By Laurelle Walsh
Winthrop composer Lynette Westendorf debuts her oratorio, Lonesome as the Land: The Civil War through the diaries of boy soldiers, with a performance at The Merc Playhouse in Twisp on Wednesday, Jan. 14, at 7 p.m. Admission is by donation.
The premiere will run about 50 minutes, and follow the sequence of the full oratorio, which was released on CD last month. Unlike the CD, the performance is being treated as a theater piece, with no amplification and no microphones, Westendorf said. “The overall sound will be very quiet,” she said.
Lonesome as the Land tells the story of the boys who volunteered or were conscripted to be soldiers — most to serve as drummer boys — during the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865. Weaving together excerpts from the boys’ diaries and letters home, as well as Civil War-era poetry by Walt Whitman, Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson, music from the period and her own original score, Westendorf creates a multi-movement work that is both haunting and poignant.
The oratorio begins on a darkened stage, pre-war, with boys’ voices telling the story of how they first heard of the war and how they enlisted. Their voices will be backed by a moody sound collage of violin, snare drum, piccolo, harmonica and harmonium, played — as in all the movements — by Westendorf and local musicians.
The musical story continues through the war, taking the audience through battlefields, cold, hunger and homesickness, and ends with the young men returning home, changed and relieved.
“I’m really looking forward to performing Lonesome as the Land because I always feel that live music is best,” said Westendorf. “In spite of the lack of studio control and the sense of perfection one tries to achieve in the studio, there will be an excitement and emotion to the live performance, I’m sure,” she said.
While some of the original participants will not be present for the debut, many of the local performers featured on the CD will provide instrumentation, narration and song. These include Rebecca Kinney and Meghan Sullivan on vocals; musicians Tara Weaver, John Almquist, Taera Jones, Egon Steinebach, Howie Johnson and Mike Conrad; and narrators Richard Hart, Asa Daniels, Derek Alumbaugh, Peter Aspholm, Sage McFetridge and Travis Grialou.
Westendorf encourages people to stay after the show for a discussion of the project. Lonesome as the Land CDs will also be available for purchase at that time.
For more information contact Westendorf at (509) 429-2054.