Home on the Range, Sweet Betsy from Pike, You Are My Sunshine, The Water Is Wide, Shenandoah — chances are at least one of those songs has begun playing its melody in your head as you read its name. In times past, when friends and family gathered for the autumn and winter holidays, they’d get around the piano, or someone would take out a guitar, and voices would be raised to sing these songs. As familiar and as sentimental as many of them are, in many ways they are sort of a melting pot of American music, a mix of folk songs and songs that were popular a hundred or so years ago, music whose melodies have become part of the fabric of life in the United States.
Or maybe not. These songs are not so familiar or well known now as they used to be, which is one of the things Robin Spielberg remembered when she began teaching them to her daughter. She recalled how she had learned them in her family growing up, and she began to think it might be fun, and also a way to share a family tradition of well loved songs, if she made an album of her favorites.
She certainly had the chops to do that. Spielberg is a classically trained pianist who has sold more than three quarters of a million albums world wide. She has been an artist spokesperson in music therapy, and sold out concerts at Carnegie Hall’s historic Weill recital hall in New York City. It was to well loved songs she learned in her childhood, though, that she returned for the album Sea to Shining Sea: A Tapestry of American Music.
She did in a different way that she usually works, too. Spielberg most often tours and records as a solo artist. She planned this album to be an instrumental one, focusing on melody, but she found she needed more than her own instrument. “I discovered early on that it was nearly impossible to capture the true essence of each song on piano alone,” she says. So she invited several musical friends, including oboe and English horn player Nancy Rumbel and cellist Catherine Bent, to make up a small ensemble. The result is a fine and flowing collection of well loved melodies along with three Spielberg originals, which fit in well with the well known pieces.
Carrying on musical tradition in the family Spielberg’s daughter Valerie also came along to play bells and marimba on several of the songs. ”It was loads of fun having Valerie involved,” Spielberg says. “Keeping this incredible music alive through the generations motivated this recording.” As you gather with friends and family this winter season, this might be music you will want to bring along as well.
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