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Upstate New York's unique seasons inspire a musical love letter to the region

Guitarist Simon Fletcher sits with Ann Younger, who reopened the historic Avon Park Theater. He performed his 12-song composition "Soundtrack to the Seasons: Upstate New York" on July 29, 2022.
Jacob Walsh
Guitarist Simon Fletcher sits with Ann Younger, who reopened the historic Avon Park Theater. He performed his 12-song composition "Soundtrack to the Seasons: Upstate New York" on July 29, 2022.

For guitarist Simon Fletcher, a Rush native and Eastman School of Music alumnus, the premiere of his 12-part instrumental composition “Soundtrack to the Seasons: Upstate New York” is about returning to his roots.

“I wanted to do this song cycle about home, because it’s something I knew how to write about,” Fletcher said. “And I was really inspired by some of these old-timers, like (Igor) Stravinsky saying crazy stuff like he believed that one day his hometown would impregnate the world with thought.”

Fletcher realized he felt similarly about Avon and Rush, and that resonance with his roots grounded the creation of the cycle — a collection of short songs, instrumentals in this case, which center around a common theme.

Fletcher and a small ensemble of musicians will perform “Soundtrack to the Seasons” for the first time on Friday, July 29 at Avon Park Theater as part of its grand reopening, on the eve of its 84th anniversary.

In June 2021, Fletcher finished recording the album, but he wasn’t certain the music would find a home where it could be performed live — until he stumbled across the Avon Park Theater last winter.

The Park Theater, at 71 Genesee St., first opened as a movie house in 1938. Beginning in the 1960s, the Avon VFW ran it for more than three decades, but the theater hadn’t been used for entertainment purposes since 2003. Avon resident Ann Younger bought the venue four years ago.

“I am so grateful Simon found me to offer something — ‘Look it, this is original, this is local,’” Younger said. “You can’t get much more local and it’s very cool.”

Fletcher’s composition, which includes smatterings of jazz, folk, and rock, is contemplative but touched by an inquisitive restlessness. To accompany each of the 12 songs — one for each month of the year — he created simple “mini-movies” to engage the audience more deeply.

He likes that instrumental music allows the listener to fully invest in their own interpretation of the music, but he also wanted to hold their attention.

“What I’m trying to do with some of these visuals is just feed ‘em a little something — 30 seconds — just feed ‘em something else to just keep your story going,” he said. “I want you to smell autumn; I want you to really get in there.”

The structure of the song cycle reflects the cyclical nature of the seasons. Beginning with a solo guitar for the month of July, Fletcher adds one additional instrument each subsequent month until there are six players for December and January, before gradually diminishing the instrumentation back to a single player in June.

“We actually get a lot closer to people in the winter,” Fletcher said. “Batten down the hatches, and you better pick the right people.”

Fletcher was directly inspired by author Kurt Vonnegut’s interpretation of the seasons as lived by upstate New Yorkers. His theory, outlined in a 1978 speech given at SUNY Fredonia and later published in the book “If This Isn’t Nice, I Don’t Know What Is,” was that residents were often depressed or angry because they didn’t have a clear sense of what season it was.

Vonnegut postulated that in addition to the four seasons we all know, there are the seasons of “locking” in November and December and “unlocking” in March and April. Fletcher said winter makes him anxious, but his discovery of Vonnegut’s speech about the six seasons gave him a healthier perspective on life during the in-between seasons.

Still, the disorienting nature of those months is present in the music. “I wrote it in that way, too,” Fletcher said. “I think the music gets more antsy and compact there in the middle, with the six (musicians) stuff going on, these weird time signatures and everything like that — kind of like this confusion. And that's kind of what, for me, winter smells like, with these holidays and with also like this kind of pent-up energy.”

Fletcher was also inspired by Vonnegut’s writing style, simultaneously dark and humorous, to communicate the challenging emotional perspectives behind the songs. The musician was initially hesitant to explore the highly personal nature of the composition.

“I was like, I don't know if I can go back there with a smile, or something healthy going on”, the composer recalled. “Because some of it’s dark, man. ‘Crumpled Kiss.’ That’s some really dark stuff for me.

“And I'm like, I'm not only gonna finish writing it, I'm gonna get people together. I'm gonna record this thing. I'm gonna put it to bed. And you know what I'm gonna do with this thing after,” he said, picking up copies of the sheet music as placeholders for the song cycle’s original manuscripts. “I'm gonna burn it, ‘cause I got to put it away.”

For more information on the premiere of Simon Fletcher’s “Soundtrack to the Seasons: Upstate New York,” go to eventbrite.com.

Copyright 2022 WXXI News

Daniel J. Kushner
Mona Seghatoleslami is the Music Director, host and producer on WXXI Classical 91.5 FM weekdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. She also hosts the lunchtime concert series Live From Hochstein Wednesdays at 12:10 p.m., interviews musicians, produces special programs, and works on any project she can find that helps connect people and music in our community through WXXI.