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Sussman's songs brought to life in Chambersburg

March 21, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - When it comes to writing a song, which comes first, the words or the music?

"If you go through this list of 22 songs, it happens both ways," Andrew Sussman said after Sunday's performance of The Music of Andrew Sussman, in Wilson College's Thomson Chapel.

"Working on a musical, the words usually come first. It suggests a certain mood or texture to a song," said Sussman, founder of the Cumberland Valley School of Music and composer of all 22 songs and the lyricist for several of them.

The cabaret-style performance featured pieces Sussman has composed over a quarter of a century, the earliest being "Like a Whisper in the Night."

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Tenor Jim Van Slyke told the audience it was one of Sussman's personal favorites, "because it helped convince Sally to become his wife."

"We had spent a month traveling together, then she immigrated to Australia," Sussman said of his wife, a native of South Africa. Living in New York City at the time, Sussman composed the piece, sent it to her and, before long, they were married.

Many of the songs of love and love lost are from musicals and plays in which Sussman collaborated with lyricists Marcus Steinour of St. Thomas, Pa., Donald Loftus of New York City, Patti McKenny of Chicago and Bill Medica of Pittsburgh. Though Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II might have labored side-by-side to compose a song, Sussman said that need not be the case in the age of the Internet.

"Eventually, you have to (meet), but it's amazing what you can do with e-mail," Sussman said. He and Loftus collaborated on "Abbey Victoria: A Musical Daydream" without meeting until it was nearly completed.

"The whole basis of the show was done over the Internet," he said. "I've worked with a lyricist in Spain. The Internet is fabulous."

Steinour worked as a computer programmer and administrator at Letterkenny Army Depot for 37 years, but has been writing plays since the 1950s.

Of the 25 he has written, he said just one, "A Touch of Bourbon," was a musical and there was "incidental music" to a couple of others, for which he worked with Sussman.

"It's wonderful, but it's terrifying," Steinour said of seeing his work on stage. He confessed to opening-night jitters whenever one of his shows premiered.

The songs were performed by Van Slyke, who lives near Washington, D.C., New York stage veteran Mary Jayne Raleigh and 13-year-old Holly Culbertson of Chambersburg with Brian Helman, a teacher at the Cumberland Valley School of Music, on piano.

Culbertson, who performed two selections from "Pollyanna" by Sussman and Loftus, said she has been singing since she was 3 and hopes to make music a career.

A second performance of "The Music of Andrew Sussman" is scheduled for 7 p.m., Saturday, March 26, in Thomson Chapel. For ticket information, call 717-261-1220 or go to Sussman's Web site, www.andrewsussman.com.

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