aNewDomain — From the Nowhere Farm in rural Ohio where the married pair of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist grow songs for their band Over The Rhine comes their new Christmas album, Blood Oranges in the Snow. As with all of the band’s albums, the music on this one is an intoxicating blend of acoustic rock, art-pop, gospel and literary lyrics. Blood Oranges in the Snow, like the band’s 2007 Snow Angels, is focused on Christmas and Winter.
Over The Rhine, which is named for a historic district in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, began putting out music in 1991. It is arguably best known for literary lyrics, mainly delivered by the classically trained vocal pipes of Bergquist. The literary influences on Detweiler and Bergquist include Annie Dillard, Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, W.B. Yeats, Henry Charles Bukowski, Robert Frost, Rainer M. Rilke, Mary Oliver, Flannery O’Connor, Ted Kooser and the King James Bible (to name just a few).
History and Inspiration
While Bergquist, who is known for her sharp sense of humor, says that her earliest musical and artistic influences were gospel music and the Hee-Haw television show, her husband grew up in a household without television. This meant that Detweiler had to come up with his own images and get his stimulation from books and records.
Detweiler’s father had grown up in a religious Amish household where music was forbidden. The only music that was supposed to be heard were the hymns that got played in church. But Detweiler’s father and his brother hid a guitar in secret in a pile of straw in the family’s barn — until one tragic day when another brother, unaware of the guitar’s hidden presence, destroyed the instrument with a pitchfork.
Likewise, Detweiler’s mother came from an Amish household without music. But she got one of her teachers at school to help her make a cardboard cutout of a piano keyboard. In her bedroom she would pretend to play the piano, hearing music that she composed in her imagination.
Linford was thus brought up with eclectic musical influences (his father’s self-educated musical tastes knew little of “rules” or cultured prejudices) and was encouraged to create his own music. But the music of the church and rhythms of the Psalms still seeped deep into his bones and stayed there.
It’s fitting that Over The Rhine would record a hauntingly beautiful and poetic Christmas album, for Detweiler says:
I think it’s fair to say that our records have been Christ-haunted. My father was a minister for part of his life, and certainly, the big questions show up in our music. Somebody said that there are only three subjects available to the writer: God, love and death. And we try to write about all three.”
However, the band keeps a meaningful distance between that presiding holy ghost and its final creations. Bergquist tells us:
[Y]ou don’t choose your audience — they choose you. And the more diverse our audience is, the better. Many different people have found our music, and I think part of that is because they are sort of landing where we are. I can summarize it best by the [Rilke] quote that he wrote in Letters to a Young Poet where he says, ‘Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.’ And I love that quote; I embraced it in my 20s.”
Check out Over The Rhine delivering an amazing life performance of their retro-jazz song “All I Ever Get for Christmas Is Blue”:
Video: Over The Rhine All I Ever Get For Christmas Is Blue
Quite recently, Detweiler and Bergquist have taken on an exciting new project. They’re going to restore and transform a 140-year-old barn situated 15 minutes away from Nowhere Farm into a recording studio and a venue for live music performances. Once it’s up and running, the new venue will feature Over The Rhine performances, special guest performances and writing and composing workshops. Over The Rhine will still tour, but the new venue will give the songwriting pair an opportunity to invite the band’s diverse musical audience to come see them “at home.”
Nowhere Farm is a magical place of coffee, dogs, birds, silence and a small, sparsely furnished writing shack just far enough away from the house to allow Detweiler the necessary space that a writer needs. He can miss his wife and dogs in the shack which he and Bergquist, who married in 1996, bought after living many years in the city and going out on countless tours over the years. Nowhere Farm is also a place where, to follow Detweiler’s father’s admonition, they can “leave the edges wild and let the birds have their hidden places for their untamed music.”
[After arriving home from being on tour, one] of the first things I like to do is fill the bird-feeders – the painted green wooden feeder that my father made by hand and gave us one Christmas, the finch feeders, the suet feeders for the woodpeckers, etc. Not all birds fly south for the Winter and this act of tending to the many songbirds that overwinter on or near the farm feels like a thread that connects me to an earlier time. And it reminds me that even if it’s something relatively insignificant, there is usually more than enough to go around.”
Detweiler and Bergquist also give us a list of things to be thankful for at this time of year, and all year ‘round:
- Chosen family – we’ve found each other
- Good dogs
- Good music
- Meaningful work
- Our accumulated memories and stories
- Our sometimes loneliness
- The gift of learning to be astonished
- The gift of learning that through our imperfect world runs a deep current of love that refuses to be contained or extinguished
There’s no better time than the Christmas holiday season to believe in and get in touch with that “deep current of love that refuses to be contained or extinguished” running “through our imperfect world.” After all, a perfect world would have no use for the wild, untamed edges of Blood Oranges in the Snow.
Brant David McLaughlin — aka Brant David — is a Milford, NJ-based senior writer for us here at aNewDomain. Follow him at his +BrantDavid Google+ page. Email him at Brant@aNewDomain.net.