Friday, November 13, 2009

Thursday Treasure - Recording of John Brown's Body


Over the past 30 years, I have been the recipient of some fascinating letters, emails, FaceBook notifications, and phone calls from people regarding John Brown.

One such FaceBook connection occured in June of this year and resulted in today's featured treasure. Emeritus Professor of Mycology at Cornell University, Richard P. Korf wrote me the following:
I assume you are the lady I read about in an article sent to me by my cousin from her local paper, indicating that you are a great-great-great-granddaughter of John Brown of Harpers Ferry fame. I have a strong connection, in that I was very influenced by the story, and particularly the book-length poem called John Brown's Body by Stephen Vincent Benét, which received the Pulitzer Prize in 1929. Probably you have read it. Oddly enough it never was made into an audio book. I finally discovered that there is a copyright issue, and managed to get permission to do a "not for sale" version (I am now 84, and a lifetime actor) which I recorded in 2006. I have a few copies left and would be happy to send you one (it is on 12 CD discs, 13-1/2 hours long!). You can send me your postal address if so.

Richard P. Korf
Emeritus Professor of Mycology. Cornell University 
Think about this, Professor Korf was so enthralled with  John Brown's Body by Stephen Vincent Benét, that he spent considerable time, effort, and his own money to manufacture 100 limited editions of a 12 CD set that he cannot sell due to copyright regulations.

I immediately responded that I would be honored to receive one of his recordings. A few days later I received a package in the mail with a professionally packaged, produced set of CDs. Professor Korf's voice is a joy to listen to, and the set is amazing. The front cover of the box features the Stephen Benét postage stamp, while the back is the 1859 photograph of John Brown with his full beard. Inside each CD is labeled and tucked into its own pocket.

From the Liner Notes: 
Dick Korf's thoughts about this audio book
     This recording was made in 2006, a last gasp of an 80-year-old lifelong actor, the culmination of a 20-year dream. It is dedicated to my actress daughter, Mia Korf, for encouragement, and to my wife, Kumi, for everything.  
     I grew up as a ravenous reader, encountering Stephen Vincent Benét's John Brown's Body at the age of 14, I was captivated by the book, which I read and reread over the ensuing sixty-some years. It surely helped form me into an anti-war activist.
     My acting career began at an early age in Riverdale Country School in New York City, eventually being cast in major roles in three annual outdoor productions of Shakespeare's plays. These contributed immeasurably to my appreciation of both drama and poetry.
     Poetry has a very special place in my heart, and as a youth I began reading and writing poetry. I agree with Stephen Vincent Benét: poetry begs to be read aloud. The skilled poet may embed in his poems frequent "stage directions" in the chose of typographic tools (punctuation, the use of parentheses, italic typeface, paragraphs, long dashes, indentations), and of course changes in meter or rhyme. Benét's use of these tools simplified my narration of the poem; these are treated here as not only readers' but narrator's guidelines.
     This recording is intended to bring this important poem about our American Civil War, the most destructive was in American history, to the attention of my family and close friends. While I recognize this is not a professional recording, it remedies the lack of an audio book version in the commercial market.
     The theatre has been my lifelong passion. I performed during my college years at Cornell University (where I later became a professor) and I continued, both on stage and in radio dramas. While on my final sabbatical leave before retirement I took a fling at off-off-Broadway performances of three plays while in New York City.
     I gratefully acknowledge the contributions of my granddaughter, Maia Vidal, for her vocal solo and Emoretta Yang for a guitar version of the song John Brown's Body. My eldest daughter, Noni Korf Vidal, contributed a violin version and is mainly responsible for post-recording production; her unstinting help and my wife Kumi's generosity made this audio book a reality. Pete Wetherbee helped me develop the reading with initial recording sessions in 2002 in San Bruno, CA, and later edited the discs. One of my twin sons, Ian Korf, helped me with recording techniques in 2005 in Davis, CA. My other son, Mario Korf, edited these liner notes.                              Dick Korf
A truly impressive presentation. It is a shame that due to copyright legalities, Professor Korf is not permitted to offer his incredibly moving rendition of this important work of literature, but I am truly blessed to have received a copy from him. I am holding onto this treasure. When I walk past my bookshelves and see the case, I always think fondly of the Professor whom I have never met, yet he felt inclined to share his lifelong dream with me.



1 comment:

Kelly L said...

Dear Alice,
I was delighted to find your blog. I set out today to research family history, but I haven't been terribly successful.
I, too, was told as a young teen that John Brown was my g-g-g-g-grandfather. My father slyly told me that this was information that was best kept to myself. We live in Texas.
My grandmother was a passionate genealogist who had discovered the connection. She has been gone 10 years now, and no one has her files. Apparently, she said, a Brown female had married a Langford.
Fred Langford Sr., my grandfather, probably wasn't the most fruitful branch of the family tree, but they tell me he was the spittin' image of Old Man Brown in his earlier days. He also, my dad says, was a mathematical genius. I never knew him. He died when I was young. One of my sons, though, is a math genius!
It dawned on me today that someone, somewhere (other than my grandmother) must have traced this branch of the family.
Do you know?
I have so much I would like to talk about. I would have preferred to email you, but it required software that I don't use on my home computer.
Please email me at kellypink9@hotmail.com. Dumb email address, I know. You probably hear from many of us.
Cousin, I think,
Kelly Langford Thompson