Composer to perform works inspired by living in Upper Valley

  • Elizabeth Borowsky, left, works with Ryle Isuga, 15, of Lebanon, N.H., during a lesson at Piano Prodigies in Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Borowsky writes original compositions for her students' birthdays and will be performing a selection of them during a performance on Saturday. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

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    Elizabeth Borowsky, left, shows Ryle Isuga, 15, of Lebanon, N.H., how to hold his fingers as he plays during a lesson at Piano Prodigies in Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Ryle is a new student at Piano Prodigies and has only been taking lessons with Borowsky for about a month. "He's a new student, but he's not new to music," she said. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America photographs — Alex Driehaus

  • Elizabeth Borowsky, left, works with Ryle Isuga, 15, of Lebanon, N.H., during a lesson at Piano Prodigies in Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Borowsky encourages her students to ask questions about the pieces they are learning to help them engage with the creative process. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america — Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/1/2021 10:02:02 PM
Modified: 10/1/2021 10:02:08 PM

LEBANON — As much as she loves her work, sometimes Elizabeth Borowski needs to get away from it.

So when she has a break in her schedule of teaching piano lessons, practicing and writing music, she gets outside. That’s why people live here, isn’t it?

Borowsky, 38, takes her folding kayak out onto Mascoma Lake, or bikes on the rail trail or hikes with her dog, Max, and with friends.

“It seems there are more trails than I could ever successfully find on my own,” she said in an interview this week in her Lebanon studio.

When she gets back down to work, that time outdoors has an influence on her. Nature reflects the great human balancing act, between the simple joy of being alive and the duty, sometimes grim, of making a living.

Borowsky has turned her experience of that balance into The Nature of Life, a song cycle that will have its premiere Saturday afternoon in Maine. Borowsky and singer Jessica Deskin will then perform it as part of a program of music Saturday night at Lebanon’s First Congregational Church and Sunday afternoon at a house concert in Hanover.

Composed through a commission from the New Hampshire Music Teachers Association and the Music Teachers National Association, The Nature of Life is very much a product of the Upper Valley. Borowsky composed it with the area’s natural beauty in mind, and it is named for a poem written by Lebanon native and life-long resident Thomas Dubuque.

Borowsky moved to the Upper Valley from her native Maryland in 2015 when her then-husband got a job here. She feels settled in the area both because of the setting and for her students.

She teaches in a studio in Lebanon’s former Excelsior Mill on Bank Street Extension.

In addition to Dubuque’s poem, Borowsky also set to music Robert Frost’s classic poemBirches, and work by other New England poets.

One, by the 19th-century transcendentalist poet Ellen Sturgis Hooper, gets right at the balance Borowsky senses:

“I slept and dreamt that life was Beauty,” it begins. “I woke and found that life was Duty.”

Birches, too, is a “reflection on the balance between the imagination and joy of life and the weight of responsibility,” Borowsky said.

Dubuque, 60, has written poetry since early adolescence, and composed The Nature of Life in his head while sitting on the dock of a home he owned on Crystal Lake in Enfield. He ran inside and wrote it down, he said.

Most of his poems and song lyrics are stored in a cardboard box, but he had this one written out in calligraphy and framed, which was how Borowsky discovered it. Dubuque, a 1979 Lebanon High graduate who once owned a chain of cell phone stores in New Hampshire and is now semi-retired, was her landlord and they are now close friends, Borowsky said.

“I initially thought it, from writing songs, I thought it was too clunky” to set to music, Dubuque said. But “with some small adaptations, she was able to make it work as a song.” He’s heard Borowsky perform it, but with Deskin singing it will be a fuller experience, he said.

“I think it’s really going to be something special,” he said.

The local concerts are productions of Classicopia, which for 20 years has presented classical music to Upper Valley audiences in intimate settings, usually local churches and private homes.

They also represent a bit of a departure for Classicopia. The Nature of Life blends Borowsky’s classical background with pop and jazz. Deskin, a friend of Borowsky’s from college, also has classical training, but she’s spent time in Nashville, and her own songs are written with a pop sensibility that suits her alto voice.

The program also features several of Deskin’s original songs, written over the course of the past 20 years.

“It was all about choosing songs that are about human emotions and are relatable,” Deskin said.

Borowsky also will play some of the solo piano compositions she has been making for her students’ birthdays.

She spent the pandemic working on both the song cycle and on putting the birthday compositions on her website for other piano teachers to download. The pieces usually contain some elements that the student is trying to learn and they often lead to a breakthrough. She does the bulk of the writing, then finishes the pieces with the student next to her on the piano bench.

The birthday pieces, which now number more than 80, also merge the classical and the pop.

Borowsky played Adventures of the Planets, a piece written for a student’s eighth birthday. Its swirling, formal structures lead to chords that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Katy Perry song. The overall effect is cinematic.

“Even though the series is a classical series, I really believe this music is going to appeal to listeners who appreciate a variety of musical styles,” Borowsky said.

The song cycle could be performed by an operatic soprano, and Deskin first thought that was what Borowsky had in mind. But that kind of lofty, formal interpretation would have made the songs less approachable. They reworked the songs to fit Deskin’s range.

“When she performs this it has all the flavors that are enhancing the performance, that are beyond what I had imagined,” Borowsky said.

That daily struggle, between nature and modernity, beauty and duty, calls for a warmer voice.

The Nature of Life, a concert presented by Classicopia, is planned for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2 at Lebanon’s First Congregational Church. Tickets cost $18 in advance, $20 at the door, $15 for church members, and free for those 18 and under. A second local concert is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday at the Hanover home of Marilyn and Al Austin-Nelson. Tickets are $30. Vaccinations and masks are required at both performances. Tickets are available through classicopia.org.




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