Natalie Merchant Sings Old Poems to Life
Spectacular! Emotion-bending. Destiny changing… Have you watched (listened to) Natalie Merchant’s TED performance? She performed a sampling from her new album, “Leave Your Sleep”, the culmination of six years spent adapting 19th-century children’s poetry — some obsolete and all but forgotten — to music.
“Merchant’s seven-year sleep has blossomed into this double album of poems set to music that traverses the whole range of American vernacular, from Bluegrass to Cajon to miniature chamber music, and beyond.”(Financial Times)
Merchant awakens Charles Edward Carryl’s “The Sleepy Giant” observing, “Little boys do not like being chewed.” The album includes poetry from Rachel Field, Robert Graves, Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ogden Nash and Edward Lear. In the video she performs Nathalia Crane’s “The Janitor’s Boy”, E.E. Cummings’ “maggie and milly and molly and may”, Laurence Alma-Tadema’s “If No One Ever Marries Me” and Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall: to a young child”. Each sung poem is fresh, inviting and peppered with poignant asides. A comment beneath the YouTube video captures Merchant’s beguiling potency:
“Here she goes again! The angel of sound, rewiring more minds. Once she gets in there, you’ll never get her out again. Just shut it out! Don’t listen! If you do, she’ll make you more human! Run!”
Returning to the stage for an encore, Merchant introduced her final rousing performance: “I’d like to thank everybody… everyone that blew my mind this week. Thank you.” Then she launched into a rousing rendition of “Kind & Generous”, so rousing that she actually interrupted the song and asked the audience to sit, to listen, to consider.
“I still have two minutes… That’s innovative, don’t you think? Calming the audience down… I’m supposed to be whipping you into a frenzy and I… that’s enough… Shhh.”(Natalie Merchant)
So, destiny changing? A stretch, maybe, but Merchant is one of so many voices leading me back to poetry recently. I’m following the siren call, wondering where I’m being lead. And maybe I’ll manage to squeeze in a Natalie Merchant concert along the way…