My Great-Grandfather’s Hymns — my latest project
During the past two years I have been doing a lot of connecting with some of my ancestors. Most notably, after discovering a long-lost manuscript of my grandfather’s memoir three years ago, I had my daughter, Sathari, transcribe it into electronic form. I then edited and published it (“My First Life – Becoming a man on the Colorado Frontier 1880 – 1905”). At the beginning of 2023 I took on another project, writing new music for hymn lyrics written more than 100 years ago by my great grandfather, Johnson Oatman, Jr. He was my grandfather’s father-in-law and was quite famous for hymns like “Higher Ground” and “Count Your Blessings” that have been included in literally hundreds of hymnals of many denominations. At the same time, I have been doing a great deal of personal work, studying psychology and gaining a deeper understanding of the developmental influences of my childhood – especially traumatic ones — whose impacts have had a lasting role in my life.
I have long believed that the task of “consciously aware” humans is to heal from such influences so we do not pass them on to future generations. But getting to know my ancestors through their own words and lyrics has led me to believe that it is not only the psychological and physiological health of future generations that is facilitated by focusing on our own healing – it is also, quite literally, healing the wounds of our ancestors.
I have been particularly moved by Johnson Oatman Jr.’s hymn lyrics, most of which focus on the attainment of heaven in the afterlife as a reward, perhaps, for surviving the miseries, heart-aches, and challenges of this life with Christian virtue intact. This world view reflects 20 centuries of Christian belief, or perhaps “church doctrine” is the right word here; for the church has always (in my view) used the promise of a better afterlife as an enticement to gain both the loyalty and financial support of its congregants. In truth, until the technical, financial, and public health advances of the 20th century and the explosive growth of the middle class after World War II, life really was pretty miserable and uncertain for most people. As Thomas Hobbes famously said, life for most of humanity was “nasty, brutish, and short.”
My memoir (Book I), published May 25, 2021, and now available for Kindle — Available on Amazon
Peter’s new memoir, published May 25, 2021, and now available for Kindle — Available on Amazon
The Inner Circle is a magical mystery tour that takes the reader through the spiritual Odyssey of a youthful musician’s quest for self-discovery, enlightenment, and mystical awakening. The quest for identity begins with the innocence and naivete of the seeker as he devotes himself to a charismatic teacher and a new spiritual practice. It is a journey full of adventure and discovery that takes us across continents and coasts, and the author’s gradual awakening that the Guru and his organization have a very dark side. After many years, as devotion devolves into painful disillusionment, the initiate finds his way out of the cult and into a new sense of himself. This is a great book, full of insight about the light and dark sides of devotion to a spiritual practice. A must read!
— Dr. Ronald A. Alexander, Executive Director the OpenMind Training Institute, Santa Monica, adjunct faculty at UCLA extension, Pepperdine University, and Pacifica Graduate Institute, and author Wise Mind Open Mind and Core Creativity: A Mindful Path to Awaken your Creative Abilities (2022)
For more reviews see the WRITING page.
The Stone From Halfway Rock (Peter’s memoir of summers growing up on an island in Maine)
This book is currently out of print and available only from used book dealers. Peter will be reworking and adding to the book and will release it again through another publisher. In the meantime, you can read an excerpted chapter in the March 2016 issue of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors Magazine here:
ONE WAY TRIP TO MARS — A Rock Opera
Peter and his wife Johannah have written a rock opera together that has been performed in several venues, including the Waterville Opera House at the end of August 2017. To learn more and to follow progress as the show makes its way in the world of musical theater, see www.onewaytriptomars.org
See below for a description of the show. The poster below is from 2017. There are no performances of the rock opera currently scheduled for 2018, but we expect to mount the show on a major stage in early 2019. Peter continues to perform solo from time to time.
“One Way Trip to Mars” is set in the year is 2030. During the previous decade several unmanned missions have transported to Mars the basic components for a human colony. Our hero, Paolo, is chosen from a worldwide competition to be the first human to travel to Mars. In taking on this mission Paolo relinquishes all he has ever known: his beautiful planet Earth, his family and friends, and his wife, Cassandra, who loves him even though she, in her wisdom, is aware of the misguided nature of his thirst for glory.
