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The Big Read: Shades of Poe is a month-long celebration inspiring San Diegans to read Edgar Allan Poe through visual art, performances, music, exhibits, and celebrity appearances. Here’s a full schedule.

I was approached as civic organist to be involved with The Big Read: Shades of Poe. At first, my brow furrowed and I thought, “What has this to do with the organ?” Really not much but, the concept intrigued me. I always like a good project I can get my teeth into!

As a writer, Edgar Allan Poe has gained much respect and he is regarded as one of the greats in the literary world. When one looks at the dates when he lived (1809-49), we realize he was in the time of some of the greatest artists and composers. This was my catalyst for going ahead with the project.

Some of my favorite composers were his contemporaries — Chopin (1810-49); Schumann (1810-56); Mendelssohn (1809-47); Berlioz (1803-69). These are just a few names of the big hitters.

Poe’s life was one of extremes. He loved deeply but much of his writing is of terror and sadness. I would draw a similarity between Chopin and him. Chopin left his beloved Poland at a young age and spent the rest of his life in Paris. But, he always felt homesick. He had a turbulent affair with the writer George Sand. Some of Chopin’s music is extremely dark and some music light and joyous — take the various Preludes composed for piano. One of the darker preludes (I will arrange for the organ) will make a great backdrop for one of the Poe readings.

Poe spent some of his early life in Scotland and England. Consider Scotland with its harsh, unforgiving countryside — if one takes some of the Scottish folk music, this too would make another great backdrop for his music. The poignant melody of “Dark Island” would be very suitable indeed.

Each Sunday in April, a reader will select about three minutes worth of Poe’s work and, my challenge will be to find the appropriate music to enhance the atmosphere. Do come along — it is going to be different!

Carol Williams is the San Diego civic organist.


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