HARPERS FERRY – Each musical note resonates distinctly from Rebekah Hall’s fingertips through the keys of her piano.
Some notes shimmer like sunbeams. Some waltz with flowing, unhurried movement. Others are transfused with pensive meditation, unadorned and understated as a Shaker prayer.
Hall likens her solo piano instrumentals to pastoral hymns with folk-life themes. Together her compositions pay a melodious, unpretentious tribute to the natural beauty and the historical hauntings surrounding her home and family in Harpers Ferry.
“The beauty and the battle is not just in the landscape but also in our lives,” she observed.
Each of the six compositions in her self-published album titled “Battlescapes” honor and contemplate the past and present of specific places Jefferson Countians know today. The haunting presence of long-ago violence at Schoolhouse Ridge and at Bolivar Heights. The rhythm of small-town life in the Lower Town and on Virginius Island. The bucolic stillness of the Murphy Farm. The confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.
Hall said she visualizes the places her musical pieces—each distilled and polished to an essence—represent when she plays them. Her spirited and spiritual musical landscapes are gently alive with movement, sometimes capturing the flow of water or perhaps a breeze bending the tips of tall grass in an open field.
“We can appreciate so much of these fields and these hills because they were preserved because of conflict, because of a would-be insurrection and battles,” she reflected.
Across the seasons, those places in and around Bolivar and Harpers Ferry, her family’s home for the past six years, are deeply familiar and indelibly personal for Hall. Some are surprise discoveries, like the Civil War bullets her family finds in their backyard. Some involve milestones in life, like the spot where she and her husband Jacob got engaged on Virginius Island.
“Starting with where I live and developing these pieces, a number of things converged as I would write them,” she said.
A mother of two, Hall’s 9-year-old son Thaddeus had a rare genetic disorder that has left him unable to use his legs or arms. This past year was the first where her son didn’t have a hospital admission, she said.
“So in our personal life we’ve experienced battles—this big battle with our son and then other battles that might or might not be related,” Hall said.
“It’s like we have this deeper experience of life that we love, but we’re pushed to it because of some of the hard stuff in our life. So it all got kind of wrapped up together in my thoughts as I developed these pieces.”
Now 34, Hall began playing the piano while growing up in Akron, Ohio. As a young girl she learned early on how chords—with both their harmonies and contrasting sounds—form a building block for music compositions, she said.
“That totally changed the way I approached the piano,” she said. “Multiple layers of notes will form patterns that can be analyzed as chords, so when you know how to reduce those notes to those more basic chord patterns, then you’re just able to come up with at least the fundamentals of new music a lot more quickly.”
As she enjoys tinkering thoughtfully at the keyboard, Hall’s continual experimentation with the subtleties and complexities of grouping sounds together guided her exploration of music first more casually in church and then later more seriously as a music major at the University of Akron.
Hall’s compositions on “Battlescapes” are consciously constructed to spotlight the most complementary sounds—especially the bright and crisp notes—the piano can produce, she said.
“Much of the music I write comes out of improvising,” she explained. “So I sit down at a piano and I just start thinking around, trying different chord progressions. If there’s a chord progression I like I might start hearing a melody that I’d like to go with it.
“I’ve just played piano enough that I can kind of naturally fall into patterns, and when I hit a pattern I like then I think, OK, so how can I extend this? What direction can I take it in? And how can I end it?”
Hall’s knowledge of music structure is on display throughout her “Battlescapes” instrumentals. In one piece musically expressing the confluence of Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, by interweaving different rhythms and themes, she created two distinct voices for the rivers first flowing separately and then seamlessly braiding together at the tip of Harpers Ferry’s Lower Town.
It was in the instrumental “The Confluence” that she applied specific musical techniques as a natural and fitting way to musically convey the fluid energy and power of two distinct rivers, two personalities or forces of nature, melding together.
“It’s a very, very simple musical idea to have two voices that are independent of each other but harmonize with each other,” she explained. “So each voice could be its own melody so to speak, but it’s written in a way that it doesn’t clash with the other voice.”
Teaching music from her home, Hall several years ago found a place inside her home for a 1939 Steinway piano she inherited as an heirloom. The piano, because it came from her grandmother’s grandmother, offers personal inspiration.
“The past two years have been me getting a little bit more serious, well way more serious about not just starting in music but finishing it and putting it where people can reach it,” she said.
Hall released her recent album produced mostly over 12 months under her own creative umbrella project called Vandalia River, a name combining Vandalia (her grandmother’s grandmother’s name) with an iconic feature of the natural landscape that has become inseparable to her creative and personal life. Also providing a connection to her new-found West Virginia roots, Hall said Vandalia was the name considered for a once-proposed 14th British colony in North America that would have roughly covered a territory that encompassed today’s Mountain State and northeastern Kentucky.
Hall said she’s hoping to expand her future musical projects to include collaborations with other artists and musicians.
For now, with a focus on the immediacy of hearth, hometown and God’s surrounding creation, Hall said she’s striving to use music to communicate honestly the ideas, emotions and experiences from everyday living and turn them into art for others—“kind of flow out of my home and bless other people,” she said.
“Music is the main thing, and it’s going to stay that way,” she said of her future artistic ideas, “and I hope in future projects it will be more than just me.”