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A Brief History of the CD Songs of William Blake March 21st, 2007

My original interest in Blake was sparked not by any penchant for high culture, but by my early fascination for popular artistic innovators like Alan Ginsberg, Jim Morrison, and Patti Smith, each of whom have cited Blake’s poetry as a source of inspiration. During my years as a student (which followed a decade of full-time musical performance in bars and clubs), I went on to study Blake’s work in detail, writing a number of articles and a dissertation on Blake’s poetry (the latter of which grew into a book entitled Imagining Nature: Blake’s Environmental Poetics).

But the more I studied Blake’s work in an academic setting, the more I wanted to engage with it in a less formal, creative way as well. The idea of setting some of Blake’s poems to music first occurred to me in July of 2004, when I was invited to participate in a celebration of Blake’s life and work at England’s famous Chichester Festival. In addition to joining a panel discussion on the topic of Blake’s trial for sedition (which had taken place in Chichester two hundred years earlier), I was asked to contribute something creative to the evening’s festivities, so I prepared an original song inspired by Blake’s visionary poetry, plus a musical rendition of Blake’s “Introduction” to the Songs of Innocence. The audience responded to these performances with enthusiasm, inspiring me to set more of Blake’s poems to music during the following weeks and months. on the grassWhen I performed these musical poems for my daughter, Sahra Featherstone, a few months later, she smiled and said: “Let’s make an album!” Sahra thus become my CD’s producer and main musical collaborator, and-together with an inspired cast of talented musicians, artists, and engineers-we created Songs of William Blake. The CD will be launched with a special musical performance at the University of Northern British Columbia on March 23rd.

What excites me most about this project is that it has enabled me, for the first time, to combine my musical and literary passions. (As I launch this CD, I am already working on a follow-up project of songs by Byron, Shelley, Keats, and other Romantic poets…)

- Kevin Hutchings

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