"Midwinter's Gift by Frances Drost & Kirstin Myers is a superb Christmas album - a joyful celebration of musical collaboration! I have seldom heard my arrangements come alive with such heart and virtuosity. I highly recommend adding it to your Christmas playlist…"
~Phillip Keveren (arranger/producer)
"This is STUNNING…I'm so happy to add it to my holiday collection…just perfection!"
~ Shana K.
"Am listening to the album as I type this. Am in awe. Classic Christmas songs and hymns from our childhood made anew, crisp, clear . . . wonderous variations crafted with respect. I was surprised how much I long to hear this music."
~ Dale G.
"Your Christmas album is stunning. I’m listening to it to relax before bed. Thank you for such musical beauty."
~ Erin B.
"Just wanted to let you know how much I’m enjoying your Christmas cd. Absolutely beautiful!!!! It has to be my favorite. Can’t stop listening to it!!!!"
~ Bonnie L.
"The CD is great! I just simply love it."
~ Merle M.
"I listen to it every time I drive my car. It’s phenomenal! The musicality is exceptional. Nothing else out there like it. Your music is really absolutely gorgeous. It’s familiar yet the arrangements make it feel new and refreshed. So glad I bought it!"
~ Nancy S.
"Absolutely LOVE the CD."
~ Lynne I.
"This album is so beautiful…I can’t stop playing it!!!"
~ Heather W.
In the Bleak Midwinter was the first arrangement we received from Phillip Keveren on March 1st, 2022. This piece was the inspiration for the naming of our album.
I met Frances 9 years ago when I was hired to play as part of an orchestra in her Portraits of White Christmas concert. I immediately loved not only her music but the heart she had for what she did. However, her willingness to be vulnerable on a stage in front of hundreds of people really solidified my admiration. In 2019, after MANY conversations, Frances and I began performing as Double Keyed, an oboe/piano duo. We performed most often at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center as part of their Center Stage program that brings artists in to enhance the experience of all who enter. It was in this year that we also performed on abc 27’s Good Day PA featuring “I Wonder As I Wander” arranged by Nashville’s Phillip Keveren. Of course, as all things came to an abrupt halt in 2020, so did our performances. Through her ingenuity and generosity, we were able to perform two Facebook Live events at her home in June and December but 2021 brought with it a long dry spell for our collaborations. It wasn’t until December 26, 2021 when an idea struck me that would completely change the shape of our 2022…
Dreams & Ideas
The evening of December 26, 2021: There had been some demand in my household to bake Christmas cookies because, of course, I hadn’t made any BEFORE the big day came and once the holiday was over I was actually in the spirit. I had been listening to Christmas music non-stop for 3 days and as i stood in my kitchen the chain of thoughts went something like this:
“Hmmm, why are there no oboe tunes popping up on my Spotify?”
“Oboists need more quality Christmas music.”
*scrolls through Spotify for ‘oboe’ and ‘Christmas’ (not much)*
“Wouldn’t it be cool to to create more.”
“Eat some cookie dough.”
“What if I could record an album?”
“No, you can’t do that.”
“Take the burning cookies out of the oven.”
“But what if I could?”
“You can’t do that.”
“Turn on the stove fan. Stop coughing.”
“It would be something I could give the kids.”
“Eat more cookie dough.”
“Who knows how to record an album? Who could I do it with?”
After running through many more doubts in my head, I texted her. Within 5 minutes she responded with, “I LOVE that idea!”
She suggested we meet in January for coffee to discuss the idea. Was it even possible? It’s an undertaking of some large proportions…a huge commitment of time, money, and creativity. After meeting together, many more discussions took place, not only with her but bringing up the idea with my husband and hoping that he might be on board. He loved the idea. The light had turned from yellow to green…it was a go.
The next step was finding music…arrangements of Christmas songs. I’m NO arranger, trust me. After some time, Frances suggested contacting Phillip Keveren who had arranged some songs for her previously, one of which was “I Wonder As I Wander” which we had performed in 2019. We had both loved it, so…why not? We had a Zoom meeting with Phillip and fortunately for us, he loved the idea of writing for oboe. The agreement was for 9 more songs to be handed to us before May was over.
I have to say, Frances wastes no time. As early as January 12th (only 17 days after this idea was born) we had a Zoom meeting with Phillip to discuss what we were looking for. Fortunately for us, he loved the idea of writing for the oboe and soon after, the agreement was for 9 more songs to be handed to us before the end of May.
Of course, in order for an arranger to arrange music they would need to know what those songs are. This requires decision-making that I am historically terrible with. This was a challenge, and as you will find out, “Jingle Bells” did not make the cut.
