Pianist Sandy Baetzhold and I were seeking material for a recital tentatively titled Music By and About Women when I sent out a call to all my Facebook friends for recommendations. We needed an American song cycle in which either the poetry or music was composed by a woman. My dear friend and fellow mezzo-soprano Sarah Mattox then divulged to me her dirty secret: she was even now setting to music a cycle of poems she had written herself! American female poet AND composer? AND my friend? Jackpot! This wickedly multi-talented woman (it is also her art that graces the cover of this album!) sent me some of the poems and I was instantly hooked. I can no longer remember now which poem I read first, but a couple of lines in particular struck me:
Pressing my fingers/ into the loose turned soil.
I wonder if this is what it feels like/ when the trees wiggle their toes.
Trees wiggling their toes? How do you get that charming image out of your head? How can your soul not take flight on these words? As it turned out, this lyric was from “Trees”, the seventh in the cycle that Sarah had entitled In the Garden. Hmmmm, gardens? It is entirely because of this enchanting work that suddenly Sandy and I were seized by a burning conflict: Music By and About Women, or Gardens? Of course the winner is obvious, though the original theme left its mark; Sarah is one of two female composers on this album, and most of the Respighi songs are by female poets. I confess Sandy and I felt a bit like traitors to our sex, but the garden idea just would not be denied, and the gems we discovered in our search for garden-themed songs locked it in. We sincerely hope all these songs give you the same thrill they give us.
– Barbara LeMay