, all the better.
I know that if Linescratchers listeners want to learn more about you, they can go to your website at www.carolynsouthworth.com. Where else can they access your music? Do you have any tour dates coming up?
A: My music is available in all the normal places to buy and listen to music; Amazon, iTunes ( and all other digital outlets) CDBaby, Pandora, KZION, You Tube, Last FM, etc. At the present time, I don’t have any plans for concert tours….that just doesn’t fit my life right now. My daughter Jennifer Thomas and I, will probably be doing some intimate “Klassy Kids Koncerts” for moms and their children, which will feature music from “The Lullaby Album.” (she just had her second child, so it won’t be right away.) These small venue concerts would most likely be in the Pacific Northwest, (Washington, Oregon and Idaho) and possibly Utah.
I also have sheet music available on my website for those who are interested in playing some of my music for themselves.