Heavy Bell is a duo made up of Royal Canoe frontman Matt Peters and actor/singer-songwriter Tom Keenan. Previous projects include the music for the stage productions of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Richard II.
By Grand Central Station is a song cycle based on Elizabeth Smart’s novel By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Originally published in 1945, the book has been called “one of the half-dozen masterpieces of poetic prose in the world.” It is based on events in Smart’s own life, who as a young woman fell deeply in love with a married man, and contrived to bear his child. The story is told through emotion rather than action: her inner world is enormous, tempestuous. It takes over the world around her and tosses her like a boat on the sea.
This album is a paean to the novel: a song of praise and triumph. We were struck so deeply by its incredible words that we had to set them to music. We chose passages that provide an impressionistic view of the woman’s inner journey; we let the flow of the words dictate the form of the songs, rather than adhering to standard structures.
We arranged the songs for a chamber ensemble in order to reflect Smart’s vibrant humanity, and to express a great range of emotion confined to an intimate space. Whereas the initial composition took only a few days, the scoring took place over the next several years, whenever we found time between Matt’s work with Royal Canoe and Tom’s work as an actor and singer-songwriter.
At the core of the songs are the unison voices of Matt and Tom. Surrounding these are piano, guitar, strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion, and a choir. The performers include members of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Begonia, Chic Gamine, Royal Canoe, Slattern, and Imaginary Cities. Two of the tracks feature Elizabeth Smart herself reading passages from her novel. These were recorded almost forty years after she wrote it: a mature woman embodying the joy and pain of her younger self. Her voice reminds the listener where this music came from.