Q & A: Edelfelt’s Christmas album helped him deal with grief
Schenectady native and Chicago resident David Edelfelt never imagined his first album as a singer would be a Christmas one.
As detailed in the liner notes to “Love is Born at Christmas,” his 13-track debut, Edelfelt’s father became ill on a 2011 visit to his son’s home. He underwent surgery and eventually woke up late on Christmas morning, but spent the next three weeks in intensive care and died on Jan. 16.
One year later, Edelfelt found himself grieving during the Christmas season. But as he began hearing holiday songs on the radio, he couldn’t help but sing along. The experience was so therapeutic that he was moved to record “Love is Born at Christmas,” which he released this month.
“Music was doing for me what nothing else could do,” Edelfelt wrote in his liner notes. “It was making it okay. It was making me okay.”
Edelfelt, 50, is a graduate of Niskayuna High School and a veteran of the Schenectady Light Opera Company, the Schenectady Civic Players and the Four Seasons Dinner Theater in Albany. He received his bachelor’s degree in music at the Crane School of Music at the State University of New York in Potsdam, and his master’s at Northwestern University in Chicago in 1986.
Q: When and how did you start singing?
A: I was 15 years old — well, 15 when I started studying. That was with Eileen Bush, who was a private instructor in Schenectady, and that was the same year I did my debut role. The first time I sang in public was as the lead in Niskayuna High School’s production of “Oklahoma!”
Q: How did this area influence and nurture your musical ambitions?
A: Certainly my teacher, Eileen Bush, who until she had a stroke last year was still teaching in Schenectady, at the age of 80. And I would just say the wonderful music program at Niskayuna High School.
Q: What led you to stop performing after graduating from Northwestern University?
A: Well, I thought — at a number of points in my development, I thought I would perform for a living, and I did a fair bit of performing into my 20s, but I really felt my true gift was as a teacher. Sometime around the age of 30 or so, I really stopped performing for a good 10 or 15 years. I don’t know that there’s a time I could tell you exactly; I just sort of fizzled out.
Q: When did you return to performing, and what inspired you to start up again?
A: I would say it was about five or six years ago. I had been working for many years with a lot of the quite well-known and successful singers in Chicago, coaching them and teaching them. It just became gradually apparent that I missed it, and there was a part of me that was missing by not singing.
Q: You wrote about your father’s death, shortly after Christmas of 2011, in the liner notes for “Love is Born at Christmas.” Was the recording of this album a therapeutic experience, or was it difficult to sing these songs in the studio?
A: I think, depending on the song, it was both. By the time I was in the studio, my focus was much more on the craft than on the emotion, although certainly many of the songs, including the one — maybe most specifically the one that I dedicate to my dad on the album, the classic song “White Christmas,” was a little harder to sing, because I was still very much feeling my dad’s presence.
Q: What was the process behind selecting and arranging these songs? Given that most of the material is familiar, how did you approach putting your own stamp on the material?
A: Well, the way that I approach arranging, whether it is for this album or for any of the arranging I’ve done over years for other people or myself, is always to bring out the words of a song in such a way so that people hear them anew. Especially with a Christmas album, with very well-known songs, it becomes very easy to fall into the trap of, this is the way it’s been done, this is the way I’ve heard it, this is the way it was written — and therefore the tendency is to just keep on that path.
I try to always let the words instruct every musical element, including key, tempo, instrumentation, rubato — which means, where we keep going or where we stop, slow down or sing it freely.
Q: Any tracks stand out in particular for you, and why?
A: It’s a hard question to answer, because every track to me is very special for different reasons. I think one of the ones that I love perhaps more than some of the others is the track “Mary, Did You Know?”, which is one of the newer songs on the album. And if I have to say I’ve ever sung a song that feels like it was written for me, it would be that one; textually as well as vocally, it just really fits me.
Q: Were there any concerns about making a holiday album for your first release?
A: Yeah, I’ve been asked that question a lot. If somebody asked me before a year ago, at any point in my career, “What would you like to do for your first album?” I would never have suggested that it would be a Christmas album. It was just serendipity the way it happened, less of a choice and more of a calling. It just felt like that was what I really needed to do.
I’ve learned in my old age to listen to that voice inside of me — OK, that’s what I’m supposed to do.
Q: Now that you have a Christmas album under your belt, what comes next? What would a nonholiday-themed album from you sound like?
A: I have it chosen. I don’t have a title, but I have a few songs chosen for it. It’s going to be an album of inspirational songs, which, depending on your definition of inspiration, it might be a surprise what songs will be there. But it will be songs that I would say, other than that — songs that inspire, songs that inspire us to be better, to live more fully.
Q: Any plans to perform back home in Schenectady?
A: I don’t get back to the Capital District too often except usually for a little vacation in the summer, so my answer is not at this time, although I’d be very open to something should it come to fruition. Actually, I should say, that the closest I know of that I’ll be to singing in the Schenectady area — it’s still undetermined, but sometime perhaps in the next three months or so, I will be back at the Crane School as a visiting artist, doing — as I said, the details are still to be determined, but I’ll most likely be doing a master class, perhaps a lecture and perhaps some performing there as well.
Reach Gazette reporter Brian McElhiney at 395-3111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.