Another Reason why Classical Music is not Dead

Lead singer of My Brightest Diamond Shara Worden and composer Sarah Kirkland Snider team up on the song cycle “Penelope”.

Another Reason why Classical Music is not Dead

The new song cycle by Sarah Kirland Snider “Penelope” officially concludes that classical music is alive an well.  On her new album, Snider teams up with classically trained soprano Shara Worden, of My Brightest Diamond fame, the chamber orchestra Signal and playwright Ellen McLaughlin to create an epic piece of music.  The clever mix of indie rock, elctronica and modern classical breaths life into a genre of music that refuses to lay dormant in the current musical climate.

Sarah Kirkland Snider, who has been described by Time Out New York as, “a composer with an enviable knack for crafting moody, strikingly beautiful works” takes on Ellen McLaughlin’s tale of longing, acceptance and transformation.  “Penelope” tells the story of a woman’s husband who returns from an unnamed war after twenty years suffering from brain damage.  Told from the perspective of Penelope (the woman) as she struggles with Virginia Wolfe like contemplation and her responsibilities to her husband.  While Penelope waits for her husband to reclaim his identity, she reads him Homer’s “Odyssey”.  It is through this unexpected literature-therapy that her husband slowly finds himself again.

“This is What Your Like,” the second track on “Penelope” stands out as a crucial display of the chracter’s hauntingly introspective struggle with her husband’s amnesia.  The song opens with thick fuzzed-out drum beats accompanied by Shara Worden vocals and Signal’s dynamic string arrangement.  Worden sings with mesmerizing calculation and an arresting ability to command every mournful word.  This all culminates in a deftly composed finale that likens that of Sigur Ros or Radiohead material.

The album continues to move through several different emotional landscapes consisting of three musical interludes and ten songs.  The thematic nature along with Snider’s arrangements clearly let the audience in on the woman’s inner conflicts.  The beginning of the album displays a tormented character longing for what she once had.  Throughout the album the musical tone begins to change from dark and brooding to reflective a melancholic.   Snider’s ability to represent space in her music distinguishes her has a thoughtful composer who pulls from romantics such as Chopin and Debussy.  This openness is continued in not only the compositions but in Shara Worden’s simple melodies and the thick but somewhat reserved post-rock drumming.

With an onslaught of indie bands attempting to combine intellect and musicianship along with a pop sensibility, few have the ability to harness all three in the way Snider has on “Penelope”.  She courageously tackles a dramatic story arc in the vein of a Puccini opera while never losing track of her audience.  Dramatic music may still be popular in many different genres but is rarely done with such care and precision.