Christopher O'Riley's Prelude, Variation & Hymn "Time of My Time" for 'Reverend America'

Christopher O'Riley

Classical pianist and composer Christopher O'Riley curates Mixed Media selecting favorites of his work and others.

Kris Saknussemm’s new novel of the road and redemption, Reverend America, is centered on the travels and travails of a retired child evangelist albino orphan named Casper (known in his healing days as Reverend America) and his wanderings as guardian angel and inadvertent and occasional avenger. I’d become aware of Kris’ work via his first novel, Zanesville, his subsequent bizarre-noir novel Private Midnight, and his exuberant alt-historical Enigmatic Pilot. We’d become Facebook friends where I found him to be equally knowledgeable and perhaps even more impassioned about things musical more than literary. So when he asked if I would contribute some original work to fill out a CD to accompany the release of Reverend America (I’d not written anything original since high school, being presently and for decades consumed either by interpretations classical or reimaginings on the non-classical side), and with his own keen idea of how music might intersect his prose, I told him I’d have to be an idiot to NOT know how to write something for him.

The book is filled with lonesome sounds, from the distant locomotive horns to the century-plus refugee from an old age home fire tootling wisely on the harmonica. I found MP3 transcriptions of locomotive horns, with their distinctively and plentiful variations of piled thirds, and used some of my faves as the harmonic language of the Prelude and Variation.

The other musical thread of the book has to do with all the hymns and indigenous music surrounding the young Reverend’s revival tours. Most of the titles are fictional. “Time of My Time” seemed to me the most evocative, and so took that as my cue to explore some kind of Southern gospel, “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?” piano (and potentially vocal) work. Phil Abrams (an accomplished and celebrated actor; lots of recent TV stuff) made the video after listening to my piece more times than I’ve played it.

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