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Reviews and Interviews

On this page you'll find reviews of:

CDs

Concerts

Videos

and Interviews

CD Reviews

Fager som en ros (Nykken)

It was with great pleasure that I listened to the debut CD of Scandinavian trio, Nykken. The quality of the recording is excellent - pure, clean with a wonderful range of sounds. While CD packaging is less and less an important part of music production in our digital age, I was really impressed with the beautiful digi-pack presentation which really invited me to pop it open and put the CD on the player. Extensive liner notes accompanied which I really enjoyed reading as I listened.

I will forego explaining all the wonderful panoply of instruments the group plays, including vocals - but there are a lot of them and many quite unusual, which in itself will be of great interest to any prospective listener.  [Nykken is: Barbary Grant on Celtic harp, cello, button accordion, percussion and Norwegian vocals; Verlene Schermer on harpguitar, nyckelharpa, fiddle, cittra, harp and Swedish vocals; and Enid Bennion on nyckelharpa and harmony vocals.]
Even though the group hails from California, Nykken evokes a great deal of authenticity in the genre of Scandinavian folk music. I have listened to a lot of Scandinavian folk music, and had I not known that they are American, I would have thought this was a group from Sweden. Playing Scandinavian folk music in an authentic style is no easy feat as the music requires a certain "feel" and "lilt" to get right. I had been told outsiders can spend 10 years living in Sweden steeped in the music and learning from native musicians - and after all that, still be "just starting" to "get" the music. Nykken really seems to have defied that!

All the instruments are performed with deft facility and the vocals, to my ear, sound like native born speakers. The arrangements are very refined, skilled and at times quite intricate without sounding overly so - just natural, and naturally interesting. It would be difficult to pick out a stand-out track on this diverse album. I am sure the gorgeous song "Stilla Ro Och Nära" would bring a tear to many eyes. "Grevelius Polonaise" "Slängpolska efter Byss Kalle" and "Slängpolska efter Juringius" are familiar tunes culled from the repertoire of the internationally famous Swedish folk trio, Väsen, but Nykken brings their own sound and take on them which render them very enjoyable - like you're greeting an old friend who had an interesting change of look that makes them seem fresh and happy.

Nykken offers a wonderful opportunity for all listeners of Scandinavian folk music. They offer beautiful and accessible material to draw in new listeners. And for those who are already familiar with Scandinavian folk music, Nykken does the music justice by their skilled and authentic renderings.
Aryeh Frankfurter, professional recording artist and multi-instrumentalist
The Nykken CD can be purchased on their website at www.nykken.com.

Peace

Throughout history humans have been guilty of strife and violence; we ’ve also had a desire for peace and the capacity to forgive and to love.  The latter has a champion in Verlene Schermer’s new CD “Peace,” a collection of nearly a dozen and a half pieces dedicated to motivate the listener to encourage, entice, and inspire peace. And toward this end she’s taken a bold step.

Verlene has written and arranged 16 songs featuring talented musicians that, at times, include an electric guitar, a cello, a dulcimer, a trombone, and, of course, the harp. She plays and sings with an intensity that both grabs and seduces the listener. The message of peace has never made so much sense. While the album is not a strictly folk harp collection of songs, Verlene manages to make her harp both elegantly unobtrusive and yet vital to the pieces. Sometimes she plays it aggressively, sometimes jazzy, and other times in a way that haunts you until you hit the repeat button again and again. And then those lyrics come again and you find yourself not only tapping your foot, but thinking. Hard.

The arrangements vary from smooth jazz to a pop feel, and the instrument levels are agreeable. This CD would make nice background music, but only if you kept the volume low; her message is hard to ignore. And that’s a good thing.

Part of the profits from the sale of this CD will go toward peace and humanitarian efforts. If your friends are convinced that all harp music is either Christmas music, or rooted in Celtic tradition, this album will open eyes.

Given the state of world affairs, we need more voices like Verlene’s. Given the state of most harp CD collections, we need something like this too. 

