From the recording Threnody
STRINGS FOR ELIJAH (after Cornelius Eady) (2020)
The Cornelius Eady Trio with Jenny Olivia Johnson
Text & Spoken Vocals: Cornelius Eady
Music, Sound Design, Synths: Jenny Olivia Johnson
Choral Vocals: Sylvia Leith and Gilbert Spencer
Guitars: Lisa Liu, Charlie Rauh, Elise Brown, Eric Chasalow, Glorianne Collver-Jacobson, T. Kim, Shu Lee, Diana Tosca, Thomas Ray Willis
Violins: Concetta Abbate, Jason Ashley, Heather Bentley, Kerry Bollinger, Alexandra C. Dionne, Adelaide Federici, Val Gardner, Jamie Keyes, Emily Lee, Sora Akahori McCarty, Harrison Newton, Dustin Peskuric, Anya Sheldon, Maeve Sterbenz, Gloria Sun, and Jake Weinsoff
Baroque Violins: Jeanne Johnson, Jane Starkman, and Daniel Stepner
Viola da Gamba: Laura Jeppesen
Therobo: Catherine Liddell
Psaltery: Claire Fontijn
Clavichord: Margaret Angelini
Ukulele: Ni’Shele Jackson, Umi Akahori McCarty, and Sonja Tengblad
Sitar: Simone Labony Labbance
Cello: David Russell
Basses: Ethan Bassford, Ray Clemens, Jason Goldstein, and Sid Richardson
“Strings for Elijah,” a musical meditation on Cornelius Eady’s poem “Cops in Riot Gear Stormed a Violin Vigil for Elijah McClain,” was written between August and October of 2020 with the generous contributions of over 40 musicians. In July of 2020, after Cornelius and his trio (guitarists Lisa Liu and Charlie Rauh) asked me to contribute a soundscape/musical composition to a recording of Cornelius reciting this poem, my first instinct was to create a musical quilt out of string sounds to support and carry Cornelius’s voice. Elijah McClain (1996-2019) was a violinist and guitarist, and, by all accounts, a generous, sensitive soul. I wanted to weave something meaningful for him, and I felt strongly that I needed the strength and sounds of many others in order to do so. I put out a call for string recordings of any music or instrumental sounds, and was astounded to receive over 40 submissions in just 10 days. I used them all to craft the string textures you will hear throughout the piece. I also wove these string textures with the entangled voices of two wonderful singers, Gilbert Spencer and Sylvia Leith, who respond to Cornelius’s words at various points throughout the piece with hymnal reflections akin to mourning and remembrance. In the last stages of weaving this quilt, Lisa Liu and Charlie Rauh contributed their threads and lines on rich, warm acoustic guitars, and I finally felt where the last stitches on the border of this tapestry could be tied.
Indeed, my work with the Trio on all three of the tracks of this EP has proceeded this way; Cornelius sends me a poem, I create a response, Lisa and Charlie respond to me, and we then all decide when it’s finished. It’s a kind of deep, thoughtful, open collaboration by which I have become moved and changed as an artist over this past summer of #2020.
My sincerest thanks to Cornelius, Lisa, Charlie, Gilbert, Sylvia, and the many wonderful string players who donated their time and sounds to this project--I am grateful to you all.