Words and music by Nancy Jephcote
Talented and popular Island fiddler Nancy Jephcote is about to expand her repertoire. "Some people don't know me as a singer/ songwriter," she says, talking about the release of her first CD, "Garland of Rain."
"I'm not setting out to start a career," the long-time Island musician says. "I made the CD to honor what I was given. Every gift you have comes at a price. If a certain area of your life is compelling to you, you have to limit other areas of your life. "Garland of Rain" is an anthology of her career, and she admits to having spent much time and energy over the last two years designing a CD that would completely satisfy her.
In making the CD, Ms. Jepchote traveled to Texas to do the recording with a long-time friend of hers, Tom Prasada- Rao. She describes the recording process as a perfect meeting of the minds. In the recording process, Ms. Jepchote, who was raised in a family of classical musicians, was able to play multiple instruments on a single track, painstakingly polishing the performances until they had arrived at a finished product.
The effect is orchestral. "Garland of Rain" is a two-disc set, each 35 to 40 minutes long. The songs sound full and nuanced. Ms. Jepchote has a wonderful voice that slides harmoniously through the songs.
Ms. Jepchote has made her living teaching music, both privately and throughout the Island school system. Thoughtful and considered as she speaks, she lights up when she describes teaching music: "Music is magical in its ability to bypass the brain and reach a person inside. It can really help people's hearts. When teaching, I would think, 'Who is this person, what's important to them, and how can I help them reach it.' Whether or not the music was their real goal, working with music could help them reach it."
With her emphasis on teaching comes a willingness to learn. "We are learning from the young how to be connected in this day and age," she says. "With the realm of computers, the way music is being listened to has changed greatly in just the last couple of years."
The Vineyard community has changed since Ms. Jepchote started playing on the Island, but its appreciation of live music remains. "I miss the sense that the Wintertide brought in the winter," speaking of the former coffeehouse in Vineyard Haven, "but we still have events such as potlucks and fundraisers that capture that energy. There is a certain joy in seeing your friends and neighbors performing. In many places people don't have that."
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about music with such richness, is trying to tack it into a genre.
"Music is freer than genres," says Ms. Jepchote. "They don't ask visual artists, 'What genre is that painting?' But you have to associate. Folk is a vast area, and this falls into it somewhere. There is rock influence, Latin influence... We carefully arranged the order of the tracks. The goal was to make something unique, make it sound like good music."
"I was told that no one listens to whole CD's anymore, that they take the songs they like and put them in an iPod on shuffle," Ms. Jephcote says. "I'm from a different generation. I like sitting down and listening to a CD, so I made my CD to the standards that I have and feel fulfilled for it."
The music has a refined, resilient energy, a fullness that comes with the life experience of its creator and reflects her positivity that has come from hardship.
"There are a lot of health quandaries that can hold people back, times when your life is shaping you rather than you it," Ms. Jephcote says. "I've learned not to take any degree of health for granted. When I was healthy enough to do this project, I realized I had no excuse not to, late as it feels like in my life."
Having made a conscious choice to live a fulfilling life, Ms. Jephcote says, "It is much easier to observe loss than it is to observe improvement and wealth. We have to practice gratitude. We have to be able to turn our attention to what we want to grow. To recognize what's good, and not get stuck in what isn't."
Nancy Jephcote in concert at the Katharine Cornell Theatre Sunday, Aug. 9, 8 pm. After the concert there will be a CD release reception at Che's Lounge.
Ben Williams, a regular contributor to The Times, will attend Reed College in Portland, Oregon.