By Laurelle Walsh
Friends and colleagues of Lynette Westendorf know that she has been hard at work for several years researching, composing and recording an oratorio about boy soldiers who served in the Civil War that she has titled Lonesome as the Land. Now a 70-minute-long compact disc of the composition is being mastered, soon to be duplicated and ready for release.
Westendorf is a Winthrop-based composer, best known around the Methow Valley for her frequent solo, group and orchestral performances on piano. She has also composed for documentary film, orchestra, chamber ensemble, voice and chorale, as well as solo instruments. Lonesome as the Land is her fifth CD recording.
Next year will mark 150 years since the end of the Civil War, and Westendorf sees this CD as both a history lesson and memento of the anniversary. The CD release date is tentatively set for late November.
Westendorf began reading about the Civil War in 2011 when much new material about Abraham Lincoln was released, coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the start of the war. She saw a photo essay by Cate Lineberry on nytimes.com about Civil War boy soldiers and “just got hooked on this story, initially from the incredible photos,” she said.
She followed up on Lineberry’s sources and quickly became fascinated by the diaries and letters of American soldiers — most of them drummers — fighting for both the North and the South, some as young as 8 years old.
“Even though children grew up more quickly in the mid-19th century, all the boys still sound like boys — matter of fact, witty, interested in food, longing for families and homes far away,” Westendorf wrote in the liner notes. “It’s not all sad. But it is a story of the terrible war on our home soil, when brother fought brother, and friend fought friend,” she said.
The oratorio begins pre-war, with boys’ voices telling how they first heard of the war and how they enlisted. The voices are backed by a moody sound collage played on violin, snare drum, piccolo, harmonica and harmonium, played — as in all the movements — by Westendorf and local musicians, recorded at her home studio.
Five narrators, nine vocalists and 10 musicians contributed to the recordings, a testament to the wide range of talents right here in the Methow Valley. Highlights include Tara Weaver’s expert interpretations of contemporary and traditional melodies on violin, John Almquist’s renderings of old-time tunes on banjo and fiddle, Egon Steinebach’s improvisations of traditional American songs on harmonica, and Rebecca Kinney’s clear and soaring vocals.
Four of the narrators were Westendorf’s piano students, all middle- and high-school students. Some of them also sing on the recording. “Their interpretations are so real, so sincere, and so full of life … Everyone really put their hearts into this project,” Westendorf said.
Lonesome as the Land continues with diary entries and poetry of the period that take the listener through the grisly war, ending with the boys’ descriptions of returning home, changed and relieved.
Westendorf began a Kickstarter campaign in late October to raise money for CD duplication. The funding period, which ends Nov. 26, has already attracted 54 backers pledging a total of $3,800. To make a pledge to the project — and get a signed copy of the CD — go to www.kickstarter.com/projects/680056294/lonesome-as-the-land-cd-duplication.
Thrilled that she has already reached her funding goal to pay for duplication, Westendorf plans to devote the remaining funds to a premiere concert on Jan. 14, 2015, at The Merc Playhouse, as well as a donation to Carlton Complex Fire recovery.
For more information contact Westendorf at email@example.com, or 996-3418.