Listening to Amy & Andy
Just 150 years ago, one of the most illustrious female orchestral composers in American history was born in Henniker. It’s sad to think that most Granite Staters have never heard her music.
For the record, her name is Amy Beach, and her 1896 “Gaelic” symphony (the first ever composed and published by an American woman) is a strong, confident piece of music. It starts with spacey grandeur but delves into earthy undertones. Portions evoke the scores of John Williams — music that might accompany a flying pirate ship, descending over fields of heather and buzzing a village green before swooping back into the clouds seeking new horizons. I’m listening to it as I write this. My first time ever.
A trusted advisor had suggested Beach to me for this year’s “It List” (page 62). The anniversary of her birth seemed like a good rationale, but our list needs to operate in the present for the most part. A posthumous inclusion is possible if the influence of the person has been felt in the past 12 months or so. While Beach’s music is as vital as ever, it’s not being performed that often — though Symphony NH performed “Gaelic” back in October as a birthday tribute before an enthusiastic audience. Still, the story of a nearly forgotten composer of such historic importance is a reminder that we’re surrounded by greatness more often than we know.
My favorite part of this job is getting to meet fascinating people while fishing around for a story (usually unrelated to the person I wind up “discovering”). I had one such encounter in November.
My wife and I had driven up to Littleton for a book signing by Angie Bowie and Rick Hunt. Angie Bowie is a writer, performer, TV personality and the first wife of David Bowie, one of the most important figures in rock history who died in January 2016. Rick Hunt is an accomplished artist from Littleton who has illustrated several of Angie’s recent books. Their next collaboration, soon to be published, is “Dancing With Ghosts,” which is Angie’s take on David Bowie’s music and career in the years they were married (a span that includes most of his greatest albums).
The signing took place at The Little Grille, an amazing Brazilian barbecue place that just happens to be illustrated with Rick’s murals (we wrote about it in our Best of NH issue last July). While rubbing shoulders with fans of both artists who had traveled from as far as New York City and Martha’s Vineyard, I noticed a fellow about my age and struck up a conversation. His business card read “Andy Pratt, Rock Legend.” Naturally, my curiosity was piqued. He entrusted me with a CD of his eponymous second album that I’ve now spun repeatedly. Turns out he was (and presumably still is) a musical genius, though the closest he came to a hit was a single (“Avenging Annie”) that made it to number 78 on the US charts. The album was well-reviewed and is now listed as one of the most influential recordings of the 1970s. His third album, “Resolution,” was a commercial dud but a critical darling. A Rolling Stone review said, “By reviving the dream of rock as an art and then re-inventing it, Pratt has forever changed the face of rock.” Then, just a couple of years ago, “Resolution” appeared on their list of “10 Weird Albums Rolling Stone Loved in the 1970s.” So, I guess “rock legend” wasn’t much of an exaggeration.
Pratt lives in New Hampshire and still records and performs. Like an Amy Beach symphony, the delights of his music await those with eager ears and a spirit that quests to find the greatness that’s hidden in people all around us in the Granite State.