My vision from the start was for this to be an album of beauty and reflection. To create something challenging for the musicians yet peaceful and moving for the listener. Phillip’s incredible arrangements do just that. We are so fortunate.
A large part of this process has required preparation including; long-range deadlines, making a ton of reeds, practicing, planning trips, performing mini rehearsal-concerts, choosing dresses, selecting a recording studio…(This rookie has also recently been dumbfounded at how many decisions need to be made AFTER the recording is done, too. I thought we were done when we left Nashville?! Noooooo…Let’s just say, we haven’t been bored!)
By May 1st we were ahead of schedule when Phillip handed us the last arrangement. Now it was time to practice.
Frances, who had been providing house concerts for patrons since the world started opening up in 2021, suggested we do a few of these concerts together to not only promote the album but to practice as well. “Christmas in July” was what we dubbed it and for 5 Fridays that month we practice-performed our pieces for some small audiences. The owners of the Inn at Ragged Edge were also kind enough to to invite us to perform in their lovely bed and breakfast! It was a fabulous way to both practice and engage an audience and really helped prepare us for August 2nd when we were to make the 14-hour trek to Nashville.
In the early morning hours of August 2nd, I drove to Newville so Frances and I could load up her van and hightail it out of PA. We would spend the entire day driving with the next day, August 3, slated for working on reeds and a photo shoot with Erick Anderson for the album artwork.
The shoot was, while awkward at first, lots of fun and (for whatever reason) lots of Dave Matthew’s Band pumping through the speakers.
I’ve been giving a themes to each of these posts, but the last 4 are the ones that have truly resonated with me throughout the past 10 months. The first is…
There is no way either of us could have embarked on this journey without it. From the support we’ve received from our husbands and families, Cheryl & Steve Kennedy, Tracy Benner Mertes, all the “Christmas in July” audiences, Ed Kee, Phillip, Kent and from all of YOU who have blessed us with words of encouragement.
The days in Nashville were exhausting but they were beautifully highlighted with excellent surprises. One was a visit from Ed Kee who is one of Frances’s incredibly helpful Nashville cohorts who conducted the Portraits of White concerts for many years. Another highlight was coming back from a long recording day to flowers sent to the AirBnb from Ken and the kids. Uplifting us every day were the animals at White Oak Farm. We made friends with 4 horses, 2 dogs , 2 cats and several chickens! Nothing beats coming home to hug a big fluffy dog when you’re missing your own or walking in a pasture to pet a beautiful horse.
We couldn’t have done it without all of you cheering us on and for that, we are eternally grateful.
While we were in the thick of it in Nashville, and especially once we were done, the word 𝑻𝒓𝒖𝒔𝒕 really hit home. Throughout the past 10 months i have witnessed and experienced it time and time again.
Frances and I have needed to trust each other musically, financially, artistically…she even trusted me to drive her car!! If that isn’t trust, I don’t know what is (I’m typically not the preferred driver). She’s even trusting me to make these posts!
The recording days in the studio, though…trust was tantamount. We arrived at Wildwood Recording Studio before our 6-hour session and met Phillip our arranger/producer and Kent Hooper our sound engineer. Nerves, nerves, nerves! After I finally recognized Phillip (I’m so awkward) we took about an hour to set up, warm up, and get all of the equipment in place. After that is was 6 hours of recording. But trust! In this process you need to trust your producer to hear the mistakes that you don’t, you need to trust the sound engineer is also hearing this and KNOWING how to get the best sound out of your instrument, you need to trust your equipment will work!! Oboe reeds are not know for being predictable. Neither are oboes! On the second day I was so desperate to get the recurring water out of my octave keys that I asked for canned air…I certainly didn’t think to pack that! Luckily Kent had some with his computer equipment. I knew this kind of thing could be an issue and even packed a student’s oboe and English horn but decided that even though they were the same models, the sound would be too different.
Frances also needed to trust that her piano worked…it didn’t occur to me until later that everywhere she goes to play she has to play on and adjust to a different instrument every time! This Yamaha C7 Grand Piano at Wildwood is a beauty, though! Wow. She made it sing, no doubt about that. Incredible.
Anyway, it comes down to this…reeds and oboes are not trustworthy, but fortunately the people we worked with ARE. I can’t sing the praises of Kent Hooper enough. His ears and his skills are INCREDIBLE.
When we left to go home, this overwhelming feeling of vulnerability hit. We had just wrapped up and had done the best we could and even though we felt really good about it…was it? Was it good enough? What now? We laid it all out and had to trust that Kent knew what he was doing. Ha! Well, did he ever. It wasn’t until a week or so later that we would hear the music again.