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Making music the interdisciplinary way

{{youtube:medium|1umSE6wBQdQ, Pinson and Simon: Collaborative music.}}
The transformation of a university office into an intimate nightclub begins with the plaintive, bluesy wail of Harris Simon’s harmonica, followed closely by some beat-setting foot stomping and the husky, soulful voice of Hermine Pinson:

I can change your image by changing your destination

Change a curse to a good advantage by changing your situation

I can change your mind . . . I can change your mind . . . I can change your mind

Simon, instructor of jazz piano and harmonica, and director of the William & Mary Jazz Combo, and Pinson, associate professor of English, have played together, off and on, for 15 years.

They’ve cut two CDs together, the last of which – “Deliver Yourself,” taped in the basement of Swem Library -- Simon also co-produced. There’s a couple of appearances in New York nightclubs, a couple at the Williamsburg Regional Library, and more than a few at Simon’s regular gig at Aroma’s Coffeehouse and Café on Prince George Street.

“She’s always welcome to come and sit in,” Simon says.

“Which I do,” Pinson interjects.

“And the crowd always loves it,” Simon adds.

{{youtube:medium|yfpwAl8Kpxg, Pinson and Simon: "I can change your mind."}}
Pinson, who considers herself “a poet first,” came to the university in 1992 with the experience of having performed in her brother-in-law’s jazz band.

She walked over to the Department of Music one day and met former associate professor Dan Gutwein, a saxophonist. They soon began collaborating, and performed at William & Mary’s 300th anniversary celebration.

Simon arrived here in 1994.

“Then Dan moved on, and I became sort of your collaborator,” he said.

“And muse,” Pinson hastily added, chuckling. “Harris is a musician’s musician. One of the things I’m grateful to him for is that I never really took credit for being a musician. I was in the band in high school – played saxophone – so I know music. But I never wanted to call myself a musician.

“My mother was a pianist who had very high standards as to what a musician should be. She was also a composer, though she never got a chance to do the things I’m doing. Working with Harris has allowed me to try things and not to monitor myself or suppress an idea, but to bring an idea to him.”

Their first collaborations were pieces constructed around her poems.

“She comes from a very organic place,” Simon explained. “She has a melody that fits the words that she’s written. I find chords and a way of creating something that those words will work with as far as harmony.

“It’s very free, fun and spontaneous.”

Pinson said that, sometimes, she’ll hear a unique melody in her head then set about putting words to it. “Deliver Yourself” is just such an example.

When you are afraid, you’re alone in darkness

And you can’t remember your name

Remember yourself, don’t give your fears their way

Deliver yourself . . . Today

“I took it to Harris and Harris said it sounded like another song I had brought to him,” Pinson recalled. “He said ‘Let me work on this,’ and when I came back it was very different. It had a different sound.”

When not engrossed in setting Pinson’s poetry to music, the two friends offer each other a variety of more mainstream songs to consider. On this day, they reprise Billie Holiday’s classic “God Bless The Child.”

“She does such a great job on the old standards,” Simon said. “She really personalizes them.”

Rich relations give, crust of bread and such
You can help yourself
But don't take too much
Mama may have, papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own

“The way (she) communicates a song,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter whether she’s had any training or no musical training. (She) knows how to get to the heart of a song, and that’s one of the reasons I enjoy working with (her) so much.”