While on his way to Mars, war and nuclear terrorism on earth cause communication links to go down, leaving Paolo completely alone in the universe. In a last ditch attempt to colonize Mars (and save the human race, whose survival on the poisoned planet Earth is very much in doubt), the space agency sends Cassandra to join her husband. Paolo doesn’t know Cassandra is coming, and Cassandra doesn’t know if Paolo is even still alive. Through the course of 18 original songs leading to a dramatic ending, the story unfolds as Paolo evolves in emotional and spiritual maturity and Cassandra comes into her own power.
The stage production featured Bath-based Hollowbody Electric Band with guest appearances by Raging Brass Reggae, Vox Nova Chamber Choir, Mehuman Jonson, a quartet, a rapper, a dancer, and other guest performers peppered throughout the program in surprising and delightful ways. A light show designed by Mike Gudroe, and sound and special effects by Derek Roe, created the dramatic setting.
Peter’s “Hollowbody Electric Band” released their “Prickly Stickers” CD in September 2015, and it was accepted into the Grammys to compete in the Best Rock Album category (unfortunately, it didn’t get a nomination). The CD has 12 songs, including 7 written by Johannah Harkness.
Peter Alexander’s song “Vicksburg,” about his great-great grandfather, the Reverend Eben Blachly, was winner of the 2014 Maine Songwriting Contest. It tells the story of Rev. Blachly’s run-in with a group of Confederate soldiers at the end of the Civil War when he rode down south from Wisconsin looking for his son, a Union soldier who had been captured and was wasting away in a military prison. The experience Blachly endured changed his life forever, and he was so moved by it that he sold his Wisconsin Farm, bought land outside Kansas City, KS, and founded the first university west of the Mississippi for former slaves and displaced Native Americans. Peter is a fine storyteller, both in song and on stage, and coupled with his quiet virtuosity on the guitar, his strong tenor voice, and a wagonload of original and cover songs, he is an engaging entertainer. Peter also performs with his Hollowbody Electric Band, which features his wife Johannah Harkness. It is a rich musical partnership, for Johannah is, if anything, an even better songwriter than Peter, and the addition of her voice, keyboards, and occasional turn at the ukelele make Hollowbody Electric Band both versatile and eclectic.
Here are a few samples of their music:
Peter’s song “Begging for Change–the Heath Care Blues”, written in 2009 at the request of SEIU for their campaign for universal healthcare, has been featured several times on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now program, most recently at the end of January 2015, prompting an article about the song and its history in the Portland Daily Sun.
Peter performed a solo concert as part of the 200th anniversary celebrations of Phippsburg, garnering this review: “Peter is a natural performer – a fine musician and singer, not to mention a gifted storyteller. He had the audience exactly where he wanted them.” – The Community Concert Series at Phippsburg Congregational Church
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Peter’s acoustic CD “Sunlight on the Crystal Sea — Songs from the coast of Maine” is now available. This is a re-mastered and renamed version of “In Between Blues” which has been selling consistently well for a couple of years at the Center for Maine Crafts. If you’d like a copy you can order here for just $10 including shipping (US only). This CD contains acoustic versions of a few of the same songs that are on Promised Land, but also about a dozen others like “Red Bird”, “She’s So Good to Me”, “Dancing All the Time” and a rocking version of “We’ve Got to Change This World”. For international purchases ($15 includes shipping) please click here:
Peter’s new CD “Promised Land” has been getting good critical acclaim. Recorded at Jud Caswell’s Frog Hollow Studio in Brunswick, it is full of some of Peter’s best songs, like “While We Were Dreaming”, “Promised Land” and “Fade Away.” Buy it here for $10 plus shipping
Read this excellent review from the Portland Press Herald.
We are organizing a series of concerts and other events to promote the CD, so please take a minute to check out the performance schedule and sign up for updates.