If you go
What: Muriel Anderson in concert
Where: The Wagon Shed, 109 N. Second St., New Freedom
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, July 2
Tickets: $20, plus a $1.50 processing fee. Available for order at wagonshedconcerts.com .
Details: For more information about Anderson, visit murielanderson.com . Get a free download of some of her music by visiting murielanderson.com/nightlights . Anderson plans to premier four new pieces at the concert.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Muriel Anderson was, like all Americans, was in a state of shock.
As she once stated, "I felt the sadness of the world on my shoulders. Not knowing what to do, I walked through a forest near my home. As I was walking, I heard an owl call just to my right, and another answer to my left."
The owls' song was plaintive, the melody mournful. It was serendipitous. Not long before, she had played a benefit concert for the Owl Sanctuary with guitarist Phil Keaggy. The owls were communicating something.
She went home and found the melody on her guitar.
And "Owls' Psalm" was born, a song that evokes the melancholy of that terrible day.
The owls showed her the way.
"Some inspiration comes from unlikely sources," Anderson said from her Nashville home, in advance of her show Thursday, July 2, at the Wagon Shed in New Freedom.
It's just a matter of keeping your ears open to the music.
And that kind of summarizes Anderson's approach to music and the guitar. She came up playing folk music and studied, reluctantly at first, classical guitar. She listens to everything and absorbs it and synthesizes it into a genre-breaking style of guitar that includes elements of folk, bluegrass, jazz, classical, traditional Japanese music and just about everything.
She came from a musical family. Her mother was a piano teacher in her hometown of Downers Grove, Ill. Her grandfather played saxophone in John Philip Sousa's band. Music was a constant, she said, "just part of being a human being."
She picked up the guitar when she was 8. A family friend was throwing away an old guitar and asked whether she wanted it. She did. It only had three strings. She tuned it up and started picking out melodies.
She was hooked.
"The guitar vibrates against your body and you can feel the music go through you as you play it," she said. "It brought me closer to the music."
She went to DePaul University on an academic scholarship — and studied classical guitar because it was the only way to study the instrument in college, spending her evenings and weekends playing in a bluegrass band.
Then, she heard classical guitarist Christopher Parkening. She loved the way he coaxed so many different tones from his nylon-string guitar. Up to that point, she played steel string, but Parkening's playing opened up a world of possibilities.
"A nylon-string guitar just has a greater variety of tone," she said.
She kept her ears open to everything and devised a style that can only be described as Muriel Anderson's style. She has composed classical style pieces, as well as folk songs, and songs that defy genre.
"I just don't put barriers on myself," she said. "If I hear something that inspires me, I ask myself, 'What is it about that that inspires me?' And I play with that."
She has many mentors, some well known, some not so well known. Like one of her mentors, the late great Chet Atkins — she'd know Chet for years and took mandolin lessons from his brother-in-law, Jethro Burns — she believes there are a lot of great musicians out there, they just haven't received the kind of recognition others have.
She's played with some of her mentors and idols. She recorded with Chet Atkins, seemingly by happenstance. She was recording in Nashville when Atkins stopped by the studio to see how things were going, and then, asked to sit in.
She played with Les Paul. She learned "Stairway to Heaven" from Jimmy Page himself.
She is world acclaimed, having won numerous awards for her work.
But all of that is background.
What matters is the music.
And finding it in unlikely places. Take "View From Space."
Some years back, she played at a fajita fest for NASA's astronauts in a large hanger in Houston. Astronaut Susan Helms bought her CD, Heartstrings, saying it would be good music to watch the Earth by. Helms took the CD on a shuttle mission and played it in space, later sending Anderson a letter telling her, among other things, that her CD traveled 2.5 million miles.
"It's about keeping that childlike joy alive," she said. "Always discovering and exploring."
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