The most vivid and poignant of artistic expression is often drawn from a culmination of the utmost in profound realization, and the absolute of despondence. At Peace Beneath the Shade of My Father’s Tree, a cinematic soundtrack score by American composer Terry Lee Nichols, is one such example. Though it isn’t a companion piece to a motion picture at all, it still serves to underline a life’s story as ardent, gripping and visceral as any could be.
By RS Promotios
“There definitely are cinematic underpinnings to most of my compositions,” Nichols concedes, “I wanted to create a soundscape that reflected specific events throughout my life.” The result: an album of 17 moving and contemplative suites, all designed to tell the artist’s story in a non-linear recollection of experiences had, vignettes of moments captured, and a lifetime of challenges bested.
Having been cared for by his mother after she and his biological father divorced, Nichols stood as a sort of “pre-existing condition” when she remarried, and grew a larger family with his stepfather. The eldest of four siblings, and the only one fathered by a different man, feelings of disparity and aberration began to creep into Nichols’ psyche. This isolation lead him to focus almost obsessively on his interests and studies, the most dominant of which was the world of sound. He didn’t just enjoy music, he enjoyed the very blueprint and design of it – and he took to composing and arranging at a very young age. At only four years old, he would entertain his grandmother by playing incarnations of popular songs of the time on her piano. As he grew older, he learned to play the guitar and banjo as well, and by the time Terry Lee Nichols reached high school, he’d taken to composing and arranging music for the school marching band and for drama club stage shows.
It was there that the young artist began to study music theory and orchestration. “I loved Schenkerian analysis,” he explains “taking large compositions, say a complete, hour’s long opera by Wagner, and reducing it down to its most fundamental parts.”
Still, being so prodigious didn’t sit well with Nichols, as he watched his friends, siblings and cousins mature into less fanciful, if not less inventive, careers as doctors, lawyers and engineers. “The prospect of continuing my Ph.D. studies to become a music professor no longer seemed appealing,” He confesses, “So I moved into the field of enterprise software, but my skill in reducing harmonic and melodic components to their most basic elements proved instrumental in developing my ability to grasp large, complex systems with thousands of lines of computer code.”
At Peace Beneath the Shade of My Father’s Tree
Trying to realize himself within a more conventional status quo, however, left the man ill at ease. Music was still his truest passion, but he kept it at a distance; something he would also begin to do with his wife and his family, which only served to move him further down a slippery slope of self-destruction. After divorcing and losing his home, he went through a long period of self-exploration. He began to travel extensively, found himself interacting with people on a new level; and perhaps most importantly, he began to accept himself. “I met my [second] wife while dining in Orlando,” He reflects , “We were both from Florida, graduated high school at the same time, and just hit it off immediately. After we were married, she presented me with a Yamaha baby grand piano with a MIDI interface. And she encouraged me to start composing again.”
At Peace Beneath the Shade of My Father’s Tree is arguably one artist’s very personal set of impressions, but it doesn’t fall short of fostering a series of pensive and abstract experiences for its listeners. Where Nichols’ solace might be found beneath the cooling shade of a canopy of leaves and branches, with back rested against the steadfast support of that weathered trunk, ours might be found in simply being able to relate, and seeking the clarity to decipher where our own tree might be… or at least discover our inner ability to see the forest through them all.
For more information and samples, see www.terryleenichols.com.