Abby Gundersen, pianist a violinist from Centralia, WA, steps aside from her partnership with her brother Noah Gundersen for her own solo album. Related to the similar folk stylings present in her work with Noah and their other sibling venture Le Wrens, Abby created an album full of contemporary classical tracks that will be sure to calm listeners each time. What makes her work remarkable is her ability to generate and work with emotion on an album that does not have lyrics. Nevertheless she tells a story of hope that is endearing and beautiful.
The opening “We Will Make It There” is a journeying song. The rise and fall of the melody line portrays the sense of travel. The hopeful title seems to urge the listener on to keep going. It’s just the thing to begin an album of hopeful, soft, and contemplative tracks.
The second track “Farewell Summer” was the primary topic of discussion between Abby and I during our interview about the album. It’s a truly incredible track. It’s subtle yet extremely moving. The piano and violin work together as two voices, complimenting and highlighting one another. It has both a sense of the unknown as well as a sense of inspiration. The low line, supplied by the cello, gives the track a full and comfortable sound. It’s seriously instant blood pressure medication. “Everything is going to be okay…” the sound seems to call. Abby explained the back story to the track regarding a period of long distance with a loved one. This song, which is a kind of coping mechanism for that situation, is a beautiful, tangible artifact for the rest of us to enjoy. She finished the track with a soundclip from a Robert Lowell poem. It’s perfect.
The interlude is short, but sweet. It is maybe the track most like Dustin O’Halloran, the iconic contemporary classical composer. It’s the track that reminds me the most of something from a movie score. One can imagine it providing background for a scene between main characters, walking down a rainy Seattle street, for example.
The following “Drifting” is a piano-dominated track that introduces the strings with a sweet few minutes. Then the strings bring a real intentional movement to the piece, again connoting images from film or narrated life. As the pace quickens mid track and the sound grows, it’s easy to imagine Gundersen’s writing at the orchestral level. The transcendent “ohhhs” give us our only glimpse of her great vocals on the album, but yet again they seem perfectly placed in the track, providing both high accompaniment and a sweet, necessary fullness.
The final track “Every Moment” comes too soon. After listening to the album several times, I cannot help but connect this track to strong European influences. It sounds like something from Schindler’s List or a similar kind of film. While the piano meanders in a lonely melody, it is one of the best songs on the album for inspiring a sort of “choose your own adventure” quality to this style of music and Abby’s execution of it. No one knows exactly what it’s about, but that’s the point. Think of yourself in the music. Let it inspire you. That’s why she wrote it.
The best part about this album is how truly rich it is. There are no wasted notes. There are no throwaway tracks. This is Abby’s work, poured out in song, for all of us to hear. Unsurprisingly it is inspirational, powerful, and moving. It’s great accompaniment for creative work in particular. It’s good for writing, studying, painting, or other types of similar activities. The developed melody lines and harmonies work together to form beautiful, full pictures of sound awaiting interpretation from her hearers.
Abby told me she hopes that this EP will bring people peace. It certainly has the capacity to do just that. Take some time to enjoy this album. If it puts you to sleep, that’s okay. Just listen to it and let the music speak in a way that we seldom do. There are no distracting lyrics or superfluous vocal runs. This is the honest, intimate songwriting from a wonderful American contemporary classical composer. Even if that genre is not one you’d typical run toward, I urge you to give this album a chance. It’s beautiful from beginning to end.