By Sally dhruva’ Stephenson
Special to the Rappahannock News
It was a recipe for magic. At the Castleton Theatre House on the last Friday in September, Paul Reisler gathered together Three Good Reasons (his current ensemble), added the aromatic vocal flavor of Sweet Honey in the Rock alumnus Ysaye M. Barnwell, sprinkled in the tasty spice of Cheryl Toth and served it with grace, humor and heart to an audience of aspiring songwriters and Castleton patrons.
The songwriters came from as close by as down the road and as far away as Colorado and New York to spend a weekend inspiring each other and studying with the masters (Reisler, Barnwell and Dietlinde Maazel, Artistic Director of Castleton).
For long-time fans of Paul Reisler such as myself, the concert was a delicious smorgasbord of musical treats featuring beloved songs from albums that spanned his career:selections from the Trapezoid era, Birth of a River produced with Bobby Read, A Thousand Questions, and several delightful songs co-written with some of the 60,000 children (can you believe it!) he has charmed with his Kid Pan Alley project.
Hearing Reisler with his latest musical conspirators are very good reasons indeed to catch them in concert.The intensely expressive vocals of D.C.’s LEA and the sensitively soulful sounds of Marshall Key’s saxophones perfectly complement the masterful guitar work and insightful songwriting for which Reisler is famous.Both can be heard on the latest KPA album, “One Little Song Can Change the World” (and hopefully soon on a full-length Three Good Reasons release).
Signature to Reisler’s concerts, his work with children, and his teaching of the craft of songwriting, is the importance of sharing positivity such as we heard in Kid Pan Alley songs “We Need No Excuse for Dreaming” and “Skin.” The latter echoes with the refrain: “skin — it can be pretty thin; skin — it’s just the suit you’re in, skin.”
In his songwriting classes throughout the weekend that followed, he taught songwriters how to write about transformational experiences. Each day opened with a community sing led by Barnwell with inspiring chants like “We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For” — a song that she also led Friday night’s audience in singing in three-part harmony.
By the end of the weekend full of musical magic, the songwriters headed home with newfound friends, original works in progress and unforgettable songs still ringing in their ears.
The writer, who is affiliated with Harmony Grove Studios (ASCAP), is a professor in the department of Educational Professions at Frostburg State University in Maryland.