Winterwood tracks lead to Christmas
When Ellen Stephenson was 10 years old, her family's church in Clifton, Kan., was in need of an organist. So her mother, Marjorie Stephenson, volunteered Ellen for the job, even though Ellen had had only two years of piano lessons. According to a family story, Ellen told her mother, "I can't even reach the pedals," and her mother replied: "Then don't use the pedals."
Ellen F. Stephenson is now an ASCAP composer as well as the organist at Holiday Island Community Church and the accompanist for the Ozarks Chorale. In addition to playing for concerts and services this Advent, she has a new CD of seasonal music out, titled "Winterwood." It's subtitled "Finding Your Way Home," but given her schedule, that's not where you'll find her.
"This is my busiest time, and this week is the busiest of the year," she said.
The Ozarks Chorale, which performs on Thursday, Dec. 6, at the Crescent Hotel and Saturday, Dec. 8. at The Aud, will feature one of Stephenson's choral compositions, "Blow O Thou Winter Wind," with Indigo Fischer playing the flute part. Stephenson is also the accompanist for the Berryville High School Christmas program and will be in the audience for the first of two concerts by the Holiday Island Singers, Dec. 15 and 16.
"They're doing four of my choral pieces," she said.
Stephenson is best known for a choral piece she wrote in 1996 titled "Colds and Fugue." Set to a Bach theme, the humorous piece, which is punctuated with sneezes and coughs, sold half a million copies and is performed by choirs from grade school to adult.
"My royalties are my travel money," Stephenson said. "Some years I only make it to Oklahoma. One year I got to Europe."
The new recording, titled "Winterwood" after the studio on Beaver Lake where it was recorded, has five original compositions by Stephenson as well as original arrangements of carols. The selections are divided into seven sections, titled "From Wandering to Wondering" and to "Homecoming."
Stephenson has been composing since she was in seventh grade, writing poems and setting them to music. She studied music theory and composition in college, graduating from Wichita State University. When she taught music in the Kansas school system, she would write whole musicals for the upper elementary grades to perform.
"I've always written music, for my students and for my church choir," she said.
She moved to Arizona in 2002, where she was director of education for Whacky Music, the company that made Boomwhacker music tubes. She moved to Eureka Springs two years ago, where family members, including her parents, Marjorie and RIchard Stephenson, and sister Jody Stephenson live. Jody is an artist and did the painting for the Winterwood CD cover. The subtitle is in part about the spiritual journey through Advent.
"The other part does have to do with coming home," Ellen Stephenson said.
Stephenson said she has been playing the organ at church for almost 50 years. After her mother volunteered her for her first job, Stephenson taught herself to play by stopping off at the church after school, getting the key to the Hammond organ and teaching herself to play it. Because her mother said she could do it, Stephenson said she didn't doubt that she could. But the 'can't reach the pedals' was an exaggeration -- at the age of 10, Stephenson had already gotten most of her height.
"I remember figuring out how to do the pedals," she said.
"Winterwood" is available at Myrtie Mae's restaurant and Studio 62 on West Van Buren, Twice Born and Quicksilver in downtown Eureka Springs, and Keel's Creek Winery and Caruso's Christian Outlet on the east side of town. For more information, go to www.ellenfoncannomusic.com.