Valley News – A composer will perform works inspired by life in the Upper Valley
LEBANON – As much as she loves her job, Elizabeth Borowski sometimes needs to stay away from it.
So when she has a break from her schedule to teach piano, practice and write music, she goes out. That’s why people live here, isn’t it?
Borowsky, 38, takes his foldable kayak on Mascoma Lake, or rides the train track or hikes with his dog, Max, and with friends.
“It seems there are more tracks than I could ever successfully find on my own,” she said in an interview this week at her studio in Lebanon.
When she returns to work, this time outdoors has an influence on her. Nature reflects the great human balance, between the simple joy of living and the sometimes sinister duty of earning a living.
Borowsky transformed his experience of this balance into The nature of life, a cycle of songs that will have its first Saturday afternoon in Maine. Borowsky and singer Jessica Deskin will then perform it as part of a musical program on Saturday evening at the First Congregational Church in Lebanon and on Sunday afternoon at a concert in Hanover.
Composed by a commission of the New Hampshire Music Teachers Association and the Music Teachers National Association, The nature of life is largely a product of the Haute Vallée. Borowsky composed it with the natural beauty of the area in mind, and it is named after a poem written by longtime resident Thomas Dubuque, a native of Lebanon.
Borowsky moved to the upper valley of his native Maryland in 2015 when her then-husband found a job here. She feels well installed in the neighborhood both for the setting and for her students.
She teaches in a studio at the former Excelsior mill in Lebanon on Bank Street Extension.
In addition to Dubuque’s poem, Borowsky also set Robert Frost’s classic poem to music.Birch trees, and the work of other New England poets.
One of them, by 19th-century transcendentalist poet Ellen Sturgis Hooper, achieves Borowsky’s balance of senses:
“I slept and dreamed that life was Beauty,” he begins. “I woke up and found life was duty.”
Birch trees, too, is a “reflection on the balance between the imagination and the zest for life and the weight of responsibility,” Borowsky said.
Dubuque, 60, has been writing poetry since his early teens and composing The nature of life in his head as he sat on the dock of a house he owned on Crystal Lake in Enfield. He ran inside and wrote it down, he said.
Most of his poems and song lyrics are stored in a cardboard box, but he had this one written in calligraphy and framed, which is how Borowsky found it. Dubuque, a 1979 Lebanese high school graduate who once owned a chain of mobile phone stores in New Hampshire and is now semi-retired, was her owner and they are now close friends, Borowsky said.
“I thought at first, writing songs, I thought it was too awkward” to put on music, Dubuque said. But “with a few small adaptations, she was able to make it work like a song.” He heard Borowsky perform it, but with Deskin it will be a more complete experience, he said.
“I think it’s really going to be something special,” he said.
The local concerts are productions of Classicopia, which for 20 years has presented classical music to audiences in the Upper Valley in intimate settings, usually local churches and private homes.
They also represent a bit of a departure for Classicopia. The nature of life mixes Borowsky’s classic background with pop and jazz. Deskin, a friend of Borowsky’s in college, is also classically trained, but has spent time in Nashville, and her own songs are written with a pop sensibility that suits her viola voice.
The program also includes several of Deskin’s original songs, written over the past 20 years.
“It was about choosing songs that are about human emotions and that are relatable,” Deskin said.
Borowsky will also perform some of the solo piano compositions she composed for her students’ birthdays.
She spent the pandemic working both on the song cycle and putting the birthday compositions on her website for other piano teachers to download. The pieces usually contain things that the student is trying to learn and they often lead to a breakthrough. She does most of the writing, then finishes the pieces with the student next to her on the piano bench.
Anniversary pieces, which now number over 80, also merge classic and pop.
Borowsky played Adventures of the planets, a play written for the eighth birthday of a student. Its formal, swirling structures lead to chords that wouldn’t ring out of place in a Katy Perry song. The overall effect is cinematic.
“Even though the series is a classic series, I really believe this music will appeal to listeners who enjoy a variety of musical styles,” Borowsky said.
The song cycle could be performed by an opera soprano, and Deskin initially thought that was what Borowsky had in mind. But this kind of noble and formal interpretation would have made the songs less accessible. They reworked the songs to fit Deskin’s lineup.
“When she performs this, she has all the performance enhancing flavors that are beyond what I had imagined,” Borowsky said.
This daily struggle, between nature and modernity, beauty and duty, calls for a warmer voice.
The Nature of Life, a concert presented by Classicopia, is scheduled for October 2 at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church in Lebanon. Tickets are $ 18 in advance, $ 20 at the door, $ 15 for church members, and free for those 18 and under. A second local concert is scheduled for Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Hanover home of Marilyn and Al Austin-Nelson. Tickets cost $ 30. Vaccinations and masks compulsory for both performances. Tickets are available at classicopia.org.