Every Nigth When the Sun Goes In

Have you ever heard a Lame Sonore? (French musical saw) Have you ever heard a duet for Soprano and Lame Sonore? This is a song I recorded with my friends Annette Scholten and Nanke Flach last summer in the Netherlands. It has quite an interesting history, so you might want to read the program notes first! (even if you’re not a music geek!!!)


 

EVERY NIGHT WHEN THE SUN GOES IN

I first learned this Appalachian folk song in high school, when my Advanced Voice class sang it a cappella in four part harmony. Under the artistic guidance of instructor Betsy King (an outstanding mentor and friend), of Community High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, this song blossomed and grew in my emotional landscape every time we performed it. I often sang it on my own outside of class just to feel the deep chords of memory, emotion and comfort it always inspired. Although we can’t always articulate it, music speaks to us in a language of shared humanity, and this song resonated with me as few others have.

At the time, I didn’t realize Every Night would become a kind of milestone, a vocal handwriting on the wall of my life. I’ve been singing it on my own for forty years, in a forest, in the shower, in the car, on a hilltop in East Africa, on stage at auditions, sitting on a picnic bench, whenever and wherever the mood struck. I loved the idea of being part of a long chain of people whose lives have been connected by music, as this song originated in old England, in a tradition of folk ballads that traveled to Appalachia in the centuries before me.

Coming to the New World with immigrants, the folk ballad took root in the Appalachian Mountains, soaking up the feelings and sentiments of those who lived there, and reflecting their lives and dreams. Every Night would have been touched and shaped by Europeans, by African Americans, by Native Americans, by the women who lived and loved and gave birth and died in those mountains, and this song arises from a tragic past in which women were sometimes rejected by their lovers once they became pregnant. On occasion they were even murdered by their boyfriends, and this song expresses the sadness of a young pregnant woman whose grief is so great she wishes for the peace of death.

Odd that such a dark past could generate a song of such beauty and comfort, but that is the very nature of music—people create songs at times of change and upheaval in their lives, and while the events themselves may not be the same, the feelings they inspire can still be shared and understood by those who sing the songs a hundred years later. Every Night reflects the social reality at the time in Appalachia, but the experience of loss is universal, as well as the sense that life isn’t taking the direction you’d hoped. It’s how we cope with it that defines who we are. In Every Night, the young woman whose heart is broken responds not with anger or vindictiveness, but simply with the desire that her child be well, that he be not saddened, and even that he be safe and well with his father, the very man who has rejected her.

The simplicity of this message is reflected in the unadorned lyrics and repetitive melody, in a soft lullaby:

Every Night When The Sun Goes In
Every Night When The Sun Goes In
Every Night When The Sun Goes In
I hang down my head, and mournful cry.

True love don’t weep, true love don’t mourn,
True love don’t weep, true love don’t mourn,
True love don’t weep, nor mourn for me,
I’m going away to Marble Town.

I wish to the Lord that train would come,
I wish to the Lord that train would come,
I wish to the Lord that train would come,
to take me back where I come from.

It’s once my apron’s hung down low,
He’ll follow me through sleet and snow.
It’s now my apron’s to my chin
He’ll face my door, but won’t come in.

I wish to the Lord my babe was born,
and sittin’ upon his daddy’s knee.
And me, poor girl, was dead and gone,
and the green grass growin’ over me.

True love don’t weep, true love don’t mourn,
True love don’t weep, true love don’t mourn,
True love don’t weep, nor mourn for me,
I’m going away to Marble Town.

The fourth stanza pretty clearly explains the nature of her dilemma, and Marble Town, of course, refers to the graveyard. The ‘high lonesome’ style of singing may have migrated from bluegrass country of Kentucky into the hills of Appalachia, and the influence of blues, jazz and soul have all been mixed into the sweet and savory stew of ballads from the Old World.

Every Night continued its journey on my own life map when I returned to southern California in 2001, after ten years in Africa. I was a trained veterinarian but wanted to also get a degree in music, and so went to California State University Long Beach to sign up as an Extension student. It turned out that I needed to go sign up for an audition that very day, which made me nervous since I didn’t have anything prepared. I was invited into the office of Professor Jonathan Talberg, the director of vocal studies, sang Every Night When The Sun Goes In a capella, and was accepted into the University Choir. It was a spontaneous and pivotal moment, the start of a lifelong friendship with Professor Talberg, a truly gifted teacher and outstanding mentor.

It also marked the start of six years of full-time music school, culminating in a Master of Music degree. From singing Every Night in Jonathan’s office, I went to China, singing with the University Choir on the Great Wall and at the People’s Place in Tiananmen Squarre, to singing in the cathedrals of Venice, at the Vatican for High Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, singing inside the Sistine Chapel and bringing tears to the eyes of the Vatican guards. Professor Talberg blazed a trail with his choirs from Italy’s Amalfi Coast to the Czech Republic to northern California and I was privileged to be part of it all. It had begun with singing Every Night in his office.

After graduation I no longer sang with the choirs but did some solo work, and traveled to Italy to compete in an international music competition. It was called Ibla Grand Prize and takes place in the World Heritage city of Ragusa Ibla, on the island of Sicily, every summer. While there my mother and I met two Dutch women, Annette Scholten and Nanke Flach, a duo who were also performing in the competition. Nanke is a pianist and Annette a cellist, but instead of cello Annette was performing on the Lame Sonore, an instrument I’d never heard of before.

