Lynda Roth founded The Muse Project and served as its creative director, composer, and inspiring force from its inception in 2005 until her death in 2012. The project's first implementation, America Revealed, utilizes the power of music to teach American history and literature. The below video, in part narrated by Lynda, highlights this innovative program, offering an overview of its vision and scope. Comments from educators and students testify to the project's compelling success.
How it all began. The impetus for the project came in June 2005 during a morning's walk through Heisler Park in Laguna Beach, California. Lynda was considering the political climate at the time, feeling grateful for the many freedoms in her life and yet experiencing frustration at the direction of U.S. foreign policy. She began thinking in historical terms, reflecting on how this had likely often been the case: how a vision to expand rights and possibilities in America would set things in motion, and yet, too, how the resulting reality was not always what was anticipated. It was the eventual recognition of this mismatch between the two, she reasoned, which caused the vision to expand, thereby generating a new reality, and so forth. This push and pull between the vision and the reality is what propelled political consciousness forward. Our authentic history, she thought, was reflected not only in documents and proclamations from the government (such as The Declaration of Independence, The Gettysburg Address), but also in similar writings from and by the people: in their stories, poems, and speeches.
And here is where she made a critical, creative leap. As a professional musician and lifelong composer, she knew instinctively that music would provide the way to this understanding; it was through the power of music’s emotional connection that America could be revealed.
A friend—a retired LA school teacher—suggested she had the beginnings of an AP American History class. And then she met Robert Fossum, Claremont McKenna University Professor Emeritus and author of American Ground, a seminal work on historical documents and literature. Lynda and Bob began outlining thematic historical movements. From these, modules were created—among them the Origins module, the Women’s Movement module, the Manifest Destiny module, the Civil War/Reconstruction module—each supported by documents and proclamations, as well as poems and novels. Lynda also worked with other educators to gain their insights into which writings most accurately and passionately reflected the vision and the reality of the times. She began composing music to the words, giving them new life and meaning. The graduate education department at Chapman University began utilizing Lynda’s material in their sessions for their educators, and the Penn Literacy Network, a professional development program associated with the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. entered into a partnership with The Muse Project, creating booklets of lesson plans to be paired with Lynda’s compositions.
An overview. Lynda wrote 37 choral works as part of America Revealed. (A complete list is here.) The choice of music style, the major/minor key, tempo, instrumentation, vocals (male, female, both), etc., were purposely chosen with attention to the message: to reveal the wider context, to elicit emotion, and to enhance understanding. Lynda worked closely with Tom Zink (friend, pianist, Grammy nominated arranger, producer) during the recording of the pieces performed and sung by musicians and singers in his studio in Long Beach, California.
Everywhere the music was performed and workshops held to demonstrate the creative connection the music engendered, the result was enthusiasm and occasional awe. The beauty, originality, and power of the music stunned. By 2010, the work was being taught regularly in several primary schools in Pennsylvania and California where students not only sang the compositions, but also wrote their own lyrics and composed their own music. Lynda believed in the potential for school-wide endeavors, involving band, choir, theater, history, English/literature, and debate classes. The Muse Project was to be the catalyst to engaged learning.
More about the music. At the foundation of all of Lynda’s educational ideals and hopes is the music itself, which stands on its own, providing a gripping experience for all to hear and learn from. Of the composed works, The Constitution, Sojourner Truth's Ain't a Woman speech, The Gettysburg Address, The Declaration of Independence, The Indian Removal Act (You Will Go), and the 19th Amendment (giving women the right to vote) are complete and provided here.
A woman who attended one of Lynda’s salons was thrilled about the four-part recording of The Constitution. She was studying for the bar and knew that by listening to Lynda’s musical version (of a style, in Lynda's words, where Rogers and Hart meet Stephen Sondheim) she’d have it understood and memorized quicker and more completely.
Sojourner Truth’s famous 1851 speech in which she speaks of women’s rights/black rights has sounded again in the outcries during recent presidential elections. Lynda’s song version, Ain't I A Woman, is gutsy, bluesy, contagious, empowered.
The poetic Gettysburg Address, etched in stone in the Lincoln Memorial, soars harmoniously in Lynda's choral rendition. Just days before she died, Lynda was discussing the tremendous work being done to pull this final recording together and her hope that it might someday find its rightful home in Washington, D.C.
In Lynda's The Declaration of Independence, it is the men who begin singing, since The Declaration was written by men, for men. They begin in unison, then musically widen, a reflection on how, over time, thoughts of freedom began to expand. The female choir enters poignantly on the phrase “dissolve the bands.”
You Will Go extracts key phrases from The Indian Removal Act of 1830. Sung as a gospel ballad it offers a powerful awareness of a cruel reality: the government forcing Native Americans from their homes while attempting to placate them by promising to take care of them on their new land.
In The 19th Amendment the recurring phrase The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not abridged or denied on account of sex, is sung in various choral forms first by the women, then in unison with the men, using repetition to assert the importance of this female right.
Other compositions include Walt Whitman’s poem, Oh Captain! My Captain! (heard in a video below), written in simple song form for piano and vocals.
In the sung 1855 letter from Chief Seattle, a solitary male voice states the Chief's case while a chorus in the background repeats the haunting phrase: "How can you buy the sky, how can you sell the land...?"
For a piece based on the ruling Plessy vs. Ferguson, Lynda sought a vocalist with a voice more streetwise than refined. She hired a checkout clerk at the local Whole Foods who volunteered part-time at a homeless shelter. His voice along with the song’s contagious rhythm and the repeated phrase “Don’t ride that train..” bring a hip vitality to this rather dry, though important Supreme Court ruling.
History seems never more relevant than in our current political environment. Everywhere there is talk of the Constitution. Representatives in Congress and political activists praise it, say we must uphold it, that our democracy depends upon it. Recent books, films, and musicals focus on America's past and the intents of our founding fathers. Malcolm Nance writes about 'The Plot To Destroy Democracy.' Steven Spielberg directs 'Lincoln,' an ode to The Gettysburg Address. And certainly Lin-Manuel Miranda's 'Hamilton' stands as confirmation that when our collective history is expressed through great music, magic can happen.
Lynda's wish was to encourage others to reflect on America's dueling Vision and Reality, and to share what she had begun--to have others take her music, recreate it, build upon it.
Most of the compositions she wrote as part of The Muse Project have yet to be recorded. (The complete list is here.) One in particular is Uncle Tom’s Cabin from the novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe. A compilation of eight individual songs which focus on the main characters and their attitudes toward slavery as expressed in the story, it is a masterpiece that could take the form of a modern day musical. For details on these songs, which include ballads, a pavane, and a heavy metal piece (Simon Legree's Rant), see here.
To learn more and/or become involved in furthering awareness of Lynda's work,
contact Lisa Richter, trustee of The Muse Project, .
In a 2007 salon in which The Declaration of Independence was sung live, Lynda speaks of the process of creation and her role as creative director of The Muse Project.
The Sage Hill Singers (from Sage Hill High School in Newport
Beach, California) at the 2007 salon in Laguna. The video picks up at the end of their performance of The Declaration of Independence, and continues with an impromptu singing of 'You Will Go,' composed by Lynda, the performance directed by Megan Eddy with Laurel Conner on piano.
Lynda, again at the 2007 salon, offering further thoughts on the power of music.
Members of Laguna Beach's No Square Theatre performing 'Oh Captain! My Captain!' with Lynda on piano.