--Mark Feil
Folk Harp Journal
Fall 2005


Wishing You Well


Like many harpers, Verlene bases most of the songs in this collection on the traditional Celtic favorites we ’ve all come to love: Bridget Cruise, Wild Mountain Thyme, Give Me Your Hand, Si Bheg Si Mohr, and many others. However, she also chooses to venture into some classical territory with an arrangement of Gustav Holst’s Jupiter from his Planets Suite. Granted, she doesn’t have a 120 piece symphony orchestra behind her, but in her hands, it sounds grand and bewitching, like it belongs on the folk harp.

The traditional pieces she tackles include a number of O’Carolan songs, others from the Celtic lands, and one each from France and Norway, as well as one of her own. There’s also an inspirational piece from a non-Titanic movie.

The pieces are simply Verlene and her harp. No voice, no drums, nothing else to hide the naked beauty of her technique and the tone of her instrument. Until you get to the end of track 17 where two minutes of silence wait to cleanse you auditory palette. Track 18 is a hidden track that those impatient for more will never hear because of those quiet minutes. Verlene wishes the listener well, and sings for the first time on this album.

This delightful collection of songs amounts to over 60 minutes of instrumental harp music played in such a way that you’ll miss it when it’s over.  This is a great one to have for the holidays. Oh, and did I mention that Verlene sounds as though she’s playing two harps because the entire album is played on a double strung harp? Believe it. Or not, because she’s that good!

--Mark Feil
Folk Harp Journal
Fall 2005


Persephone's Art

Verlene Schermer’s latest CD was quite a surprise to me.  I expected maybe a little Celtic music, maybe some nice New Age stuff.  I was unprepared for the incredible musical feast she hosted in my stereo.

If you like jazz, if you like a smooth female vocalist enjoying herself with a groovin’ crew, if you can’t keep your feet still when a beat grabs you, this is the CD to ask for when your birthday comes around.  Ooh, baby! Nah, make up an occasion if you have to.  One listen to this collection of tunes and you’ll know why.

To detail all the enjoyable qualities of each song would take more room than this column allows.  Suffice it to say that this CD swings, rolls, and has an all-around good time anyway you want to measure it.  Be forewarned, however, you must like jazz.  If you want traditional, and that definition doesn’t include Gershwin, this CD will not be your cup of tea.

Please note also that Ms. Schermer has done her homework.  The ensemble includes a great team on bass and drums, and the harp dances with the keyboard, guitar, and a terrific sax plyer with an intimacy normally reserved for significant others.  Some of the songs are slow and melodic, others rip and swing, but all are expressive and enjoyable.

Cross Diane Schurr with Deborah Henson-Conant and you’ve got an idea of Verlene’s sound.  I don’t say that lightly, but Lordy, Lordy!  What a pleasant surprise!

--Mark Feil
Folk Harp Journal
Fall 2001


On A Snowy Eve

“On a Snowy Eve” represents a collaboration between two duos, both composed of familiar names: Silverwood is Linnette Bommarito (flute and vocals) and Verlene Schermer (guitar, harp, fiddle, and smoky vocals), and Spookeytree is Debra Knodel (harps, vocals, bells, and chimes) and Jane Valencia (oboe, English horn, wire and nylon harps, and vocals).  The collaboration is primarily on the surface – most of the tracks are presented by one group or the other, not both together (three of the tracks toward the end do involve both groups).  Thus, fans of either will find something on the CD, and fans of both get 2 groups for one.

I have a soft spot for any album that begins with “Carolan’s Welcome,” it being one of my favorites, and the first tune on the first harp recording I bought.  The version here is very nice, in particular the addition of oboe and English horn, to bring a new edge to this popular selection.  It was a good omen for the album as a whole.  It’s also hard to bring new life to an old chestnut like Greensleeves, but Verlene pulls it off in the second track, by combining it with “The Evergreen,” a song of her own, and then giving the traditional English tune a syncopated beat that makes it a lot of fun to listen to.  The remaining selection of tunes on the album is broad in scope, ranging from hymns to Christmas carols, to other traditional tunes, and contemporary compositions (including three by Verlene and one by Jane).

