Tuesday, June 14. It was warm in St. Louis. We were talking about a music project. My collaborator’s Lola Hennicke. The mentor is Robert Chamberlin. My name’s Hiestand. I carry a pen.
I’d finished writing Shadow In the Smoke, the third McLaren mystery novel, and needed a melody for the song lyrics featured in the book. Mr. Chamberlin, a composer and my former music prof at Webster University, hadn’t the time to write the music but suggested a student he knew: Lola Hennicke. That’s how we came to talk that day in my living room.
“When do you want it?” Lola asked. She knew she had to write a torch song melody and render it in a 1940s style — both befitting my novel’s singer, Janet Ennis. Lola confessed she hadn’t known what a torch song was. But she’d researched the topic. It hadn’t helped much. Artists as different as Celine Dion, Carrie Underwood, Aretha Franklin and Etta James bore the title.
So Lola and I talked. I wanted the song to be jazzy/bluesy, a lament for a lost love. Lola said she was in luck; most of the music she writes is that style and subject.
She was confident she could come up with something. And record the song with her acoustic group — piano, upright bass, and drums — coincidently the same three instruments as Janet Ennis’ fictional trio.
“Don’t wanna rush you. Book’s out May,” I said, giving her the facts. Lola had nearly a year, but her schedule might be full. You know how that goes.
“You have a title for this?” she asked, eyeing the lyrics.
“Good idea. I’ve written just three songs before. One was for the second McLaren mystery, Last Seen. Had that song recorded by an English folksinging duo. But this song’s not as easy to pinpoint. What do you think?”
“How about ‘Never Leave My Side’? It fits with the song’s lament.”
I gave an enthusiastic nod to the title and our alumna/student collaboration, then we agreed on a delivery date, and they left.
I didn’t hear anything more either from Lola or Mr. C until a few weeks later when Lola emailed me a copy of the recording. The powerful, velvety voice and haunting melody overwhelmed me. Even more so when I listened to her during a November recital.
First time I’d heard my lyrics sung in public, a real clef-hanger for me. My folk singer friends might’ve sung the Last Seen’s song, but I’d not got a rondo finding out. But this was now; I was here. If I’d not been so nervous I’d have been trilled with it all.
“Funny how things work out,” I intoned.
“How’s that?” Mr. C chimed in.
“Book-bound Janet Ennis is alive and well, and singing with the passion I hoped I’d written.”
“Not so funny,” Mr C noted. “Lola’s sharp; plus, you know the score. Bet writing this song was no treble at all.”