Stories From Women Who Walk
How America the Dream Came to Be With Award-Winning Recording Artist and Composer Steve Schuch. Part 1.
Join us for a most wonderful story about how musing on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream!" speech and America the Beautiful traveled a musical way to becoming a new America the Dream.
Coming to you from Whidbey Island, Washington this is Stories From Women Who Walk. I’m your host, Diane Wyzga.
Today we have a special bonus episode because the boys are back in town. My guest is Steve Schuch joining us from Hancock, New Hampshire. Steve is a former Peace Corps volunteer, Audubon naturalist, award-winning recording artist and author, composer, musician, and the recipient of the Parent’s Choice Gold Award for his CD Trees of Life. You’ve heard his music on NPR and PBS. But mostly I’ve known Steve as my brother-in-law. I’ve invited him here to share with us a most wonderful story about how musing on Martin Luther King, Jr. and America the Beautiful traveled all its musical way to becoming a new America the Dream.
What makes this such a neat story? Let’s hear how all this came to be. Welcome to the podcast, Steve!
0:00 to 2:22 Intro
Start From Where You Are.
Minute 2:22 to 6:34 Steve as Musician Back Story
On your website you have a darling quote by a 3rd grader who wrote: "I really likt your songs and storeys. What do you do for a liveing?" -Barry, 3rd grade. My listeners have heard 2 of your compositions: Mer’s Waltz that underscores my daily 60 Seconds podcast, and Entering Erdenheim which introduces and closes my guest interviews. How did music catch your attention?
- Grew up surrounded by music as a child
- Mom and dad played piano; crawled under it to listen
- Carried his dad’s tiny reel-to-reel tape recorder to concerts
- Started violin at age 7 because it was the instrument was available in 3rd grade
- Music has always been there
- Loved it when folks were singing
- In Oberlin College Junior year went to Pete Seeger concert: the whole crowd was in 4-part harmony!
- Bought folk guitar and then taught at Seeger’s Summer Camp in Vermont
- Music just keeps expanding - whether classical, folk, Broadway, Nashville
- Played with Pete Seeger and worked on the Clearwater; Seeger was huge influence on Steve’s work
- The power of people singing together and what they can do
- Music is a primitive language - predates spoken language -
- Alzheimer’s patients will still sing songs from childhood
- Music enters very deep place in us
- When we combine music with messages it deepens
Minute 6:34 to 11:46 Symphony of Whales
- What informed Steve's work: Dominican Republic, classic & folk, music of Ireland, whale calls - all music being the uniting element in the world
- Music and roots - listen closely
- The New York Times wrote, "There is great dignity in the simple words, which communicate the author's respect for what he can't explain." After listening to your music for a bit what was the NYTimes trying to express about the book, Symphony of Whales
- Symphony of Whales (national award-winning) true story: 3,000 whales trapped in Straits in Siberia - released by ice breaker playing classical music
- At some point words fail
- The story is about risking the ship and crew to rescue 3,000 whales (1/10th of the world's population)
- Music helps us to express what words cannot
- Massive ice breaker ship cut ice but how to get the whales to move along - to follow this massive ice breaker to open water?
- Whale songs didn’t work, nor did Russian Rock & Roll, nor folk music
- Classical music was enough to get the whales to follow the ship to sea
- Music as a universal language - for all kingdoms
- Complexity of songs in the songbird kingdom that we can’t hear with the naked ear
How It All Began
Minute 11:46 to 15:55 From Small Town Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration to Music Mission
I understand that you and (your wife, my sister) Marilyn were at a local New Hampshire town gathering in January of 2019 celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday and you had this idea......tell us more about that:
- As a member of the Event Planning Committee Steve suggested: What if we had an anthem everyone could sing together? What if we could weave together “America the Beautiful” with Dr. King’s dream for all America?
- What if we were to take opening lines of America the Beautiful, create a chorus, create new verses that reflected Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream and invite everyone to sing?
- Closing out the New Hampshire town event all the people were singing
- The sound that day of children’s voices, together with parents and grandparents, was incredibly uplifting. And so this project was born.
- Led to quite a project in the Year of COVID
What was intriguing about the Martin Luther King , Jr. language?
