Photograph by Michael Stillwater.

Photograph by Michael Stillwater.

Island Composer Morten Lauridsen performs at San Juan Community Theatre

Waldron Island has inspired an archipelago of world-renowned choral songs. Sitting in his remote Waldron cabin, dubbed Crum’s Castle, with a $50 piano, Morten Lauridsen wrote many of the music that shared with the community at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 4 at the San Juan Community Theater.

Lauridsen is a National Medal of Arts recipient and has worked with many major composers from all over the world. The San Juan Singers have sung his pieces many times. Orcas choral has done his pieces. The upcoming concert is a repeat of the same event from three years ago. It was going to be put on again last year, but was canceled due to COVID. The performers of the original concert will be returning- Jeremy Huw Williams, a baritone from Wales; Maria Lindsey, a soprano who performs for the New York Metropolitan Opera; and pianist Paula Fan from Arizona.

“This is an opportunity to be one-on-one with me as I discuss this music with these extraordinary singers in a very wonderful setting,” Lauridsen said.

Lauridsen will be placing a special emphasis on poetry during the concert, he said, informing the audience of poets that he reads every day.

He taught for 52 years at the University of Southern California. To emphasize his passion for poetry, before each lecture, he said he would share a poem with the class.

“These poems speak beautifully to the human condition. They speak of love, spirituality, and of dealing with the things we all deal with in life, you know. Hope and love and loss and death and renewal,” he said. “It simply elevated us in so many ways. [Poetry] reaches us in so many ways.”

What has reached him as deeply as his favorite poems, he said, is the beauty and remoteness of Waldron Island.

Lauridsen has been visiting the island since he was a child in the 1950s. It was in 1975 that he bought the only property available on the island — a general store that had been abandoned for 25 years. It was named Crum’s Castle after the original owner, Roy Crum. Lauridsen said the store was in use when Waldron once had 400 people living on the island, employed to work in the quarry. As soon as the quarry was no longer in business, things quickly changed and many workers left. When Lauridsen arrived in 1952, there were only 11 residents. Today, there are about 120 people living on Waldron. His rustic cabin, much like many of the properties on the island, still does not have running water or electricity.

It was in that cabin that one of his most popular songs, “Lux Aeterna,” was written.

“The thing about composing on Waldron Island, I’m sitting in this rustic cabin by the beach on a $50 piano and the silence, the quietness of it, without distraction has allowed me to go very, very deeply into these extraordinary texts,” he said. “It’s been a vehicle for me in the quietness and solitude of Waldron Island surrounded by its pristine beauty that I get very deeply in touch with myself and it has resulted in pieces that have touched people throughout the world.”

Lauridsen said he always thought he would retire to Waldron, but the demand for performances keeps him busy, although he still frequently visits.

“God, it’s a special place. I just love going there. The people there are very hardy. You have to be on Waldron. You gotta be tough to live there,” he said.

Lauridsen found a happy medium ten years ago when he settled on San Juan Island full time, with his wife, noted conductor Amber Lauridsen. This has allowed him to remain close to his Waldron muse but still have access to amenities that allow him to keep up with his busy schedule. Both he and his wife are very much involved in the artistic side of this community and also in the San Juan preservation trust, he said.

“I love living here. I love this community so much. It is such a vibrant community,” he said. As someone who is well-traveled, he also added that he finds the islands one of the most beautiful places in the world to live.

This concert allows Lauridsen’s songs to be performed in the very place that has inspired his world-renowned work, an opportunity that he said he is very much looking forward to.

“I know for a fact, that anyone who attends this concert will be enriched in numerous ways,” he said. “I would rather be nowhere else than right here in this great community with these people.”