In a normal world, tonight, I would have done something extremely abnormal for me, on a Friday night. This weekend was to have included two great events downtown in the City People Home Tour and Open Streets. But tonight, I would have gotten in my car and driven to west Knoxville, something I simply don’t remember doing once in years.
The world premiere of Wil Wright’s classical work, “Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies,” previously scheduled for tonight, was the force that would have compelled me to leave downtown. Planned for the majestic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart my expectations ran high for Wil’s first piece for orchestra to be enjoyed inside one of our most amazing local spaces. It wasn’t to be, of course.
Ironically, the quarantine in this case has forced me back into my routine for this night. I’ll be home, of course. But I’ll be home with some great new music by the same Wil Wright, in collaboration with one of my favorite humans, Laith Keilany. While I quarantine at home, I’ll continue enjoying music created specifically in response to the pandemic.
It’s a great work from two of our very best. Wil Wright is a brilliant composer, equally comfortable with a rock band (Senryu) or fronting a wizard hip-hop group (Lil Iffy). He wiped me out with his classical piano on the recent webcast for the Second Bell Soiree. He’s a producer, composer and musician, but that doesn’t cover the expanse of his talent, which is on full display when his music is layered with his often brilliantly witty or simply brilliant lyrics. In the same show he can make you laugh out loud at one line and evoke a tear with another. You’ll also sometimes find his excellent essay writing in Blank Newspaper.
Laith Keilany is one of the most gentle and kind humans I’ve ever met. I still remember the first time I met him in Krutch Park in 2012 playing his oud while Preston Davis played the double bass. Later I’d see him perform with the Apocalypso Quartet and numerous times with Jodie Manross. One of my wife’s favorite necklaces was made by Laith, who is a talented jewelry maker. As many times as I’ve heard him play, it’s the Krutch Park performance that I cherish the most.
Part of the genesis of the music was an essay, The Coronation, by Charles Eisenstein. Wil said, “I was so desperate for perspective and inspiration in that first quarantine spell, and that essay showed up right on time. Just like coming together with Laith: right on time. (Laith) wrote his bits, and then I pulled in, composed the arrangements, channeling the Eisenstein essay that I was inspired by at the time, and just tried to build a world for it all to live in.”
Laith said, “This was Wil’s brain child. I think he saw me play the cumbus (pronounced “joombush”) on a live FB stream and he asked me to record some stuff and email it to him. I just sat and improvised and came up with my parts on the oud and cumbus, with some suggestions from Wil, recorded it to my phone and emailed the recordings. He took those parts and put it all together adding in the other instruments, effecting the sound and putting the separate parts together.”
Wil added, “I played or arranged everything except the solo instrument on each track, so a lot of piano and orchestral parts. . . I’ve spent the last few years primarily working on music via piano instead of guitar (due to) my pivot to contemporary classical and film scoring.”
From Laith’s opening note to “A New Crown for Everyone,” Wil Wright and Laith Keilany transport listeners to a contemplative space, though contemplation isn’t defined throughout as soft ambient sounds. Sometimes jarring, the sounds confront each other in a cacophony not unlike the clashing emotions, ideologies and realities of life in quarantine. The full gamut of emotions we’ve all experienced, the hopefulness, hopelessness, yearning and anger, loneliness and determination is all embodied in the music.
Will included particular lines from the article he felt resonated with his experience and help lead him artistically through each track. Quotes such as “What can guide us, as individuals and as a society, as we walk the garden of forking paths? At each junction, we can be aware of what we follow: fear or love, self-preservation or generosity.” Inspired by that quote, Wil constructed the dreamy motion of “In the Garden of of Forking Paths.”
Elegant and beautifully wrought from the beginning, the seven song album concludes with its longest track, “Love, Shining Through the Cracks.” From the essay, “No longer the vassals of fear, we can bring order to the kingdom and build an intentional society on the love already shining through the cracks of the world of separation.” By the time the last note sustains to its conclusion, the music has provided a glimpse of that possible kindom.
Wil said, “I feel like the pieces go through a lot of the emotional spectrum of this whole experience. I hope they’ll (listeners) feel connected to it in that way, and if they meet me in the Eisenstein headspace, even better. I feel worried and sad in this moment, but I believe there are beautiful possibilities for the future. I hope that comes through.” Laith added, “I hope the main thing (listeners) take from it is “hope. The title of the last track really brings the point home, for me at least. Getting to be a part of it was a life preserver, for me.”
You can listen to the entire album here and purchase it as a download. I hope you enjoy it. During this time, consider ways you can support local musicians. Their only remaining way to make money is through live performance and that has been removed for the foreseeable future. They could use your help. For me, this will work will be part of the soundtrack I remember from this strange interlude.
Courtesy of owner Mike Hermann, owner, a $50 gift card to Tall Man Toys and Comics. Send an email to Knoxvilleurbanguy@gmail.com with the subject header “Tall Man Toys and Gifts Gift Card Giveaway.” Mike asks that you support a nearby (downtown/Broadway/Happy Holler and out Central) business with take out, purchasing a gift card or making a donation. Let me know what you did in the body of your email. The contest will remain open through Saturday night.
#2 and #3
Also, there is still time to enter for a chance to win a $25 gift card to Bliss/Tori Mason and a pristine, clear vinyl LP copy of R.B. Morris’ latest album “Going Back to the Sky. It’s the first time R.B. has had a record pressed on vinyl and there are only 200 copies. It also comes with a digital download card. To enter send an email to KnoxvilleUrbanGuy@gmail.com with the subject header “Bliss/Tori Mason Gift Card Giveaway” or “R.B. Morris Album Giveaway,” depending on which you want to enter.
Same rules as before: “like” Knoxville Page on Facebook to help us help local businesses and donate at least $10 to something supporting COVID efforts or to someone impacted by the pandemic. Confirm in the email that you’ve done both and tell me how much and to whom you donated. Each entry requires its own donation. If you cannot donate at this time, enter anyway and just say so. It’s all good. The contest runs until midnight Friday night.