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Musician turns 9/11 survivor stories into song

NEW YORK – A dozen years after 9/11, an American musician has turned memories of grief into survivor songs – some of them surprisingly joyous.

Composer and pianist Jake Heggie said Sunday that his new album titled “here/after (songs of lost voices)” is meant “to create a sense of hope and newness that can come from the grief. Otherwise, the people who did it win.”

The singers, including baritone Nathan Gunn and soprano Talise Trevigne, tell the stories of 9/11 survivors from around the country, expressing feelings about lost loved ones as they sort belongings left behind. One set of songs is called “Pieces of 9-11.”

A firefighter from Texas Task Force 1 who had combed through the smoking ground zero rubble says, “And everything belonged to somebody/To somebody gone/And we all belonged to each other/From that moment on.”

Songwriter Gene Scheer, a Grammy award nominee, listened to real people to find words for the lyrics.

Adults and children shared sometimes whimsical stories about dead spouses, fathers and friends – even about the pregnant woman who perished on United Flight 93 that crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers fought back the terrorists.

Her surviving husband faces the emotionally tricky questions, in the words of one song: “What’s beyond your anger? What’s beyond your sorrow?”

The double CD will be released Oct. 21, by PentaTone Classics.

The stories from 9/11 are not static – etched in history, said the composer.

“A dozen years later, stories continue to emerge, evolve and yearn to be told,” said Heggie, who lives in San Francisco and relied on New York resident Scheer to interview survivors.

They all have one thing in common: None is a New York resident, though the city is the site of their loss.

There’s a reason, Heggie said in a telephone interview.

“I wasn’t in New York, I didn’t see the smoke and destruction, and yet my life changed that day – everyone’s life changed that day,” said Heggie.

But people outside the city were somewhat left out “because there was an ownership of grief taken by New Yorkers – and of course they had a right to it.”

So after Sept. 11, 2001, he said, he looked for ways “outsiders” like him could mourn and grieve – and hope.

“That’s why I wanted to write this piece,” Heggie said.

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