The liner notes provide a little information about each piece, including lyrics in the case of most (but not all) of the songs, a plus for people who want to sing along.  The CD avoids being explicitly a Christmas album (and, in truth, only 2 or 3 tunes are Christmas carols), preferring to be classed as winter music.  I can understand why – I am always ambivalent about buying a Christmas album, which will only enjoy very limited play.  “On a Snowy Eve” manages to be more than that.  Personally, I think that this would be the perfect sort of thing to play for a New Year’s gathering of friends and family (okay, “Auld Lang Syne” isn’t there, but you can find it anywhere).  With its blend of relaxing, meditative melodies and more lively, upbeat, hopeful tunes, this album is an excellent choice to complement a celebration of the dark of the year, whatever form that may take.

Kevin Kinney
Folk Harp Journal
Winter 2000
 
 



Rendezvous with the Moon

For those listeners who equate folk harp with any one particular genre this recording is a real departure.  Verlene Schermer’s musical expression is heavily flavored with jazz and blues.  Her strong voice soars and skips through the sometimes unexpected intervals of her original songs accompanied by her harps and other instruments.

Although vocals are in the forefront throughout this recording, that is not to say the harp is left out in the cold by any means.  Verlene’s use of the harp here is to create a rhythmic, textured ground to support the lyrics and frequently the harp steps up to take the lead on the melody line or a jazzy solo.  In addition to her nylon-strung harp, Verlene also uses a wire-strung harp for sparkle and a cross-strung harp to create and highlight discord.  For those who are used to listening to diatonic harp the chromaticism of the cross-strung really perks up the ears. 

I find it maddening when the harp is drowned out by other instruments but that is not a problem here.  This CD is well-recorded with professional cleanliness and balance throughout.  Each instrument retains its voice in relation to the others. 

One of the strengths of this recording is the good groove achieved by percussion in support of the rhythmic harp work.  One of my favorite cuts is “Watch Your Blues Fade Away” with its easy Brazilian jazz feel. Verlene’s vocal work here is smooth and perfectly suited to the song.  Also deserving of special mention is Verlene’s sensitive rendition of “you Take my Breath Away” (Made famous by Tuck and Patti) in which her vocal caresses are beautifully and simply supported with the harp.

If you are intested in hearing a harpist push some boundaries with unique song-writing skills and a jazzy flair, then get a copy of this CD.  You’ll hear the harp entering into some new territory. If you are moved to investigate this territory yourself Verlene has also published a book of her 13 original songs from the recording. 

--Laurie Rasmussen
Folk Harp Journal
Winter 1998

 



Dreamtime
"Dreamtime" Now a Reality

Verlene Schermer's long awaited second album (and the most harp-centric yet) is now available. Titled "Dreamtime," this album features all original works arranged and sung by Verlene herself, and powerfully delivers the high standard of talent and quality we have all come to associate with her work. The harp playing and arranging are truly unique and delightful -- combining Celtic touches with the more contemporary themes of blues, jazz, and cabaret styles. Verlene stretches the harp far beyond the traditional boundaries and makes it shine!

The album is available on cassette and compact disc -- it is beautifully packaged in original artwork by Debra Knodel.
--Karla Burns
The Fling
 

This collection of originals is truly a voyage past the endless sky! Verlene's voice is one of compassion and optimism - expressive and strong, vibrant with power, delicacy, and a bluesy color. Her folk harp takes up the role usually given to the guitar - adding its own cheerful spirit and punchy rhythm. These songs are the kind you find yourself singing both with the album and beyond! 
--Jane Valencia 
a harper's garden

 

 


Comfortable Blues

With the release of her debut solo album, "Comfortable Blues," Schermer firmly places herself among a special breed of performers like Sarah Brightman or Patti LuPone, whose versatile talents cover stage musicals, cabarets, and the adult contemporary charts. Schermer's voice is a study in refined, calculated control which highlight her lyric-laden musical compositions. . .

Verlene's voice works so well in the moody ballad or show tune context that it is a wonder why she hasn't by now taken center stage in a popular contemporary musical production. . . (Andrew Lloyd Webber, please take note).

"Comfortable Blues" is a compilation of Schermer's versatile originals. The album's title is drawn from a strong cut called "The Ostrich," a social lament on apathy. There is a polished pop sheen which permeates this independently produced collection, although the songs themselves shift gears from uptempo, rock-flavored numbers to smoky, jazz-infused ballads with a touch of the blues.

