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For the “Winter Morning Walks” song cycle, Schneider decided to bring Upshaw more into her world by having three improvising musicians - pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Jay Anderson and clarinetist Scott Robinson, who have been with her jazz orchestra since its 1992 start - perform with the Australian Chamber Orchestra at the 2011 premiere and on the recording.

Schneider and Upshaw, both breast cancer survivors, felt an immediate personal connection with Kooser’s poems, which he wrote on pre-dawn walks in the Nebraska countryside while recovering from cancer surgery and radiation therapy. Schneider found the images also evoked memories of the landscapes around her hometown in southwestern Minnesota that have influenced her jazz compositions.

“I think there’s something when you encounter your mortality,” said Schneider, an avid bird watcher. “It’s a shocking moment that wakes up the colors and the power of beauty and nature just explode in a way they don’t normally. You become so appreciative of the smallest, most beautiful things.”

Schneider says she couldn’t sleep when she sent the finished recording to Kooser, but was relieved when he enthusiastically endorsed her effort.

“He said he felt he could experience the poetry with the music, and it just made me really happy,” said Schneider. “That to me is better than any Grammy Award.”




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