This Piano Composer Has A ‘Whimsically Macabre’ Obsession With Nursery Rhymes

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<p>Stephanie Wolf/CPR News</p>
<p>Composer Stacy Fahrion at her Centennial home, July 13, 2018.</p>
Photo: Whimisically Macabre | Stacy Fahrion - SWolf
Composer Stacy Fahrion at her Centennial home, July 13, 2018.

Everyone knows “The Muffin Man.” Yes, the muffin man, who lives on Drury Lane.

Centennial-based composer Stacy Fahrion doesn’t remember why the traditional English nursery rhyme was in her head, but she does recall what inspired her to write a version of it that was “as creepy as possible.”

A friend/mentor introduced her to an avant-garde band called The Residents. The song that particularly struck her was “The Act of Being Polite” from the group’s 1980 “Commercial Album.”

“[It] blew my mind because it was so refreshingly weird,” Fahrion says.

At the time, Fahrion had gone through a divorce, which left her “trying to find who I was as a person again.”

“I was going through a pretty dark time, so I felt this need to start creating my own stuff,” she says. “It turned out kind of melancholy, but also pretty playful, and I think that’s a true reflection of who I really am.”

Her dark rendition of the “The Muffin Man,” written in 2012, starts out with the opening of Frédéric Chopin’s ‘Winter Wind‘ etude. It was the first piece of what would become “Whimsically Macabre,” an ongoing collection of piano compositions presenting her personal take on classic children’s verses. Listening to The Residents gave her permission to get a little weird. If they were “gleefully doing whatever made them happy,” then she wanted that feeling and inspiration for herself.

Drawing on nursery rhymes became Fahrion’s artistic fascination.

“I started looking at other nursery rhymes and I realized how they’re sort of creepy already,” she says. “I can just intensify the creepiness a little bit. It was fun and it was also very rewarding.”

One of the next songs she wrote was a riff on “Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater.”

Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater, had a wife and couldn’t keep her
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well

Putting one’s wife inside a pumpkin shell to keep her felt pretty misogynistic to Fahrion. So she kicked up the darkness and creepiness in her take on this rhyme from the “Mother Goose” canon. Listen closely, you might also hear a hint of “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands.”

There are five “Whimsically Macabre” albums, the most recent is “These are Odd Times“ — based on odd time signatures. Piano Pronto Publishing has published the sheet music to much of these offbeat piano solos.

Sometimes, it might be a line in a nursery rhyme that Fahrion draws inspiration from. Other times, a single nursery rhyme might inspire an entire album. That’s the case for “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Throw in a dash of “Little Miss Muffet” with the insect who is just trying to ascend a simple spigot and that’s what led to the creation of Fahrion’s 2017 album “Lullabies for Arachnophobes.”

Fahrion keeps coming back to “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” For her next album, Fahrion would like to write music for spiders who are afraid of humans.

“You can see the spider continually struggling and being washed down the spout again,” she says. “So, I imagine a lot of people identify with that.”

Fahrion is nowhere near close to getting bored with this. She says there’s “some kind of nostalgia for maybe lost happiness from childhood” in nursery rhymes. Yet she also finds them to be “overly cheerful and grating.”

“I like to make them interesting and a little more nuanced,” Fahrion says.