Schermer's music is given strong support from top-notch accompanists, and the album's most powerful moments belong to mood numbers like "What's Making You Blue" and "Now I Know," where Schermer's expressive vocal abilities are at their finest. . .
--Sean Pike
Guitar Showcase Times

 

Concert Reviews

The following two reviews were of a concert that took place on September 22, 2001 in Freising, Germany, near Munich

Musical Sympathy
“Harp Beat” presents Rock as well as a dedication to US terror-victims

Freising – It was not supposed to take place, but happily, it took place after all:  the harp concert with the three Californians Verlene Schermer, Nancy Thym, and Kyle Wohlmut on Saturday evening in the completely packed cellar of the Lindenkeller.  Because of the present situation in America it was supposed to be canceled: no loud music in the face of so much suffering.  But the three Americans performed their program with the motto: Music as a sign of sorrow and courage – but of course also as an acoustical pleasure for friends of harp music.

There were loud and soft, melodious, rhythmic, swinging, and folk sounds on this evening.  The three musicians – accompanied by Robyn Hochrein on drums – have known each other for a long time but were performing together for the first time.  They arranged well-known and traditional instrumental and vocal music and also distinguished themselves as composers.  Verlene Schermer sang her own composition about the terrorist attacks in America, making it clear that this evening was not purely a harp concert, but also brought Germans and Americans together in mutual sympathy over recent events.

The three are masters of their instrument and anyone hearing them play could hardly imagine that the harp was once the attribute of King David or medieval angels.  The trio adapted Celtic music from Ireland and Scotland as well as the modern sounds of Elvis Presley, “Manhattan Transfer” or the “Beach Boys”: the harp proved to be a congenial medium for Rock Jazz or Blues, which was heard in a completely different manner.  Kyle Wohlmut demonstrated this with his harp solos as did Nancy Thym and Verlene Schermer, instrumentally as well as with their pure soprano voices.

And for whom the English was too American, Nancy Thym helped through difficulties in understanding with her translations.  An evening that was worth it.

Dr. Angelika Leitzke
Freisinger Tagblatt
Nummer 220 FS 5
Montag, 24, September 2001


(translated from German by Nancy Thym)
Harp concert of a special class in the Lindenkeller
Rousing Rock and sensitive Ballads
Nancy Thym, Kyle Wohlmut and Verlene Schermer coax unusual sounds from their instruments

Freising - At least as long as Nancy Thym has been here, it is well known in our area that the harp can produce more than just classical sounds. It was not by accident that the experiment-loving harpist and researcher, who put on a special class of concert on Saturday in the Lindenkeller, was chosen to receive the cultural award a year ago. 
She, along with her two colleagues, who also hail from California, was happy that the concert was able to take place at a time when so many events are being canceled. She thanked Medea Schmitt, director of the cultural bureau, and mayor Dieter Thalhammer, who were willing to let the concert take place. Nancy Thym is convinced that especially "at times like this, the world needs music more than ever".   

Accordingly, the trio began their concert, under the motto "Harp Beat", with quiet and contemplative traditional Celtic melodies. The sell-out crowd, which listened with rapt attention, responded to each piece with sweeping applause. The three musicians were not only convincing in their combination of the three harps, but also as a duo or solo and they bathed the audience in a variety of different emotions. 

Of the three, Kyle Wohlmut, who now lives the Netherlands produced the most unusual sounds on his strings of brass with which he can recall the sounds of the Renaissance as well as those of jazz. He even mastered the typical groove of "Take Five" and accompanied Verlene Schermer's warm voice, who, besides extensive musical studies has also had classical voice training. Her voluminous voice, resonant timbre and irresistible charm give her song interpretations and her own compositions that Certain Something which places her in the best tradition of singer-songwriters. Her modern Celtic harp is clearly the ideal accompanying instrument. 
Nancy Thym uses a variety of harps for interpretations of Rock and Pop. 

