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Hit TV show spotlights Beedle recording

Helen Beedle has recorded two CDs of 19th-century music.

HBO is showing some Big Love to Lehigh adjunct music professor Helen Beedle.

The cable network featured a song recorded by Beedle, an accomplished classical pianist, in the season finale of its critically acclaimed new series, Big Love, which debuted this spring in the highly coveted Sunday night time slot following The Sopranos. So how does a Civil War-era popular song released independently on CD in Hellertown, Pa., wind up in a hit TV show?

The Internet, of course. Last August, Beedle was contacted by an HBO representative who had come across her version of the ballad, "Lorena," while trolling for 19th-century music on iTunes. Beedle signed a contract granting HBO the rights to use the song, but she tried not to get her hopes too high.

"Sure, I was excited, but I thought, 'Now Helen, don't get all wound up about this. It probably happens all the time,'" Beedle recalls.

But HBO followed through, obtaining a licensing agreement and writing the song into the season finale. Beedle admits she had some concerns when she learned the new show was about a polygamous family in Utah, but she subscribed to HBO the week before Big Love premiered in March, and has become a big fan. In the first season finale, her song plays on the radio as Roman Grant, the evil cult leader played by Harry Dean Stanton, reflects on his life.

It's easy to see why the makers of Big Love fell in love with Beedle's spare arrangement. It's a hauntingly beautiful ballad, sung by her brother, Jonathan Beedle, who plays guitar on it to accompany Helen's piano. "It was a really, really popular song from the Civil War period," she says. "Everybody sang it, everybody knew it, both in the North and the South.

"One of the lines is, 'It matters little now, Lorena. The past is in the eternal past.' So it's someone who has died, and he's looking back from the war on his love and the importance of home. There's a lot of feeling in it."

The daughter of Lynn S. Beedle, the late civil engineering professor who was one of the world's leading authorities on tall buildings and more livable cities, Helen Beedle grew up around Lehigh. She earned her master's degree in piano at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and has studied with celebrated pianists Walter Hautzig, Russell Sherman, and Theodore Lettvin. Her brother Jonathan is a singer-songwriter in his own right, and is about to release his first CD.

An interest in the Civil War era spurred Beedle to begin researching the music and concert programs of that period. After discovering that they often mixed classical pieces with popular offerings of the times, she started scouring sheet music collections at the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library, as well as in Baltimore and New Orleans.

"It's hard to define, but I looked for music I liked," Beedle says. "They have a certain kind of feel about them."

Beedle has recorded two CDs of 19th-century music: 19th Century Salon & Concert Music and When the Galop Was the Rage, which contains her version of "Lorena." Last fall, she played Zoellner Arts Center's Baker Hall, with theatre department professor Jeffrey Milet providing elaborate staging and lighting. And she performs several times a year in concert halls and at festivals, including the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., dressed in period costumes.

"I love the clothes. There's an elegance about them," she says. "The kind of mood I wanted to create when I performed was to, as best I could, make the audience feel like they were in a different time period."

--Jack Croft

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin Online
June 2006


Posted on Tuesday, June 27, 2006

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