- “I Have a Dream!” speech is still relevant, beautiful language, older language, reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln, King James
- The language is accessible
- Beautiful ideals of brotherhood/sisterhood, children growing up together that might not have been possible in 1960s
- Martin Luther King, Jr. speech is a dream of what America CAN be. America the Beautiful is also a dream; not just what we’ve achieved but the dream of democracy we’re still working on
- People risk their lives to come here, have a better life
- We’ve not yet achieved all we're capable of yet but our dream is still there
- It was almost a natural to pair MLK's dream with America the Beautiful
Minute 15:55 to 19:36 Katherine Lee Bates and America the Beautiful
For those who may not know, 130 years ago Katherine Lee Bates wrote a poem which came to be known as America the Beautiful. Would you tell us more about that and how it came to be our unofficial anthem
- Bates was professor at Wellesley College - one of the first female professors in the country at a time when such achievement was unusual for a woman
- Teaching in Colorado
- Wonderful poet
- Wagon train to top of Pike’s Peak; Bates began jotting lines in her scribbler: called the poem “America”
- Had no idea what would become of it; as it turned out: good happenstance
- “Good happenstance happens to those who write frequently than for those who write rarely.”
- Steve’s hope is to encourage the singing of this song, and others like it, all across this land to unite us.
- At a time when our country feels increasingly fractured, songs like this can help bring us together. They remind us of all we share in common: the promise of an America that is more than any of us alone
What kept you moving forward with this work as it morphed from project to mission?
- People hearing the early version asked how comes it’s not being sung everywhere?
- Considered: set up new website with free sheet music? Music videos? More history?
- Actually, what would make more sense is a series of arrangements for different singing groups: children’s choir, church choir, college choir, country western singer
- Result: much of the COVID year was spent composing the many arrangements which are free and downloadable on the America the Dream website
Minute 19:36 to 21:00 America the Dream - The Evolution
The evolution of the poem which had been set to music and in time becoming our unofficial national anthem - America the Beautiful - partnered with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s "I Have a Dream!" speech
Let’s hear and talk about some of the arrangements our listener will discover on the America the Dream website:
Minute 21:00 to 26:05 America the Dream Arrangement III
Tell us about what we just heard and why this is not another rehash America the Beautiful
- In this version you are hearing entirely new sections that Steve composed, sung by wonderful women’s voices with piano accompaniment
- Arrangement III is not too difficult
- The entire choir could be on melody if desired; or the choice for 2-part harmony if choir wishes
- The piano is interesting in that it has an intro “Every mountainside let freedom ring for the hope unseen, the long awaited dream.” From the outset the song references the dream, hope, aspiration of Martin Luther King, Jr. and probably Katherine Lee Bates
- The listener will get a surprise about the melody and take it different places
- Arrangement III is not complicated but musically satisfying
- The hope is that any choir conductor, and music director could listen to all 6 arrangements on the website and find the version that’s suitable for their group, venue, etc.
- Another website resource: downloadable MP3 with piano accompaniment if your group doesn’t have a piano for rehearsal or performance
- Another website resource: download rehearsal example
- Website designed to be user-friendly for everyone
Minute 26:05 to 28:00 How these voice were brought together
- Remarkable and miraculous project!
- As project getting underway, creating website, making sheet music available and at a time when COVID prevents the gathering of live choirs.
- Steve heard a virtual choir music video by Boston Conservatory at Berklee student Shelbie Rassler who was then a senior with some 70 of her student colleagues What the World Needs Now
- Some 2 million people saw and listened and Steve decided "I need this person!"
- People want to see faces and hear actual voices
- Steve asked Shelbie about working together with some of her peers
- They began the work on music videos summer 2020 and finished up fall 2020
- Everything is available for free on the website
- NOTE: These scores are free for non-commercial use. For public performances the lyrics may be included in printed programs or projected on to screens as long as the credits are included. Please consider sending us a YouTube of your performance to be added to our website. For commercial use contact us for permission and licensing.
Minute 28:00 to 37:01 America the Dream Arrangement IV
- The reason for 6 different versions is to offer choices: complicated or simple arrangements
- What’s unusual about Arrangement IV is the level of complexity: the piano part reinforces the melody but almost never plays it
- What makes Arrangement IV gorgeous is the undercurrent - quite unusual and special
- Listen to the piano hinting of melody, like a river or extra current around the melody but not playing the melody
- Not super-difficult but singers would have to be confident of their abilities
This brings tears to my eyes!