Appropriate to the events of September 11 in New York and Washington she sings a moving ballad of the fortunes of life one moment and in the next slips cockily into the role of Tina Turner.  The three belted out a completely boisterous rendition of "Hit the Road Jack" to the accompaniment of Robyn Hochrein on drums and let the audience forgot completely that they were hearing anything but a typical rock band combo. Even more infectious was their arrangement of "I Will Survive", which in view of the terrorist attacks, could not have been more dramatic. The stormy applause afterwards demanded yet another encore; with the sensitive "Stand by Me" they could not have made a better choice.

Elisabeth Hoffmann
Freisinger SZ Nr. 221/Seite R 7
Dienstag, 25, September 2001


This concert took place on September 20, 2001 in Konstancz, Germany

EVERY HAND TAKES THE PLACE OF AN INSTRUMENT
Duo "Lazarus Harps" showcases harp's potential in K9

In the Bible, Lazarus is said to have been raised from the dead by Jesus.   In an analagous sense one could interpret the name of the American band project "The Lazarus Harps" as: harps, which often adorn the background of 
musical works with their euphony, here step back into the spotlight and even tread on the territory of other instruments.  Those to whom this sounds interesting could have recently experienced it live for two hours in the K9 
Cultural Center.  The head and founder of the project, which appears and records in various settings, is the Californian (now residing in Holland) Kyle Wohlmut, a folksy-yet-progressive harpist.  For the current tour, he found the ideal partner in his acquaintance from the US, Verlene Schermer, for releasing the new potential of the traditional instrument struggling to get out.  

A fairly wide spectrum of music was presented in the K9-- from music of the 17th century to rock songs like "Jessica" by the Allman Brothers.  "We'll start Irish, and then we degenerate to Jazz," joked Schermer during the introduction to the song "Scotch and Soda," which both players than wove together in a rare artistic display: Wohlmut took the Irish part, Schermer played a bar-jazz ballad, accompanying her full, warm voice.

In other numbers, too, the duo complemented each other on a sublime level.  In the jazz classic "Take Five," for example, into which Schermer wove a phrase from "Jesus Christ Superstar" and Wohlmut threw in an Irish tune.  And in the folk tunes played in duet, each hand took up the part of a different instrument-- from fiddle to mandolin to banjo.

For the most part the two artists traded off.  Wohlmut produced unusual sounds using various effects devices, making his harp sound like a wailing guitar in one moment and then a twittering oriental instrument the next.  In the piece "An Dro," he took on the role of a complete band, initially sampling a melody loop and then playing over it.  Schermer deftly navigated her songs among Jazz, Pop and Blues.  Especially gripping, understandably, was her newest piece "Half A World Away," which she wrote, while already on tour in Europe, as an emotional response to the horrible terrorist attacks in the USA.

Thomas Zoch
Konstanzer Kultureleben
ANZE!GER 
22.9.01



June, 1998 ISFHC Conference in Galveston Texas

... Verlene Schermer gave a powerful performance of her original songs, demonstrating her wonderful voice, and accompanying herself on lever harp, O'Lughlin cross-strung chromatic harp, and a new Camac blue electric harp, which she purchased at the conference.

Pamela Bruner
Folk Harp Journal
Fall 1998



1/12/96

Verlene Schermer at the New Pieces Gallery

"Singer/Songwriter/Harper/Storyteller"... VERLENE SCHERMER wore all those hats with style at her first appearance at the New Pieces Gallery on January 12th.

This was also the debut of her new album Dreamtime,, and we were treated to several of Verlene's "new pieces," along with her arrangements of a variety of other songs-- from "Bridget Cruise" to Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" (which has words, too-- just imagine playing Take Five on a lever harp and singing at the same time). The personal favorites of our carload from the South Bay were "Dreamtime," "Further On," "The Prisoner," and "Solitude," from her new album, and Verlene's arrangements of Joan Armatrading's "Weakness in Me" and Kate Bush's "James and the Cold Gun." "Further On" wins the informal poll as the one you will find yourself humming.

