Lyric Pieces from the Labyrinth

Hmmmm....who is this person?

He's a birthday buddy with my sister-in-law and niece (June 15), for one thing. He became a composer. When I was a kid, I first heard his music in an extended TV commercial for a classical CD collection. It played a snippet of one of his most memorable pieces. Some time later my piano teacher dropped an arrangement of it in front of me. I squealed. "Ohhhhh, I heard this on a commercial and loved it! It's so - powerful!!"

But I never listened to his actual piano music till after one fateful day at Bierce Library. Bierce is a hulking piece of architecture in the middle of the University of Akron. It was a dated but busy place by the time I frequented its foyer in 2002. I never finished finding some new corner, study closet, or half-hidden table in that storied building. (Dad: happy Father's Day - that pun is for you.) Rumor was that somewhere in Bierce was an audio library. My piano professor wanted me to choose my own pieces to learn, so I went in search of records to inspire me.

I did find it - a smallish room filled with CDs. Beethoven sonatas....check...what is this? Lyric pieces for piano? I'll borrow that CD, too.

That CD enchanted me.

They were called lyric pieces because they were shorter song-like works that evoked a character, story, or emotion. They were steeped in the folk sound of the composer's home country. The music was as full of personality as some of its titles: "Elfin Dance," "March of the Dwarfs," "Little Bird," "Homesickness." My piano professor was delighted when I told him I wanted to learn "Wedding Day at Troldhaugen." Troldhaugen ("Troll Hill") was the name of the composer's home.

The name of the composer was Edvard Grieg.

Grieg's lyric pieces represent to me not just a set of charming music but a place where I belong. They are homey, folksy, near, and accessible and yet glittering all the same. Grieg had these words for himself: "Artists like Bach and Beethoven erected churches and temples on the heights. I only build dwellings for men in which they might feel happy and at home."

That is my vision for the Vandalia Room. To reap the art of the commonplace - to capture the soundtracks of home - to distill the beauty of whatever life is around me - and to encourage others to do the same in their own way. (By the way - the Vandalia Room might be changing a little bit soon. More on that later, I hope.)

P.S. Troldhaugen is maintained as a museum to this day. Wouldn't you love to hear a performance in its music hall!

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