Songs of tragedy, friendship and world cultures

Stanely and Kip Greenthal

When Dave Fisher died in a skiing accident on Mt. Baker, and Leta Currie Marshall died suddenly just two days later, Stanley Greethal sat down with a pen and paper.

Shocked by the sudden passing of two members in his small island community, he started writing down wishes he imagined one might experience before dying — and words just started to tumble from his pen. It was like trying to catch someone else’s words running around in his head.

The words were transformed into lyrics, then came the melody and the song “One More Time” was created.

“For me, the impulse to write a song most often begins with a feeling — sometimes vague or mysterious,” Greenthal said. “Or sometimes a clear emotional response to something happening in the moment, or remembered.”

Greenthal’s original works and tunes from Scotland, Brittany, Greece and Turkey appear in his recently released album “First Song,” featuring seven musicians and 22 instruments including harmonica, the low whistle and the Greek bouzouki — from the lute family.

It took Greenthal years to form such a group of musicians — first enticing his wife to play percussion and harmonize with her voice. Then he befriended Christos Govetas, of Seattle, who plays the Greek clarinet, and Eliot Grasso, of Eugene, Ore., a uilleann piper, flute and whistle player. Those three plus Greenthal will perform on San Juan, Dec. 18, 7 p.m. at Isle Be Jammin’ on 310-B Spring Street, playing songs from the CD and other works with a winter celebration quality.

Listening to the album is like being transported to the Middle Ages, but with lyrics that pull you back into modern day, and are reminiscent of Donovan the Scottish singer-songwriter and guitarist, who blends folk, pop, and world music.

He originally started writing music for himself, but over the years he was inspired to play music heard in the countries he visited.

In 1974, he visited Ireland and experienced ceilidhs — traditional Gaelic social gatherings reflecting ancient ways — still practiced by some of the local people.

“They were trying to preserve the culture,” said Greenthal. “And make it relevant to the times we live in — not museum qualities.”

He was inspired by the preservation of cultural music and close knit communities similar to Lopez, where he and his wife, Kip Greenthal moved to in 1971.

But Greenthal doesn’t see himself as preserving tradition when playing their music, but rather hopes he is “passing on or introducing music to people in a way that increases their awareness of cultures still existing in the world today.”

“It’s a challenge to learn another instrument from another culture and interpret it in your own voice, being faithful to the original work, but also making it unique,” Greenthal said. “Subjects vary for and about people and events that have happened and reflect on the human condition.”

He said what he enjoys most about making music is the friendship he has found with fellow musicians especially Kip, with whom he has been making music with for 17 years.

“It’s fun that we’re both artists,” said Kip. “We can edit each other’s work.”

She recently published her first novel, “Shoal Water,” which inspired Greenthal to write a song with the same title.

Other songs inspired by tragic events are contemporary, but have the same goal as the traditional Gaelic tunes performed in Ireland because both seek to preserve a moment, a feeling, or a gathering that has passed.

“‘Song for David’ is an attempt to preserve the memory of my friend,” said Greenthal. “And the feeling of that moment, saying goodbye, and also paying tribute to him.”

Tickets are $10, at the Isle Be Jammin’ store or by phone at 378-5151.

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