Verlene's multi-instrumental background undoubtedly contributes to the depth and innovativeness of her harp arrangements, and her voice is a pleasure to hear, both singing and speaking. She held the audience spellbound with her magical story of a harper apprentice, entitled "Sorrow, Comfort, and Joy." Change it to "Sorrow, Comfort, Joy, and Just Plain Fun" and you have a description of this concert: harp and voice well played, and well worth the drive over to Berkeley. Thank you, Verlene!
-- Karla Burns
The Fling

 


2/11/96

BAFHS Benefit Concert: More strings than you can shake a stick at

Sister-society BAFHS held a benefit concert at the world-famous Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, CA on February 11th. First up was BAFHS president Mitch Landy, who delivered a whimsical set of pop- and jazz-oriented tunes arranged for lever harp. After playing, Mitch continued on as emcee, and introduced the next performer, Chris Caswell. A legendary figure in the modern revival of Celtic music, Chris was full of surprises-- he began by playing several tunes on Paraguayan harp, and when he picked up the wire-strung clarsach he is more commonly associated, he played a blues number ("Without a Man," by Piper Hudson of the Cats & Jammers, who backed Chris on vocals, drums and Paraguayan harp throughout his set)! This tune brought the house down and the set to a close. After the intermission the HH&c's own VERLENE SCHERMER bowled the audience over with her usual flawless performance of eclectic original music with stunning vocals, as well as a few choice pop covers. For most of the East Bay audience, this was their first exposure to Verlene's music, and many were pleased to be able to buy her newly-released CD of all harp tunes, Dreamtime. Finally, the group Geist, which can only be described as a San Francisco musical treasure, finished the concert with their entrancing style of highly complex world music, as usual focusing on the interaction of Diana Stork on harp and Teed Rockwell on Stick... or was it Warr Guitar? I'm not sure anymore...
-- Kyle Wohlmut
The Fling

 


10/14/95

Benefit Concert at Gryphon Stringed Instruments

A near-capacity audience of about sixty enjoyed a marvelously varied program on October 14, at Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto. . .

With Wendolyn Bird as MC, the program began with Kristina Steffenson and Kyle Wohlmut [now known as Telltale Harps]. Their performance on nylon and wire strung harps, was warm and engaging. . . The big thrills for me were in the second half of the program. I had heard Verlene Schermer just once, and was impressed enough to book her for New Pieces. She did not disappoint. An accomplished, polished chanteuse from the South Bay, Verlene combines a talent and a passion for writing captivating lyrics with a musical style drawing upon jazz, pop, and Celtic. . . You will understand that she really owned this audience when I tell you that she had all of us singing along with "Under the Boardwalk. . ."
-- Mitch Landy
Harpbeat of the Bay

 


3/4/95

from Tale of a Musical Feast -- The 2nd Annual "Harper's Retreat-From-The-World" Weekend

. . . Verlene Schermer enchanted us with the latest adventure of Padraig, our favorite mythical itinerate harper, told in words and harp song in true Celtic seanachie (storyteller) tradition. . . 
-- Leslie Currie
The Fling

Videos

On "Peace" video:

Goosebumps!!! She is so talented with messages to grab at our heartstrings!!
So moving. I have goosebumps!!

Beautiful Song, Verlene and So cool to have lyrics and images to go along. May many take this song to heart and sing it the world over.

Powerful, beautiful song, I wish you the best, be well!

Beautiful Song, Verlene and So cool to have lyrics and images to go along. May many take this song to heart and sing it the world over.

Awesome! I could listen to this song over & over again! Your songwriting is superb with meaningful words and enchanting melody ~ all topped off with a rich, beautiful voice and fun, unique harp playing!

My grandson loved this song immediately and began to sing along. It is a powerful message for peace.

Powerful words! An answer to a question asked by children who just can't understand or accept the concept and need of war. Doesn't every one want peace? Appreciated the rich qualities of the voice accompanied by harp.


On " For Peace' Sake" video:

Love her voice, harp and jazz concept!!! Best message ever!! Great local talent!!

Verlene is my hippie idol! Seriously, when I feel like the "World Situation" is out of control, I believe that the faith and prayers of the Peaceful Ones are the only thing that CAN make a difference. I "project" my thoughts and prayers to PEACE every day. Politics are too corrupt to fix it. Prayers must.

Love the song, voice, word, and harp..Great talent!!


