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Ray Stewart records with Natalie Merchant
Monday, December 01, 2008

Raymond Stewart in his Mason Hall studio
Raymond Stewart in his Mason Hall studio.

FREDONIA, N.Y. — November 23, 2008 — The next CD to be released by Natalie Merchant, former lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs, will become the newest link between SUNY Fredonia and the beloved alternative rock group founded in Jamestown, N.Y.

Raymond Stewart, associate professor of Music and member of Meridian Arts Ensemble, spent a day-long recording session this fall with Merchant in September. Five members of Meridian Arts Ensemble, the internationally acclaimed brass chamber music group that Stewart co-founded in New York City in 1987, were enlisted to accompany Merchant to record “Equestrienne.”

The song, based on a poem about a female who performs tricks with horses in circuses during the 19th century, was written by Merchant and recorded, with Stewart playing tuba, in rural Duchess County inside an old wooden barn converted into a world-class recording studio.

Of course, all key elements of a professional music-recording session were present, but Stewart sensed an “emotional side to being in a studio and making music with someone who has had music played on the radio for years.” It was exhilarating to hear her trademark voice in headphones while playing an instrument.

“When you hear her sing, you know it’s her.”

In addition to being a wonderful musician, Stewart found her to be a very pleasant and refreshingly down-to-earth, as is typically the case with professional musicians that he has worked with over the years. “We always think of people that are famous as being larger than life, and then you meet them and find they’re just normal people. She’s just a normal person, but with a lot of talent, a lot of success.”

Stewart’s connection to Merchant was made through Stephen Barber, an arranger that he first began working with in the early 1990s, and who is currently assisting Merchant with the new CD.

He also had time to get to know Merchant and learn about her SUNY Fredonia connection. After forming in 1981, 10,000 Maniacs recorded their first CD in the campus’ Mason Hall studios. Merchant would later leave the group in 1993 to pursue a solo career.

A member of the SUNY Fredonia faculty since 2000, Stewart brought a diverse musical background to the recording. He has appeared in music conservatories, performance venues and festivals in 49 states and 25 countries, and has worked with a wide range of composers, from Milton Babbitt to Elliott Sharp to Frank Zappa. Stewart has also performed in Broadway and off-Broadway productions, and with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic, New York City Opera and American Ballet Theater.

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