- This is a bring it together kind of song
- We don’t have many songs that celebrate the hope and promise of our country
- For many years America the Beautiful is unofficial national anthem because the lyrics speak to love of country but not a militaristic one
- It is sung to a melody written in 1882 by Samuel Augustus Ward, a Newark, New Jersey, church organist and choirmaster
- Very singable!
- In a time of our awareness to bring country together prompted the writing of lyrics about coming together, to sing together
- There has been a need for it all along
- Steve wrote verses with the idea that people would sing - together
Minute 35:00 to 39:00 You use the analogy of a baseball game when you were talking about this work. What does that mean for people who haven’t been the website yet?
Here we are, at the end of the road but not the journey. Thank you for listening to Part 1 of this episode of Stories From Women Who Walk with your host Diane Wyzga and my guest recording artist, musician, composer, and brother-in-law Steve Schuch. We’ll pick up with Part 2 next Thursday to hear more music and how musing on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream and America the Beautiful traveled all its musical way to becoming a new America the Dream.
Remember to visit Steve and Night Heron Music as well as check out the many free resources, sheet music, music, and videos on America the Dream. And, check out the over 200 episodes of Stories From Women Who Walk found on Simplecast or your favorite podcast platform. Come for the stories - stay for the magic! Speaking of magic, I hope you’ll subscribe, leave us a nice shout out on social media, and join us next time! You will have wonderful company as we walk our lives together !
Steve Schuch BIO and Testimonials
Steve Schuch started violin at the age of seven. He began playing professionally while still in high school. Later at Oberlin College he continued studying both music and biology. There he started listening to different kinds of music beyond just classical, picked up his first used $25 guitar, and began writing his first songs.
After college Steve spent two and a half years as a Peace Corps volunteer, planting trees with farmers in the mountains of the Dominican Republic. There he listened to the different melodies and rhythms and began writing more of his own music. Many evenings, a guitar would be passed around a room full of people. By lantern light, young and old alike shared music and stories over cups of ginger root tea and home grown coffee.
Since returning to the United States in 1984, Steve and his music have embraced both the classical and folk realms. Haunting violin and whale calls... music and tales of Ireland... a pizzicato interpretation of a Picasso painting... these are just part of Steve's wide-ranging repertoire. Many of his pieces have been featured on National Public Radio and PBS.
For four years Steve taught a graduate course on integrating music and storytelling into classroom curriculum. A former Audubon naturalist, Steve lives on a farm with his wife and various creatures. Personal interests include white water canoeing, Mexican food, and relating to large reptiles.
Honors include composer awards, Artist Fellowship Awards, and five fiddling championships. Steve's recordings with The Night Heron Consort are national bestsellers on the North Star label. His latest book, A Symphony of Whales, has received five national book awards. His latest CD, Trees of Life, has received a Parent's Choice Gold Award.
"Schuch conveys awe with an economy of language that approaches poetry." ~ The Boston Sunday Globe
"Riveting Indeed." ~ The Smithsonian
"There is great dignity in the simple words, which communicate the author's respect for what he can't explain." ~ -The New York Times
"Warmth and storytelling magic." ~ Los Angeles Times
About Steve's Composing and Playing
"Exceptionally fine... Schuch brings as much intelligence and skill to folk music as he does to classical." ~ The Boston Globe
"Downright exhilarating. Here's a player who doesn't recite music, he paints it." ~ The Lowell Sun
"I really likt your songs and storeys. What do you do for a liveing?" ~ Barry, 3rd grade
America the Dream: https://www.americathedream.org
To find out more from Steve, tap the Interview Clips: https://www.americathedream.org
Steve Schuch and Night Heron Music: https://www.nightheron.com
Stories From Women Who Walk Production Team
Podcaster: Diane F Wyzga: Quarter Moon Story Arts
Music: Entering Erdenheim from Crossing the Waters by Steve Schuch & Night Heron Music
Sound Editing: Dawin Carlisle & First Class Reels
All content and image © 2019 - Present: for credit and attribution Quarter Moon Story Arts