ITEM REMOVED FROM THE SITE
instead the DVD Film Kahlil Gibran - The Man and his work
It was the turbulent Sixties . . . the height
of the Viet Nam War . . . a time for youthful questioning of authority,
of the military draft, of one generation’s traditions by
the other . . . a decade for reassessing religious, political
and social institutions . . .
Mark Haskett was just out of
high school, accepted into college on a track to enter the ministry.
He’d also been given a “1-A” draft classification,
and his application for a Conscientious Objector deferment (on
the grounds that fighting a senseless war shouldn’t be the
only definition of “national service”) had just been
rejected by his local draft board. Only a high number in the first
year of the lottery kept him from leaving the U.S. — whether
on a transport to Viet Nam or a bus to Canada.
After trading divinity school for the study of
philsophy, Mark was asked by a classmate to sing at his upcoming
wedding. Despite a repertoire of then-popular standards like The
Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” Mark
kept returning for inspiration to a chapter he’d read in
Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, entitled “On Marriage.”
The decades-old treasury of poetic homilies had made a literary
comeback during the Sixties, the book’s universal wisdom
and practical spirituality lending its voice to yet another generation
searching for Truth without the baggage of existing institutions.
The chapter “On Marriage”—
or counsel, as Gibran preferred to call The Prophet’s thematic
sections — had been quoted at countless wedding ceremonies
ever since the book was published in 1926. But, so far as Mark
could find, the words had never been sung.
Drawing on the music he’d grown up with
— Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul and Mary; The Beatles — Mark
set “On Marriage” to guitar chords during the course
of one afternoon, also writing a melody line and a harmony part
for his own soon-to-be wife, Nancy. Within weeks after performing
the song it became a staple at the weddings of other friends and
acquaintances. People soon asked Mark to adapt Gibran’s
poetry to other life-cycle events, from childbirths to funerals.
Over the next several years he set most of The Prophet’s
other counsels to music as well, structuring the free-form verse
into stanzas and refrains, rearranging the order of the lines,
but always preserving Gibran’s exact words and unmistakable
prose. Drawing on a broader range of musical styles and favorite
musicians — from Joni Mitchell and James Taylor to Dan Fogelberg
and Frank Sinatra, from Jesus Christ Superstar to Chicago —
the songs began to take on their own distinctive flavors.
However, with Mark’s first public performance of the collection
(as the Sunday-morning service at a local Unitarian Fellowship),
the guitar-accompanied songs still felt more like folk ballads
than the diverse, fully-orchestrated pieces Mark had always “heard”
playing in his imagination.
The music sat on the proverbial shelf for almost
a decade when Mark stumbled onto former musical director for The
Manhattan Transfer, Dave Wallace, living in the same town. He
soon teamed up with Dave to explore some alternative stylings
and a “bigger sound” for the songs. A digital keyboard
and a few new arrangements helped add another dimension; and though
Dave was unable to continue working on the project (he died of
cancer in 2007), his efforts pointed toward the unlocked potential
in Mark’s original melodies.
That potential also inspired Mark to resolve
one of the remaining “difficulties” with the music.
While the melodies and arrangements were created (and even copyrighted)
by Mark, the words belonged to author Kahlil Gibran — or
rather, to Gibran’s estate, now controlled by no less an
institution that The Gibran National Committee headquartered in
the poet’s birth country, Lebanon. (Gibran emigrated as
a child along with most of his family, from Lebanon to the United
States, in 1895. A brief biography may be found elsewhere on this
website.) Mark’s initial efforts to obtain formal permission
to use Gibran’s words in a future recording were unsuccessful.
The book’s publisher, Alfred R. Knopf, could not grant a
license, and permission seemed stymied by the entanglements of
international copyright law — not to mention the difficulties
of negotiating with a committee in faraway country whose internal
strife made America’s “Sixties revolution” look
like a stroll in the park.
Meanwhile, reinspired by his earlier insterest
in theology, and by a dozen years serving on the board of a local
interfaith organization, Mark founded his own non-profit group
dedicated to building understanding and cooperation between different
religious (and secular) communities. His new organization, InnerFaith
Resources, sought to bridge the gaps of mutual ignorance, as well
as deepen appreciation for a life of faith by sponsoring Spritual
Issues Forums, Songs & Stories gatherings, and events like
their popular Inter-Religious Thanksgiving Celebration.
Writing back to the Gibran National Committee
as Executive Director for his organization, Mark received a more
sympathetic hearing — after all, it was also one of Gibran’s
goals to help build understanding between religious and ethnic
communities. After Mark offered to dedicate profits from any future
CD to the ongoing work of InnerFaith Resources, a contract was
signed authorizing his use of Gibran’s poetry.
Mark promptly returned to the task of assembling
a group of back-up musicians who were not only talented, but were
themselves inspired by The Prophet.
Through the auspices of his local Arts Council — notably
director Grace Lieberman and board member Brenda Francis —
Mark connected with Lucky Lew, a studio owner and recording engineer
who was also an accomplished musician. Lucky promptly enlisted
several key players and the resulting group, eventually dubbed
“ProphetSong,” began to record in the summer of 2006.
Mark Little, a twice Grammy-nominated keyboard
artist, was especially helpful in creating a more unique sound
for each of the songs, building on the previous work of Dave Wallace
and on the character already inherent in the music. Award-winning
“gypsy violonist” Kim Angelis, aware of Haskett’s
project since meeting him at one of her concerts, volunteered
to contribute her passionate playing on two of his songs. With
Lucky providing both lead guitar and bass, and his friend Dave
Hawks laying down percussion tracks, the music slowly took shape.
Back-up vocals presented a special challenge.
While Mark had overdubbed his own harmony parts in early versions
of the music, it was ultimately decided that a completely different
vocal accompaniment would enhance the songs. Theatrical songstress
Shelly Bort, who had wanted to accompany Mark on his song “On
Laws” for years, added her bluesy vocals not only to that
composition, but to his exuberant “On Pleasure.” For
the other ten songs, an informal talent search turned up a promising
vocal student at the nearby University. With a range from mid-alto
to crystaline soprano, Katy Burrough’s voice was not only
surprisingly well-suited to complement Mark’s lead, her
ear for the tight harmonies and sometimes complex syncopation
of the phrasing made the combined voices sound as effortless as
they are soaring.