On " Common Ground" video:

You can tell her message comes from the heart!

Incredible loving voice!


Very nice! A slight taste of Lauro Nyro in there. Like it!

 

 


Interviews


The following is an interview by Jane Valencia and Debra Knodel that first appeared in ...a harper's garden, and then in the Spring 1997 issue of The Folk Harp Journal

Imagine ... 

    We're sitting in a kitchen, sipping mugs of Echinacea tea. From the hallway we can glimpse a room full of instruments with cases perched side by side of guitars, a cello - perhaps one even holds a banjo. In the center of the room are three harps: a medium-sized wire-strung, a full size nylon-strung Celtic, and a new full-size cross-strung harp. 

    A sleek short-haired black tomcat with white muzzle and paws slips by. He casts a spare glance in our direction. The cat is Karma, and this is the home and musical abode of singer, songwriter, folk harper and multi-instrumentalist, Verlene Schermer. Verlene has recently released a new album, evocatively entitled, DREAMTIME


JANE:
Why did you choose the album title, DREAMTIME? How does the title reflect the pieces in the collection? 

VERLENE:
All the songs seem to have some sort of element of "dream" -- in one of the many definitions: the dream you have when you sleep, and your subconscious mind is piecing together and sorting out your world; the kind of dream when you imagine something you've never seen before; the dream that is a goal; the dream that is the ideal. 

JANE:
I notice that your songs are definitly from a woman's perspective, in a woman's voice. "Oil on Canvas" and "Mannequin" are something of a social commentary, and even a protest against the role that women have been put into and continue to be placed, but it seems that overall your voice is one of hope - one that places trust that humans are loving and compassionate at heart. As the line in "Grandmama Remembers" says: 'A lot has changed/ though our need for love remains'. Would you care to comment on this observation? 

VERLENE:
Yes, but to say that all humans are loving and compassionate at heart is maybe too simple. I would say that it's "our need for love" that drives us - to do good, to do art, to solve problems, but also to do harm to ourselves and others. The hope is that because of this common need, there can be movement in a positive direction. Since I am a woman, I think it's only natural that my songs would be from a woman's perspective - although I really have tried to "get inside" the male perspective to understand that viewpoint as well. It just seems like there's a lot to say about, for, and on behalf of women in modern American culture. 

JANE:
I'm especially fond of "Stones" - that is one powerful song, and filled with strong, basic & simple images. The images pile on, one after the other, very much like stones, until you realize that the singer is in deep trouble but has only just realized that she is. Can you elaborate on what the song means to you? 

VERLENE:
"Stones" is one that seems to be working for people on a lot of different levels. There is the story you get from the words, but then something about the images and the music makes it very ancient and elemental. And difficult to analyze. 

JANE:
"Equal to the Task", now, is like an anthem. It reminds me so much of a song that Paul Simon might have written. To me, it's a very optimistic song, and one that challenges us to "do your own part" but says in a subtextual way that we are equal to the task, we are capable of changing the whole world if we do so together. Comments? 

VERLENE:
Yes, I think you're right. Now, if we can all agree on what changes the world really needs, we might have something! ;-> But yes, it's optimistic. I've seen even small, everyday efforts, like parents and teachers working together to help a child learn - and that makes me optimistic. 

JANE:
You conceived of the cover art for DREAMTIME. Can you tell us what the images mean to you? 

VERLENE:
First of all, I think Deb did an amazing job rendering these concepts and images - Deb, you have a wonderful gift for expressing something visually that I can only imagine in my mind. The images are, of course, all from the content of the songs. The bird in flight represents such things as imagination, freedom, movement. There are also many flying characters in the songs. "Dreamtime" has a flea, "Solitude" has a vulture, "The Prisoner" spreads her own wings, in "Fantasy", the listener floats out of her seat, and in "When You Think", 'you dream of having wings to fly'. The stone sundial (or in this case, moon dial) represents time that is both ancient and very present, and the engraved images are mostly taken from songs. There's something very archetypal about the roundness of both the moon and the sundial. A circle is complete. It's both full and empty at the same time. I like this paradox. It keeps me musing. 

