WINTER HARBOR — Powerful, present and proactive.
Just listen to Lamoine vocalist/guitarist Gordon Thomas Ward perform his song “How Many More?” online at the 2017 National Vigil for Gun Violence Victims at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. Accompanied by cellist Velleda Miragias, his clear voice and composition’s plain, poignant words ring out in the still, packed stone, Gothic-revival church. The parents of the late TV correspondent Alison Parker, who was shot and killed on live TV by a distraught former colleague in 2015, were seated in front of him. Parker’s death inspired the song.
The words also describe Gouldsboro pianist and baritone singer Deiran Manning’s subtle, yet rousing rendition of 19th century New Orleans composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s “The Union: Concert Paraphrase on National Airs,” a medley of patriotic tunes from “Yankee Doodle” to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” on July 3. His virtual performance, also featuring works by Mozart, Chopin and Schumann, was live-streamed for Mainers sequestered at home July Fourth eve from Hammond Hall in Winter Harbor. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the holiday concert was among many online and outdoor performances Manning has orchestrated despite technical and logistical hurdles as the Winter Harbor Music Festival’s executive director.
With the virus limiting in-person concerts, the two artists have been awarded Schoodic Arts for All’s 2020 “WOW!” Award for their efforts to uplift local and seasonal residents and work with the nonprofit cultural organization to deliver live music to homebound community members on the Schoodic Peninsula and far beyond. SAFA’s $1,000 “WOW!” Award is given to an artist “whose work makes one stop in one’s tracks because of its special power to bring wonder, insight and enjoyment.”
“They have really stepped up to the plate,” Schoodic Arts for All founder Cynthia Thayer said last week. “They saw what they couldn’t do and did what they could do.”
She nominated Manning for the award. She praised his ability to pivot, reach out to musicians and stage virtual concerts in late winter and subsequent safe outdoor events this summer including a small opera, “La Serva Padrona.”
Manning, a classical pianist and singer who divides his time between Gouldsboro and New York City, earned both his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. He studied piano there with the late Edmund Battersby. From Battersby, who spent his summers in Corea village, Manning learned how to approach a musical work and put it in a historical context among many others. The young pianist has gone on to perform at Carnegie Hall, the New York City’s Mayor’s residence, Gracie Mansion, and other notable venues in the United States and Europe.
Come summer, for a decade now, Manning has taught and performed during the Winter Harbor Music Festival. Several years ago, he became executive director of the organization founded by his mother, the flutist Deirdre McArdle. He already is brainstorming and scoping out possible fall events such as a co-production outdoors of Lanford Wilson’s romantic comedy “Talley’s Folly.”
“I think it’s important to continue the streaming but as a performer it’s great to have an audience. People also need to interact with each other which is one of the primary reasons they go to performances,” he said last week. “We are lucky to be in an area where in person, distanced events are even possible. I feel the responsibility of maintaining the arts has rested on cities and urban areas for so long, but now it is the responsibility of rural communities to preserve in-person arts.”
In much the same spirit, Gordon Thomas Ward has performed virtual concerts from his Winter Harbor home and roved like a troubadour staging live Facebook shows at Winter Harbor artist Wendilee Heath O’Brien’s whopaints studio, Ellsworth’s The Grand and Morton’s Moo ice cream parlor, Blue Hill’s Rackliffe Pottery, Bar Harbor’s Criterion Theatre and Willis’ Rock Shop and eight other small businesses in Hancock County. The virtual Happy Hour sessions, held every Wednesday, are intended to boost retail sales and monetary support for nonprofits amid the pandemic.
Jeffrey Jeude, a Schoodic Arts for All board member, nominated Ward “due to his ‘selfless’ approach to sharing his music while helping others.”
Originally from New Jersey, Ward spent summers in Lamoine from age 8. His late father, Warren Ward, moved to Maine to teach botany at the University of Maine at Machias. He has had a wide range of professions — from working as a youth minister, radio announcer and silk-screen artist to teaching English and history — but music has been a great passion since early on in elementary school when he pursued a love of singing and the guitar.
In recent years, though, the singer/songwriter has devoted his time to music. He made his first record, “Welcome to the Past,” a collection of original, acoustic folk-rock ballads, story songs and anthems, in 2013. His second album, “Providence,” which made a Grammy Award ballot and was ultimately nominated, came out in 2018.
Ward’s shift in his life’s focus also was accompanied by his and wife Veronica’s permanent move to Lamoine. They are building a new house in Winter Harbor. He just released a double album “Eiderdown” in May. He hopes to start touring and promoting performing at in-person concerts this fall, but is fully prepared to adjust and play virtually depending on the virus’s course.
Winning the WOW! Award was a nice, affirming surprise.
“Just being recognized for doing something for the community is awesome,” the musician said.
To learn more about Deiran Manning or Gordon Thomas Ward, visit their Facebook pages and deiranmanning.com, winterharbormusicfestival.com and gordonthomasward.com.