Coming to America

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

America is a concept of refuge as well as a land of new opportunities. Composer-Pianist Lisa Swerdlow's New Music Shares the Journey of Her Ancestors in the "Coming to America Concerto" An homage to her Jewish ancestors, who fled the Russian pogroms, Swerdlow hopes the music offers solace for anyone trying to build a better life in America.

This is a story told using musical notes rather than words. The sound is instrumental, a piano orchestrated into a broad horizon of expression and emotion. The orchestration and inspirational support accompanying Lisa Swerdlow was created in collaboration with Doug Hammer at Dreamworld Productions.

Between 1880 and 1920, more than two million Russian Jewish immigrants came to the United States. The years before the Holocaust were an era of rapid change for Russian Jews, leaving behind the dreadful poverty of the Pale of Settlement. This is the very personal story of Lisa Swerdlow's grandparents who fled Russia to find a way to survive the harsh conditions.

The music begins with almost a Klezmer feeling, woodwinds and piano joined by strings, solemn and uplifting. The emotions range from darkness to confidence and positivity, portraying a confined place where the displaced persons struggled to survive, they left with their best hopes for finding safety for their families. 

Lisa Swerdlow is a pianist and composer of classical crossover, neo-classical and new age music. Born and raised in Los Angeles, her childhood home was full of music thanks to her father's piano, accordion, mandolin playing, and his beloved RCA record player.

Lisa began studying classical piano at the age of six, and by age 16, she was writing and performing songs on piano and guitar. She went on to study music theory and composition at Humboldt State University and College of the Redwoods. Lisa's early musical influences range from Laura Nyro and Carole King to Harry Belafonte and Burt Bacharach. Later in life, she was drawn to the piano music of Keith Jarrett, David Lanz, Eddy Palmieri, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Barbara Higbie and Mary Watkins. 

In the 1970s, Lisa performed in coffee houses on Fairfax Avenue in L.A. and went on to play piano in a rock 'n' roll band in San Francisco. In the 1980s she performed at the West Coast Women's Music Festival, and soon after toured Northern California with a ten-piece all women salsa band called Las Malandras. These genres have influenced her unique composing style, and Lisa has moved into more complex orchestration and arrangements in recent years.

Lisa’s solo piano compositions are featured on her debut CD Equus Rising (2017), and Voyager (2018). She followed up with Lasting Impressions (2019) and a series of singles: “Dawn Contemplation” (2020), “Carousel of Life” (2020), “Still Here” (2019), and the latest “All Is Not Lost” which released August 13, 2021; the latter two works pay tribute to her triumph over cancer.  Lisa has also been featured on the Mindful Music Association’s compilations A Better Life (2019) and Focus Zone (2021). Her new EP, the fully-orchestrated Coming to America Concerto, released on September 17, 2021.

The inspiration for composing the Coming To America Concerto came during the long Covid-19 quarantine.  She shares some thoughts about her inspiration and creative process for this important project, exploring her personal ancestoral story. "As I spent days, weeks and eventually months in my home, I started researching my grandparents’ immigration to the United States from Russia (and what is now Ukraine) in the years 1907-1910 due to persecution of the Jewish people.  I reflected on the courage it must have taken for them to leave their homeland of many centuries, their family and friends, to sail to a foreign country they had barely heard of called “America.”  Had these villagers and townspeople not made that sacrifice, I would not have been born here, in this country that--even with all its flaws and dark eras of history--has given me so many freedoms and choices not available to the current people of Russia and Ukraine.
"I dedicate this concerto to my Grandparents, and to all the immigrants who come to this country called “America” in search of safety and the promise of Hope."
The Movements
First Movement:  Home of My Ancestors
This Russian klezmer-themed movement tells the tale of life in the Jewish ghettos and villages of late 19th and early 20th century Russia.  Life had its joys and celebrations as well as its fears, especially of the Czar’s army showing up to desecrate what the villagers most loved and valued: their traditions, their homes, their temples.  But, the Jewish people were and are resilient people who keep their spirits alive, even in the face of adversity. Finally, the time came for them to seek a new homeland.
Second Movement:  The Crossing
In this movement, I imagined my Grandparents carrying what possessions they could, living in cramped steerage quarters far below deck on a huge ocean liner such as the Mauritania. The music captures the journey: feeling seasick, longing for their homeland, the great trepidation of crossing an endless ocean bound for “America,” which was probably more of a concept to them than an actual place. Their uncertainty is matched only by their determination to best the conditions on board; sometimes they dream of home.
Third Movement:  The Arrival
At long last, they step onto the deck of the ship.Their excitement and anticipation grows as they make out New York Harbor on the horizon.  The huge ship’s engines grind into reverse, as the shoreline grows closer and the harbor becomes clear.  The reality dawns:  a new life is awaiting them, in a country where they don’t speak the language, don’t understand its currency, and don’t have any friends or relatives waiting for them. Still, as they sail next to the Statue of Liberty, they understand her welcoming message, feeling grateful for their new homeland.
"I hope you enjoy this concerto, both hearing and feeling the story I am trying to tell. A story of the courage, hope and dreams that reside in all who immigrate to this place called “America.”

Lisa lives in the Sierra Foothills of Northern California with her wife, Lucie, their horses, and Tuxedo the cat. Lisa balances her time at the piano with beekeeping and organic gardening, which she has enjoyed doing for over 40 years. 

Swerdlow's America is a concept of refuge as well as a land of new opportunities. America can be the first choice for a new start, but sometimes it was also the last resort after losing everything. Her concerto tells a story of loss and disaster, which resolves into a positive message of inspiration, survival and spiritual endurance.

The music was recorded at Piano Haven Studio, in Sedona, AZ. It was engineered by Joe Bongiorno, orchestrated by Doug Hammer, and mastered at Dreamworld Productions. The EP is available in various formats including physical CD, digital download, and streaming worldwide; Swerdlow's music can be found on Spotify playlists including Calming Piano and Strings, Elegant Music, Romantic Piano Moods, and many more.

Coming to America Concerto - Tracklist
"Movement 1: Home of My Ancestors" (3:36)
"Movement 2: The Crossing" (3:41)
"Movement 3: The Arrival" (3:42)

Buy, stream or download the Coming to America Concerto by Lisa Swerdlow from the platform of your choice:

Official website -
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Concert Tix -

Preview: Coming to America Concerto


Submitted: September 17, 2021

© Copyright 2022 Robin James. All rights reserved.

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