What started as a fascination and appreciation of the paintings of Andrew Wyeth (1917 – 2009) and the creative legacy of his father, artist and illustrator N. C. Wyeth (1882 – 1945), went on to become an integral part of Catherine Marie Charlton’s daily existence, life, dreams, and role as a mother, after several years in which the pianist-composer sought inspiration for her music by immersing herself in the history and art of the Wyeth family, and maintaining a daily practice of “Wyeth Walks” in the scenic Pennsylvania Brandywine Valley, where Andrew Wyeth also walked every day throughout his life.
Charlton’s 12th release in a 20+ year career, I Dream About This World – The Wyeth Album, embodies the creative expansion of the mind, and forms a soundtrack for introspective exploration of private thoughts, painting a musical world where the listener can escape this “busy, bustling life,” as N. C. Wyeth called it 100 years ago.
To achieve her expansive vision, the neo-classical pianist known for her quietly spacious, meditative compositions has teamed with GRAMMY® Award-winning producer and engineer Phil Nicolo. Nicolo is perhaps best known for creating music in genres starkly in contrast to Charlton’s, with luminaries such as Lauryn Hill and Aerosmith; however the two joined forces after discovering their mutual loves of visual art and the pastoral Brandywine Valley, and their shared passion for music that evokes deep emotional responses despite style or genre. I Dream About This World, available July 14 on Nicolo’s new label Phil’s Records, features collaborations with several New Age GRAMMY® Award-winners—cellist David Darling, English horn player and producer Nancy Rumbel, and producer Will Ackerman. Pre-orders can be made at wyethalbum.com.
Charlton will debut music from the album in a multimedia concert June 29 at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, during opening week of an exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth. Visitors throughout the course of Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect can listen to Charlton’s recordings on the mobile exhibit guide as they experience their own “Wyeth Walk” while viewing over one hundred of the artist’s finest works.
I Dream About This World is comprised of mostly original works showcasing Charlton’s characteristic classical “crossover” pieces, many with Wyeth-like titles such as “Off At Sea,” and “April Rain.” Notable covers include “Die Luft Ist Blau,” a solo piano improvisation on a Schubert melody, and a world premiere of “Helga Suite: Chorale,” by pianist-composer Ann Wyeth McCoy (Wyeth’s sister). Beyond its classical underpinnings, the album’s distinctive sound–it could be described as a meditative, spiritual reverie–derives from nature sounds Charlton recorded on her walks, and instruments such as the Hopi drum, obsidian chimes, and dotar. Several pieces overlay Charlton’s piano and Darling’s cello in multiple overdubs as a metaphor for Wyeth’s exacting brushwork and his softly layered painting style in his preferred medium of the ancient technique of egg tempera.
Andrew Wyeth first captured the public’s imagination in 1948 as the painter of the lone, crawling figure in Christina’s World. His fans will appreciate the history provided by the album’s extensive liner notes, co-written with former Philadelphia Inquirer art critic Catherine Quillman, who personally interviewed Wyeth several times. In the form of an inspirational book, the notes also include images of three generations of Wyeth paintings, Charlton’s nature photographs, and quotes from Andrew and N. C. Wyeth on the topic of creativity, hand selected by Charlton.
As the pianist writes in “Beginnings,” her introduction to the notes, she has always used visual art, poetry, and nature as meditative touchstones to create music. In Fall 2013, Charlton read Richard Meryman’s Andrew Wyeth: A Spoken Self-Portrait, the artist’s commentary on his creative process as related to Meryman in over 40 years of interviews. Charlton says that she was deeply inspired by Andrew Wyeth’s desire to live in the world of imagination and art as expressed throughout his words, including his quote about loving to paint backgrounds because “I dream about this world that will live in that background.” The mother of young children says she also admires the way Andrew Wyeth and his four siblings were nurtured by parents who, in her words, “shared a love of classical music, literature, art, and nature almost on a daily basis.”
Charlton set off on a three-year immersive journey to learn more about Wyeth’s creative process, beginning with visits to his childhood home and studio—both now open to the public in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. She traveled several times to coastal Maine, the Wyeths’ longtime second home, and was a composer-in-residence in Wyoming, when she experienced the Western setting where N. C. Wyeth had painted a vanishing landscape of cowboys and Native Americans in the early 1900s. Charlton attended lectures by artist Jamie Wyeth (Andrew Wyeth’s son) and Andrew Wyeth’s granddaughter Victoria Wyeth, and interviewed the now late Richard Meryman, as well as curators at multiple museums and Ann Wyeth McCoy’s daughters, Robin and Anna B. McCoy.
Marking a major turning point one year into the project, Charlton recalls, “I was looking up at the trees and realized that despite all of my academic Wyeth research up to that point, my composing was more intellectual than deeply authentic from within me.” Taking up the idea of the Wyeth family’s love of walks, she then began a daily practice of walking through Pennsylvania “Wyeth Country” as inspiration for her music, sharing her experiences with nature photography and Wyeth quotes on social media.
Charlton coincidentally blogged her 400th “#wyethwalk” as she completed I Dream About This World and now speaks on the topic of the creative and spiritual transformation she found through these nature walks. She reflects that through her music, photography, and lectures: “I want to share how we all can look at the world through the eyes of the Wyeths’ and be open to flow in creative pursuits and find peace in our busy lives.”
In the end, Catherine Marie Charlton found her “authentic” self within this deeply-felt, lyrical album. Nicolo observes, “Catherine’s music touches people, including myself, so deeply; I’ve seen it bring some to tears. That’s why I wanted to work on this project with her and have it be one of the first albums on my new label, Phil’s Records.”
About Catherine Marie Charlton:
Charlton earned a degree in engineering and music from Cornell University, where she was named in the “Top Ten College Women” in the U. S. by GLAMOUR Magazine for “outstanding achievement, and unique, inspiring goals.” She went on to become a Steinway Artist and Independent Music Awards winner who is noted for her classically-based improvisations bridging Jazz and New Age styles. Her educational background is also evident in her love of scholarly research and what one critic called her “meticulous care for production.”
Charlton has won numerous grants, residencies, and awards including those from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Delaware Division of Arts, and the Parents’ Choice Foundation. She currently serves on the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Chapter of The Recording Academy.