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 Vol. 10, No. 43

October 31 - November 6, 2002

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Unity by the Bay’s New CD Heart of Peace Features Megon McDonough
Preview by Brent Seabrook

Veteran vocalist Megon McDonough returns to Unity by the Bay midmonth to sing a few torch songs, a few jazzed-up Patsy Cline classics and a few of her own folk compositions. She’ll also debut songs from the recordings she made with the Rev. Judi Ballard and a trio of Annapolis musicians at the Aspen Institute in Wye Mills, adding another link to a chain of events that began September 11, 2001.

Abbie Palmer, the harpist in the collaboration, was 13 when she saw the first jet airliner crash into the World Trade Center.

“I was home watching the news, and I was really upset about it, and I felt like I wanted to do something about it,” Palmer says.

The daughter of Mt. Airy musicians, Palmer did what came naturally — she went upstairs, picked up her harp and wrote a song.

“I probably could’ve written a poem,” Palmer says, “but it wouldn’t have expressed my emotions as well.”

For almost a year, Palmer wasn’t able to share her song with an audience. On July 28, 2002, she joined McDonough, Stefan Scaggiari and Tony Spencer at Unity by the Bay for a live performance. Judi Ballard had arranged the performance to raise funds for a CD project.

Ballard served as Unity’s minister for several years before moving to Florida. She returned to Annapolis last year to minister a friend’s funeral and decided to follow through on a long-time dream to record the music Scaggiari played in church.

Megon McDonough and Stef Scaggiari.
Scaggiari graduated from the Eastman School of Music in 1968. He played piano with the United States Marine Band at the White House and around Washington, earned a master’s degree from the Peabody Conservatory and worked in New York as a studio musician before moving to Annapolis in 1985.

Here Scaggiari became the regular pianist for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition and the King of France Tavern, where he met jazz vocalist Carol Sloane. He toured Japan with Sloane in 1990, which led to his recording for the prestigious Concord jazz label.

Like Scaggiari, McDonough’s tasted fame but never devoured it. Born the seventh of nine children to an Irish Catholic couple in Chicago, McDonough won a contract to record a single with Mercury when she was 14. She was no American Idol, however.

“They released me instead of the record,” she laughs.

McDonough followed the record’s producer to Los Angeles when she was 17, recording folk songs for RCA’s Wooden Nickel label. She toured extensively, opening for John Denver at Carnegie Hall before settling in Manhattan. She wrote songs and sang for television productions until her husband convinced her to return to recording in 1989.

After producing a series of pop albums, McDonough joined Four Bitchin’ Babes, Christine Lavin’s all-female singer-songwriter supergroup. She broke box office records at Chicago’s Barber Theater, playing the title role in Always Patsy Cline, then released a collection of jazz standards and improvised instrumentals—including a piano piece featuring Stef Scaggiari.

She met Scaggiari through Ballard, and she met Ballard at an Alliance of World Religions workshop in Chicago.

“Judi and I were instant friends,” McDonough says.

When Ballard called to ask her to appear on an album of peace songs following September 11, McDonough jumped in. Scaggiari recruited tenor Tony Spencer, whom he’d worked with in the Annapolis Chorale’s production of Mozart, Motown and More.

“It just so happened we were all free on July 31st,” Ballard says, “which was the only day the Aspen Institute was available.”

Scaggiari wanted to record at the institute because that’s where Benjamin Netanyahu and Yassar Arafat agreed to end the hostilities between Israel and Palestine in 1998.

“And it has a great Steinway piano,” Ballard adds.

They arrived at the institute with a couple of songs in mind — Amazing Grace and McDonough’s Amazing Things — and improvised the rest, recording more than 90 minutes of musical material in a single day, some of which incorporated prayers by Ballard. Palmer recorded her 9/11 song later, combining it with a love song she wrote at a later date.

“The final product is very calming,” says the project’s executive producer, Jim Lefter. “It’s that pause that helps refresh us. It certainly has refreshed me.”

Lefter hopes to release 1,000 copies of the CD, called Heart of Peace, in time for Christmas.

“I love this record,” McDonough says. “I bet I listen to it every day—and I’ve never listened to anything I’ve done every day.”

Judi Ballard and Abbie Palmer (now 14) join Megon McDonough for an evening of music and inspiration, 7:30pm Nov. 15 @ Unity by the Bay, Ritchie Highway, Severna Park; $15 suggested donation. Copies of Heart of Peace cost $15 plus $2 shipping and handling at 301/758-7395 or cosmicstuffproductions.com.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly