Last night I had the honor of attending the mid-winter concert of SATORI, a professional chamber music ensemble based in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, to hear the premiere performance of Witches and Rappings, composed by Dr. Paul Salerni, Professor of Music at Lehigh University. Dr. Salerni is my husband’s cousin (as well as being an excellent cook, a talented composer, and delightful company), and the first movement of his new piece describes a typical séance with the Fox sisters. It was inspired by my book We Hear the Dead (which he read in its earlier incarnation as High Spirits).

Witches and Rappings is a two-movement quartet for flute, clarinet, violin, and cello. The first movement portrays a grieving couple visiting the Fox sisters and initially being comforted by young medium Kate Fox and her mother. The entrance of Maggie Fox, portrayed by a bright and uplifting flute, heralds a change in the mood of the piece, and soon strange rapping sounds join the musicians as the spirit of the departed relative arrives to answer the queries of the mourners and comfort their grief. The surprise of the audience at the sudden onset of raps during the performance was obvious. “At first I thought one of the musicians had dropped her bow,” one audience member said after the concert. “But when it continued, I realized that it was part of the piece.” Another person confessed, “I looked everywhere for the source of the noise. For awhile I was convinced that Paul (the composer) was doing it from the audience.” In fact, the musicians were creating the raps themselves – although I am not going to give away their trick by revealing how they did it!

The second movement of the piece was inspired by John Updike’s novel, The Witches of Eastwick, in which three divorced women form a mischievous coven to play pranks on people they dislike. The arrival of a mysterious, seductive stranger, represented here by the violin, leads the women into more dark and dangerous magic. The musical piece reaches a climax when the witches’ nemesis is afflicted by a terrible spell: whenever she tries to speak, pins, needles, and feathers spew forth from her mouth. The musical portrayal of this condition is quite humorous, but the movement ends on a more somber note as the affliction eventually leads to the victim’s death.

When Paul first told me that he was writing a musical piece inspired by my book, I was so awestruck that I didn’t know what to say. I was also startled, daunted, and humbled even to be mentioned in the same sentence as John Updike. Last night, however, I was grateful to be present at this performance and not very surprised that Maggie and Kate Fox had returned from the grave to make their tale known through another artistic medium. Some stories just need to be told.

Congratulations to SATORI on a successful concert and to Paul Salerni for the premiere of his original new work!