In new age music, there is no shortage of artists who love to celebrate nature and our deep connections to sacred lands. Generally this manifests in thematic recordings dedicated to different types of landscapes, regions of the country or National Parks – but Sharon Fendrich is perhaps the first genre artist ever to focus so powerfully and singularly on the majestic history and inspiring symbolism of a single type of tree. On her epic, truly transcendent and lovingly and intricately created second album Sapphire Oak, the multi-talented pianist, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger and producer celebrates the majesty of a tree that we probably pass by every day without a second thought.
Hypnotically drawing us into her gorgeous, sweeping, sometimes intimate, often intensely swelling piano, orchestra and vocal powered canvas, she invites us to enjoy the stunning blue-hued journey from the lush, ballet-like, flute and violin enhanced opener “Sea of Oaks” through the reflective, lilting and lyrical “Carry the Oak” for its rich musical artistry. Yet her goal seems to be for us to understand the rich aural experience as an opening to a portal whose entry offers full immersion into the meaning and importance of a tree that has 500 species worldwide and better understand our connection to the natural and spiritual world.
Sharon’s shared her love of nature before, on her sparkling 2019 debut album Red Sky Prairie, but takes every aspect of her artistry to the next level. Everything starts with her desire to create a soundtrack dedicated to the forest she is surrounded by living in Oregon. “It didn’t take long for the mighty oak to push its way to the front of my forest and become my guide on this adventure,” she says. “I’ve always marveled at their magnificence, but during my research for the album, the stories I uncovered seemed to already be something my spirit knew and was refamiliarizing with. I found there were endless references throughout history to the oak across many cultures, with story elements coming from the lore of the British Isles, the Celts, Druids Pagans, Greeks and even Ancient Israel.”
A lover of the color blue, Sharon artfully makes connections throughout the 11 song journey between the ancient and enduring symbolism of the magnetizing oak (strength, longevity, survival, justice, honor, honesty) with that of the color blue (calmness, serenity, peace, security and stability) and particularly the sapphire (royalty, energy, healing, order, inner vision, protection, kindness, good judgment). It’s almost as if she uses her melodies, harmonies, colorful instrumentation and arrangements as a chemist’s tools, ingeniously fusing this multitude of concepts into a cohesive narrative, mostly instrumental whole. Like she says, “The traits attributed to the oak, the color blue and sapphires seem to complement each other so well. They all seem to fit together and reinforce each other’s message.”
With so many bold concepts to tackle – and her vision to use music to convey the intricate majesty of the oak – Sharon created a much larger production than she had on her debut. She looks at her work on Red Sky Prairie as the learning curve that she needed to move on to even grander works. Because in her personal life she is the mother of two special needs children, she wisely chose to work with Argentine born, Swedish based orchestrator Joaquin Garcia, who became both guide and partner as he helped bring her individual portraits and collective vision to life.
Another major difference on Sapphire Oak was achieving all of these ambitions with the Symphonica Recording Orchestra in Bratislava, Slovakia, which is comprised of film and TV session musicians. Her amazing team also includes mixing engineer Linus Andersson, who works regularly with Sweden’s top film composers.
Considering music as her constant companion, Sharon weaves a narrative where the tree calls to her protagonist lighting a path bathed in blue glow. She’s been on this path (to inner peace, fortitude from within and remaining stable during a storm) for a long time, and the true beauty of Sapphire Oak is the way she opens the experience so that we, the blessed listeners, may partake. The artist created a notes page with fascinating explanations of her titles, yet those only point to the deeper soul shifting experience of being swept into the dreamy, ethereal, flute tinged flow of “The Grove at Dodona,” returning to the oak’s spirited, often whimsical “Runic Roots” (one of four pieces to feature Sharon’s otherworldly vocals), hearing the mysterious, echoing and atmospheric “Call of the Ruins” (with Sharon’s gorgeous operatic voice) and cautiously opening “The Oaken Door” to feel nature’s sweet lush caress via a swaying violin and strings.
While every track plays an important role in conveying the artist’s vibrant story, one of the grandest gestures is “Under Her Canopy,” a Celtic-flavored ode to the sacred bond between mother and daughter, brought to rapturous life with a blend of piano, flute and soothing Irish lyrics (translated from Sharon’s English) sung in celestial harmony by Sharon and her daughter Talia Valdez.
“I wanted to make this album as powerful as I could,” Sharon says. “I needed to dig very deep. So I gave it my all and that clearly resulted in this deeper sacred/spiritual element you mentioned. I really wanted to paint the scenes I saw in my mind, and felt in my heart. I crafted very clear storylines, as if I was writing to picture. I researched the history and lore of the oak, and found the sounds that cinematically most represent those times/settings. Ambience was critical, breath and pause, colors and textures. I knew that the second album needed to be a big evolution from the first so that my listeners could see my growth.”