A Q&A with Howard Fishman about “Connie’s Piano Songs: The Art Songs of Elizabeth ‘Connie’ Converse”



We’re quite excited to be hosting a release show for Connie’s Piano Songs: The Art Songs of Elizabeth “Connie” Converse on Monday, February 17, so we caught up with the multitalented guitarist, singer, composer and bandleader Howard Fishman, who produced this album of never-before-heard songs, and asked him a few questions about the project.
If you’re unfamiliar with the fascinating story of Connie Converse, her music and her mysterious disappearance in 1974, we recommend digging into the terrific essay that Fishman wrote for the liner notes of the new album, which features the recording debuts of soprano Charlotte Mundy and pianist Christopher Goddard.
If you don’t want to miss this rare chance to see Connie Converse’s last known musical compositions performed live at LPR, grab your tickets for the 2/17 album release show now.
LPR: How did you first encounter Connie Converse’s music?
Howard Fishman: I started hearing about her around the time of David Garland’s “Spinning On Air” WNYC feature on her and her music, but didn’t actually seek out her music until a year or two after that. I thought the whole story sounded too fantastic to be true, right down to her name.
What was the most challenging part of transforming her handwritten manuscripts into the final recordings?
Not being able to talk with her about what she intended for certain pieces, though most of the time she’s quite specific in her notation. For someone without much musical training, the scores are remarkably sophisticated. And sometimes really weird, too.

What was it like meeting and talking with Connie’s family?
It’s been a profoundly meaningful experience. They’ll all so kind and helpful and eager to do anything they can to contribute to Connie’s legacy as an artist.
What would you say is the biggest difference between Connie’s piano songs and her guitar songs?
They almost sound like the work of two different artists. The piano songs are not as immediately accessible — at least, they weren’t to my ears. Where the guitar songs have these melodies that stick with you almost instantly, the piano songs are thornier, more demanding and challenging. But I think people will find that with repeated listening, they are just as rewarding, full of the same pathos, humor and eccentricity that make the guitar songs so indelible. She’s simply speaking in a new language in these more mature songs.
How do you think Connie’s time in New York influenced her music?
I think New York can push us in ways that living in — say — Peoria can’t. Which is not to say that great art can’t be produced in Peoria. But, I think, being surrounded by the tremendous energy and drive of the city’s cultural world can spur people to heights of creative ambition and inspiration that they may not reach in many other places. I think New York made her the artist that she was. Sadly, it also broke her.
Do you have a favorite lyric from Connie’s piano songs?
Her lyrics are nonpareil, as far as I’m concerned. Just take this opening stanza from “Incommunicado,” the very first song on the album:
“Shall I then expect a summer snow
Because you tell me so?
I might as well believe/ My absence made you grieve
That tongue turns rain to snow and false to true;
What’s grief to me is summer snow to you”
A favorite compositional moment in her piano songs?
There is a thrilling piano coda to “The Age of Noon” that just takes my breath away every time I hear it. It’s dramatic and soulful and full of mystery, just like she was.

How did Charlotte Mundy and Christopher Goddard become involved?
Both Charlotte and Chris have worked with me on a project I’ve been developing in New York called “A Star Has Burnt My Eye,” a theater piece with music about Connie.
What can people expect when they come to the release show on 2/17?
Charlotte and Chris will perform most of the songs on the album, and maybe a few NOT on the album. Filmmaker Andrea Kannes will be on hand to show the first ten minutes of the Connie Converse documentary she’s been making, and both David Garland and Dan Dzula (producer of How Sad, How Lovely, the first Connie Converse album) will be on hand to say a few words about their experiences discovering Connie’s music.

Anything else you’d like to add?
This is a labor of love for all involved. I just wish that she were around to hear the debut of her beautiful music, finally — a half century late. This is a valentine to her.
**Get tickets here for the Connie’s Piano Songs: The Art Songs of Elizabeth “Connie” Converse CD release show on Monday, February 17th**
posted by John