‘Lame Sonore’ is French for sonorous blade, and is basically a French musical saw. The instrument, not an actual saw but a finely crafted blade of tempered steel, was made by Alexis Feucompre, an artisan in the south of France, one of the very few in the world who make them. Annette and Nanke had applied to enter the Ibla Grand Prize competition as a piano/Lame Sonore duo, but then had to explain to everyone what it is since no one had ever heard of it.

The Ibla Grand Prize competition hosts performances all week long in the heart of the medieval city of Ibla Ragusa, and my mother and I went to hear Nanke and Annette every chance we had. They were captivating from the very beginning—once you hear the piano and the Lame Sonore together you won’t forget it. The voice of the Lame Sonore is unlike any other instrument, haunting and other-worldly, and surprisingly reminiscent of a human voice, almost like the singing of a ghost. I knew immediately that I wanted to sing with the Lame Sonore, and I had just the song for it. I had always wanted to arrange Every Night for soprano and instruments, but hadn’t yet found the right circumstances. This Appalachian folk ballad had traveled well so far, getting me in to music school and coming with me to Africa, and now Sicily and the Netherlands would become part of its tapestry.

Nanke, Annette, my mother and I spent the week together, having lunch, eating pizza, attending each other’s performances and ending up at magnificent Italian villa for the gala celebration at the end of the competition. Every day we learned more about their strong partnership and their astonishing journey with the Lame Sonore, which had actually begun with a real saw. They were using the saw to illustrate sound waves in a science program for schoolchildren in the Netherlands, and as they listened with a trained musician’s ear the idea came about that this sound could be controlled, that there was music here.

Annette discovered that the musical saw already existed in the form of the Lame Sonore, an instrument nearly lost to obscurity, and had one made for her by Alexis Feucompre. With Nanke’s help, Annette spent the next two years learning how to play it, looking for suitable music, and performing as a duo in the Netherlands. Their trip to Ragusa Ibla was their first big sojourn onto an international stage, and not only did they do very well in the competition, they were invited to tour in the United States the following spring, and I flew to meet them in New York City where they performed at Carnegie Hall.

We were very interested in performing together and they liked the idea of Every Night. I wanted to do it as a duet for soprano and Lame Sonore, since the two are so similar, with piano and strings accompaniment. I contacted composer Nathanael Tronerud through the music school at Cal State Long Beach, and emailed him a cell phone recording of my singing it a capella. He researched the history of Every Night When The Sun Goes In and composed a seven and a half minute art song, with soprano, Lame Sonore, piano, cello and violin. His creation is something unique, timeless and original, capturing the essence of longing and the simplicity of the story, finely weaving together the voice and Lame Sonore. And all based on a folk song born in the remote hills of Appalachia.

Nanke, Annette and I practiced Every Night separately on two different continents using practice mp3’s, but electronic music couldn’t convey the real sound of voice and Lame Sonore, or stir emotion as a live performance can. We planned and practiced for months, looking forward to finally being able to perform it together, with live musicians in northern Holland. We got together in June 2016 in the Netherlands, with recording engineer Arnoud van der Laan in a little town called Wildervank in the north. We recorded inside a church, taking advantage of the acoustic space, and spent hours performing, recording, listening and re-doing takes. The chance to perform this song together—no more electronics—was exciting and created a great sense of anticipation.

Annette was on cello when we played as an ensemble, since she would be recording the Lame Sonore part separately. So by mid-day we still didn’t know what the piece would sound like with soprano and Lame Sonore, until Annette then recorded her part by herself, while listening to a recording of the morning’s work.

Arnoud put Annette’s Lame Sonore part together with our morning’s recording, and Nanke and I put the headsets on. We were the first to hear the real song: the Lame Sonore and the soprano together, as they were written. The song’s haunting melody sparked a flood of memory, from Betsy King’s choir forty years ago in Michigan, to the starry skies of Africa, Jonathan Talberg’s office at music school, Ibla Ragusa on the island of Sicily, rehearsing in Nanke’s piano studio in Groningen, and now this. Every Night was beautiful, and just the right choice for such a duet.

The two voices, the soprano and the Lame Sonore, represent the inner and outer voices of the pregnant girl. The soprano line uses words to voice her sorrow and regret, and her wish that her child be safe. The Lame Sonore, with its subtle and other-worldly feel, represents the girl’s inner voice, a steadying influence in her world which is spiraling out of control. We can hear this happening in the fourth stanza,

It’s now my apron’s to my chin
He’ll face my door, but won’t come in.

The soprano line reaches an unresolved climax—highly unusual in a lullaby, so the piano’s sweet major-key comfort restores the lullaby and the voice of the Lame Sonore becomes her inner strength. Its return to the melody is reassuring, an emotional anchor for a lost and frightened girl who wishes for death in childbirth. Nathanael Tronerud’s arrangement has beautifully captured the subtleties of this timeless story.

The real power of music is its ability to inspire the imagination of those who hear it. Every Night When The Sun Goes In is now on YouTube accompanied by a collage of images invoking the mountain setting of the original story, and the experience of watching and listening to it is different with every performance. Like fine wine, music just gets better with age.

Every Night When The Sun Goes In, Traditional, arranged by Nathanael Tronerud. Soprano: Meredith Kennedy, Lame Sonore: Annette Scholten,
Piano: Nanke Flach, Cello: Annette Scholten, Violin: Inge Muntendam
Recording: Arnoud van der Laan, http://www.ae-audio.nl
http://www.annettescholten.nl/en/lame-sonore/
http://nankeflach.nl/nl_NL/
https://meredith-kennedy-tyhh.squarespace.com
http://nate.tronerud.com
http://www.ibla.org
https://web.csulb.edu/…/choral-vocal-o…/jonathan-talberg.php