JANE:
Your voice is very powerful and "textural". You paint pictures in the way you sing each line and even in specific words. I'm thinking in particular of the way you "laugh" in "You make me laugh", where you use your voice to as 'laughter'. You seem to do about a three octave (correct me if you'd like!) ribbon of laughter in one part - truly amazing. Also, in "The Prisoner" your word-painting does an enormous amount to convey the images of this dream world and prison. I can feel the iron of the shackles drop off when you sing the line! Can you tell us more about this word-painting (or whatever you want to call it?) ? 

VERLENE:
Actually, the ribbon of laughter is only half that - starting on the G above middle C and ending a little over an octave and a half above on a high E. But the lowest note in the song is almost 3 octaves below that high E. Word-painting is a good term. I like that. I guess my feeling is, if you're going to sing a song, the song is more important than the voice. I think having this attitude allows me to be more expressive and take chances and step out of just having a pretty or "good" voice. If I can bring the essence of the song across, then people can really experience that song. 

JANE: What projects are you working on now? 

VERLENE:
I'm starting an album of instrumental music with my duo, Silverwood. In this duo, I play harp and guitar, and my sister, Linnette Bommarito, plays flute. It will include some classical and early music, a few Celtic medleys, and some original jazzy/modern pieces. I'm also working on composing and recording the music for a meditation tape that should be out on the market by the end of November. The meditations are writer and poet, Cindi Maciolek. Oh yeah, and I'm starting my MA in Voice Sciences and Arts at San Jose State University. 

JANE:
When did you begin writing songs, and what circumstance (if you can pinpoint such a thing!) or who inspired you to do so? When did you realize that writing songs was what you really wanted to do with your life (I mean that in a broader sense than merely as a career!)? 

VERLENE:
When I was a little girl, I would make up stories, mostly in my head. I think singing them was a way to bring them out of my head. I remember bouncing a ball out on the front sidewalk, singing songs I was making up as I bounced - it was probably really just free-association stuff that was going around in my head. But it was a release. Maybe even theraputic. I started playing guitar when I was 13. I put melodies and chords to the poems in my favorite poetry book, until I thought of writing the words too. My first song happened when I was 14, and went "Just one smile, can make a whole lotta diff'rence/ Just one smile can make the wall of hatred crack/ Just one smile and that is all/ You need to make both big and small/ Smile back..." I guess I was always a dreamer, always the optimist! I never made a conscious decision to write songs - even now, I don't say, "I think I'd like to write a song about..." I have always written as a means of expressing stuff that is difficult to put together in everyday language. Maybe if I could just come right out and say it, I wouldn't need to write! But somehow, ideas kick around in my brain, get stirred up with emotions and physical sensations, and finally come out in the form of a song. I think it's significant that the bouncing of the ball when I was 7 or 8 was what prompted the song form. Almost as if rhythm - which is the most basic "element" of life - was a catalyst for making patterns of meaning out of the chaos of my young mind.

DEB:
What makes composing and singing with the harp unique from composing and singing with guitar or piano? 

VERLENE:
Someone once told me "you've found your other voice - it's like your harp is singing a duet with you." My harp's tone is somehow in balance with my voice - it seems like the rate of my vibrato is in sync with the natural flux of my harp's resonance. I feel supported when I sing with my harp - like it's adding its resonance to mine. It's hard to explain. 

As for composing, there is more I can do in terms of accompaniment styles on the harp than I can on the guitar. The right hand can add counter melodies and take "solos," while the left hand holds down the rhythm and chords. Sure, I can do that on the piano, but the piano doesn't vibrate against my shoulder, it doesn't sing with me, and it doesn't fit in my truck! Composing on the harp, I've been able to explore special tunings and all the natural modes. I've written several songs on piano or guitar that I've been able to transfer to harp, with the primary limitation being the lack of accidentals on the harp. But I bought a chromatic cross-strung harp so now the sky's the limit! 


As we finish up our tea, scratch Karma behind the ears, and pluck a melody or two on the cross-strung harp, we are reminded of Verlene's own words: 'To imagine is to see past the endless sky / To dream is to have the wings to fly'. It's clear to us that in DREAMTIME, Verlene is most assuredly soaring.