Madge Wickham Page lived from 1907-1993. Her granddaughter Courtney brought me a cassette tape she had of an interview she did with “Meemaw” in 1991. Having found the tape tucked away in her attic for years, her idea was to have the interview scored as a gift to her family. When I had the cassette converted to a digital file, it sounded pretty noisy with tape hiss and warble:
Courtney and I went over the the 30-40 minute interview together, marking the moments which held the most meaning for her and taking out the less interesting sections. Once the important segments of the recording were chosen, I arranged them in an order that told the most coherent story. I then had the file cleaned up and de-noised. This process exceeded my expectations, as the resulting file was not only clearer, but also conveyed nuances in Meemaw’s personality and in the emotion of the exchange which weren’t audible in the original cassette version:
I then set out listening to the interview on loop while improvising on the piano. A main musical theme which would unify the whole piece almost immediately emerged; I call this the “Meemaw Theme”. (By the time I sat down for this piece of work, I had already spent hours with the recording and had a pretty good sense what the feeling of the music would be. I knew that Meemaw grew up on a farm in Virginia and lived the simple and modest childhood of a farm girl in the early 1900’s. More importantly, I had steeped in the emotion of her story and in the beauty of her connection with her granddaughter who was interviewing her. I knew the main theme should be pastoral and folky to reflect her upbringing. Since it also is a voice from the past, I also wanted it to feel expansive and nostalgic.)
I then began to structure the piece as a whole, and It became clear to me where the musical interludes should go, and where the music should drop out and sneak back in. Because the main theme was already in place, I was able to vary the theme in different sections to reflect the evolving emotions of the piece. Notice how the example is changed by the inclusion of musical underscoring.
It was such a deep pleasure to create this timeless piece out of a cassette tape Courtney had sitting in her attic. I am glad this memory was uncovered, and I hope it will continue to be cherished for generations to come.