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An Autobiography: Chapter 14, Sunflower Suite

After Georgianna’s final exit, I realized more every day that her Sunflower story was important, and I thought about producing a CD with the story. I knew the story had to have a beautiful music background, and I searched through my record collection of 3,000, but I couldn’t find the perfect music.

We always went to bed at night listening to music. The radio on Georgianna’s night table was set to the PBS station for classical music, and the radio automatically went off after 59 minutes. She always reset it when she read late, keeping it low if I was already asleep.

One night in the summer of 2002, I was in bed reading, when I heard beautiful music that sounded like “sunflowers.” It had the sound of English tone poems on one hand, and I thought it might be a concerto for violin with the beautiful violin music I was hearing. When the piece ended, the announcer gave the title: ‘Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto, the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Takako Nishizaki, violinist. I thought to myself, there is my music for the Sunflower CD! 

The next day I learned that the CD was on the NAXOS label, a company in Franklin, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville. NAXOS is the world’s largest independent classical label and was founded in 1987 by German-born Klaus Heymann, resident of Hong Kong. I ordered the CD and saw that it included seven musical pieces. I listened intently to all of them, some several times, but kept going back to “Romance,” very expressive and romantic music written by Qin Yong-cheng. Takako Nishizaki’s violin and orchestra together evoke an exciting yet romantic texture. The recapitulation of the theme moves to a sweet and relaxing finale.

Lady Violin 

“Romance” is 4:59 minutes long, and when I read the story with the music, it was a perfect blend. The music is so perfect, in fact, you would think the music was written for the story. I called NAXOS and made an appointment. After telling the first person I met with my story and what I wanted, and asking for the use of the music with no royalty, he got me in to see Mr. Heymann, who happened to be there on one of his periodic visits to the states.

Mr. Heymann was very gracious and loved the story of how I heard the CD one night when I was in bed. He said he was happy to give me the rights to use the music, and then added, “You won’t have to pay a royalty to the violinist either, she’s my wife!”

Then the question was what to put on the CD following the story, and I thought beautiful music as a “Sunflower Suite” would be lovely. So I contacted Alex L. Perez, Music Licensing Administrator at NAXOS and told him what I wanted. He, too, wanted to help me and asked what pieces I wanted. In the meantime, I had gotten some other NAXOS CDs (gratis) and picked out some beautiful music that would make a nice suite. I gave the list to Alex, and he okayed most; there were only two or three he couldn’t give me. We finally agreed on 10 of the world’s most beautiful music compositions for the “Sunflower Suite.” They are:

1 - Pavane for a Dead Princess – Ravel 

2 – Berceuse – Godard 

3 – Gymnnopedies I – Satie 

4 – Claire de Lune – Debussy 

5 – Berceuse – Faure´ 

6 – Reverie – Debussy 

7 – Love In Spring – Xiaogu Zhu 

8 – Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun – Debussy 

9 – Pastoral – Sha Han Kun 

10 – Scheherazade Part 3 – Rimsky-Korsakov 

The next question was who to have record the story. I went over a list of “name” possibilities and thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Shirley Temple would do it! I wrote her, and a few days later, the telephone rang and a soft voice said, “This is Shirley Temple Black.” Imagine my surprise. Ms. Black was lovely and said that when she read the story by my wife, and my dedication, she had to call me, rather than write. She explained why she couldn’t comply to my request since she had retired long ago and if she did anything of this nature, her life would be in a turmoil with all kinds of requests; I understood perfectly.

Shirley Temple Black 

Shirley Temple Black 

I thought of other people, but finally decided to record the story myself at the Beaverwood studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee. With the CD ready for production, I then got the idea of including a packet of sunflower seeds. We went to the Ferry Morse Seed Co. in Kentucky, and my artist, Tony Gerber, created a beautiful package that was shrink-wrapped onto the back of the CD … another first from Tennessee Players! The Message of the Sunflowers CD is featured on the Tennessee Players website, and every morning I hear it with my breakfast while I read the morning paper.

Sunflower Seed Pack 

Georgianna’s essay is also featured in Dear World, the 2-CD set we produced in 2007 (see on the Tennessee Players website), as well as in all of the beautiful program books we published for the major Schweitzer-Bach productions, including The Washington National Cathedral; Santa Barbara; 10th Anniversary; Schermerhorn Symphony Center; New York City; and the Symposium 116-page book.

Sunflower Art Heading 

Once upon a time the earth was even more beautiful than it is today. The water was pure and deep, reflecting within itself the sunlight which gave life to all the creatures beneath the waves. The earth was green with many kinds of trees and plants. These gave food and shelter to the birds, the animals, and to all mankind. At night the air was so clear that the starlight gave a glow almost as bright as the moon.  

The people of the earth lived close to nature. They understood it and honored it and never took more than what they needed from it. The people lived in peace so they prospered and began to build many nations all around the world according to nature’s climate.  

But one day a terrible thing happened. A strange spirit of greed entered the hearts of mankind. People began to be jealous of one another, and they were not satisfied with all the good things they already had. The nations wanted more and more of everything: more land, more water, more resources. They squeezed precious minerals from the earth to build terrible weapons to defend their nations from other, greedier nations. They killed one another. They polluted the air and the water with poisons. Nature began to die. This is called war. War is ugly. It destroys love and hope and peace.  

Then one day a magical thing occurred. The birds of the air, the animals of the land, and the creatures beneath the waters came to an agreement: if they were to survive, something would have to be done to stop these wars. Only through peace could their world survive.  

“We cannot speak the human language,” they declared, “and mankind can no longer understand ours. We must find among us a symbol of peace so brilliant that all who see it will stop and remember that peace and sharing is beautiful.”  

“I am what you need,” said a golden sunflower. “I am tall and bright. My leaves are food for the animals, my yellow petals can turn plain cloth to gold, my seeds are many and are used for food by all living beings. Yet, the seeds I drop upon the ground can take root and I will grow again and again. I can be your symbol of peace.”  

All nature rejoiced, and it was decided that the birds would each take one sunflower seed and that they would fly over every nation and plant the seed in the earth as a gift. The seeds took root and grew, and the sunflowers multiplied.  

Wherever the sunflowers grew there seemed to be a special golden glow in the air. The people could not ignore such a magical sight.  

Soon they began to understand the message of the sunflowers so they decided to destroy all of their terrible weapons and to put an end to the greed and to the fear of war. They chose the sunflower as a symbol of peace and new life for all the world to recognize and understand.  

A ceremony was celebrated by planting a whole field of sunflowers. Artists painted pictures of the sunflowers, writers wrote about them, and the people of the world were asked to plant more sunflower seeds as a symbol of remembrance.  

All nature rejoiced once more as the golden sunflowers stood tall with their faces turned eastward to the rising sun, then following the sun until it sets in the west.  

They gave their goodness to the world so that everyone who sees a sunflower will know that the golden light of peace is beautiful.  

Sunflower CD 

Don’t Miss the Next Chapter: Born in Visalia, Kentucky