Susanna on Life in Switzerland
“I spent my childhood in Switzerland on a small farm. There was no TV, record player, or car. And I had to bike to school over a small mountain range, sometimes in snow, twice a day. There was no such thing as a school lunch. Lunch was a home affair.
Intensive farming meant that each of our 10 members in the family had precise tasks, and no one could be exempted, or another had to take up the slack. My tasks included looking after my younger brothers and sisters, preparing the evening meal, cleaning the men’s dirty boots on Saturdays, and baking a cake for a Sunday treat. It also meant drying the dishes my grandmother washed from the four times we sat around the table each day eating. My mother gave me pass from this duty if I agreed to walk the one mother sow and her 10–18 piglets in the orchard. I always preferred this choice. Walking under the apple, pear, plum or cherry trees with the pigs gave me the chance to commit to heart the new songs we learned at school, or the poetry we were supposed to memorize. Those piglets were my captive audience. Singing at school meant learning all stanzas of a song by heart. I practiced those songs with the trees and birds, hoping no one else would hear!“
Bringing Passion for Music to the States
“Singing is ingrained in Swiss culture. Every child at my small school knew to sing from notes. Both my father and mother and later, my brother, sang in village choirs. It was when they passed on that I decided to take up the baton because at that very moment Craig entered my life. He invited me to sing with Houston Masterworks after a friend introduced us. He drove to Houston every week to conduct. Suitably shy as an untrained voice, I found that I could sing with him and the HMC because he motivated us all to bring our best. Not forcing us, but he led with heart and by example and inspiration.
With our move to Austin, I met back up with Craig at a CD release party at Waterloo Records. I mentioned to Craig that I was missing a musical home in Austin, and he invited me to sing in Conspirare Symphonic Choir. As I learned more about the whole spectrum of Conspirare music—the recordings, Conspirare Christmas, and the Poet Sings series, and especially the Considering Matthew Shepard piece—I appreciated more and more how much treasure Craig brings to Conspirare, to Austin, and to anyone who cares about the most basic of instruments, the human voice.”
International Music Influences
“As a Swiss girl, listening to the radio, American music meant Westside Story, Porgy and Bess, and I remember Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson as distinctive, amazing American voices. Their stories made me dream and fueled my curiosity to move away. A bachelor and doctorate degree later, earned in Canada, and an American husband who brought me to the States…Academia has provided us with a rich and interesting life that includes two children who now also live in Austin.
In my way of thinking, Considering Matthew Shepard, Craig Hella Johnson’s newest composition, recorded and filmed as a PBS special, and toured across the US and so far in a few European cities, will enter the music panoply by representing the best of what America has to offer musically to the world now and into the future. Yes, I support Craig, his artistry, Conspirare and its singers, and I am proud to serve on its board. There is a girl in Switzerland who wants to be moved and inspired by music from America. Considering Matthew Shepard does all of that.”