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Poet is inspiration for Edmonton songwriter

What does Victorian poet Lord Alfred Tennyson have in common with a contemporary Edmonton songwriter?

A romantic sensibility, as it turns out.

Rebecca Lappa, who performs next Tuesday and Thursday (July 15, 17) on Red Deer’s Ross Street Patio, drew on atmospheric poems written by England’s 19th-century poet laureate — including The Charge of the Light Brigade and The Lotus Eaters — as inspiration for songs on her latest CD, which was recorded with a $10,000 Rawlco Radio recording grant.

The soon-to-be Grade 12 student at the Victoria School of the Arts, is something of a natural songwriter — Ode to Tennyson is the fourth album the talented 17-year-old has recorded.

“I’ve been writing songs since the age of nine,” said Lappa, a three-time Canadian Folk Music Awards nominee and a two-time prize winner of the Calgary Folk Festival Songwriting Contest (placing first 2013 and third in 2014 in the Sonic Youth contest).

Lappa usually starts the songwriting process by humming a new melody into a tape recorder.

She pens some lyrics, then decides which of her three instruments — piano, guitar or banjo — would best suit the tune and finishes composing on that instrument.

“I have three large binders full of music,” said Lappa, who pulled her first three albums of songs from these.

Tennyson became the theme of her current album after a songwriting mentor gave Lappa a book of his poems to read.

The bearded author of The Lady of Shallott, Crossing the Bar and Mariana often created poetry with melancholic, discontented characters who linger in isolation. His beautiful heroines frequently inspired works by Pre-Raphaelite artists, including John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and John William Waterhouse.

Lappa believes Tennyson’s poems are really about human nature, so would be relevant in any century.

For instance, her Mermaid and Merman tune was based on his ideas about duality — being one kind of person during the day and someone more secretive at night. The idea of hiding behind a mask of respectability has been a literary theme throughout history, said Lappa.

Tennyson wrote The Lotus Eaters about a Greek myth in which Odysseus meets people who are made listless by their consumption of a narcotic plant.

Lappa interpreted this in her similarly titled song “as the loss of courage, the loss of ability to make decisions” — an inertia that seizes many people at certain points in their lives.

Her Kraken is about unleashing the “monster” that often lurks within even the mildest person. “

Don’t make a woman angry,” said a chuckling Lappa, “There are all kinds of dark secrets inside. . .”

Being inspired by Tennyson’s rich use of language left her wanting to read other literary classics, including tales by Edgar Allan Poe. which will no doubt fuel future songwriting projects.

The teenager, who’s on her school’s cheerleading team and coaches gymnastics when she isn’t songwriting, said she really looks forward to playing on the Ross Street patio.

Whether singing at a coffee shop or folk festival, Lappa said she loves performing for any attentive audience who appreciates her music.

Her shows on the Ross Street Patio are from 11:30 to 1:30 p.m.

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