Art in the press

'Song of the Prophet' on Music CD by Mark S Haskett - Rediscover Gibran Kahlil Gibran's Masterwork of Sacred Poetry.

The Story behind 'Song of the Prophet' on Music CD by Mark S Haskett - Rediscover Gibran Kahlil Gibran's Masterwork of Sacred Poetry.

It was the turbulent Sixties... the height of the Viet Nam War... a time for youthful questioning of authority, of the military draft, of one generation’s traditions by the other... a decade for reassessing religious, political and social institutions...

Mark Haskett was just out of high school, accepted into college on a track to enter the ministry. He’d also been given a “1-A” draft classification, and his application for a Conscientious Objector deferment (on the grounds that fighting a senseless war shouldn’t be the only definition of “national service”) had just been rejected by his local draft board. Only a high number in the first year of the lottery kept him from leaving the U.S. - whether on a transport to Viet Nam or a bus to Canada.

After trading divinity school for the study of philsophy, Mark was asked by a classmate to sing at his upcoming wedding. Despite a repertoire of then-popular standards like The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” Mark kept returning for inspiration to a chapter he’d read in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, entitled “On Marriage.” The decades-old treasury of poetic homilies had made a literary comeback during the Sixties, the book’s universal wisdom and practical spirituality lending its voice to yet another generation searching for Truth without the baggage of existing institutions.

The chapter “On Marriage”— or counsel, as Gibran preferred to call The Prophet’s thematic sections — had been quoted at countless wedding ceremonies ever since the book was published in 1926. But, so far as Mark could find, the words had never been sung.

Drawing on the music he’d grown up with — Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul, and Mary; The Beatles — Mark set “On Marriage” to guitar chords during the course of one afternoon, also writing a melody line and a harmony part for his own soon-to-be wife, Nancy. Within weeks after performing the song it became a staple at the weddings of other friends and acquaintances. People soon asked Mark to adapt Gibran’s poetry to other life-cycle events, from childbirths to funerals. Over the next several years he set most of The Prophet’s other counsels to music as well, structuring the free-form verse into stanzas and refrains, rearranging the order of the lines, but always preserving Gibran’s exact words and unmistakable prose. Drawing on a broader range of musical styles and favorite musicians — from Joni Mitchell and James Taylor to Dan Fogelberg and Frank Sinatra, from Jesus Christ Superstar to Chicago — the songs began to take on their own distinctive flavors.

However, with Mark’s first public performance of the collection (as the Sunday-morning service at a local Unitarian Fellowship), the guitar-accompanied songs still felt more like folk ballads than the diverse, fully-orchestrated pieces Mark had always “heard” playing in his imagination.

The music sat on the proverbial shelf for almost a decade when Mark stumbled onto former musical director for The Manhattan Transfer, Dave Wallace, living in the same town. He soon teamed up with Dave to explore some alternative stylings and a “bigger sound” for the songs. A digital keyboard and a few new arrangements helped add another dimension; and though Dave was unable to continue working on the project (he died of cancer in 2007), his efforts pointed toward the unlocked potential in Mark’s original melodies.

That potential also inspired Mark to resolve one of the remaining “difficulties” with the music. While the melodies and arrangements were created (and even copyrighted) by Mark, the words belonged to author Kahlil Gibran — or rather, to Gibran’s estate, now controlled by no less an institution that The Gibran National Committee headquartered in the poet’s birth country, Lebanon. (Gibran emigrated as a child along with most of his family, from Lebanon to the United States, in 1895. A brief biography may be found elsewhere on this website.) Mark’s initial efforts to obtain formal permission to use Gibran’s words in a future recording were unsuccessful. The book’s publisher, Alfred R. Knopf, could not grant a license, and permission seemed stymied by the entanglements of international copyright law — not to mention the difficulties of negotiating with a committee in faraway country whose internal strife made America’s “Sixties revolution” look like a stroll in the park.

Meanwhile, reinspired by his earlier interest in theology, and by a dozen years serving on the board of a local interfaith organization, Mark founded his own non-profit group dedicated to building understanding and cooperation between different religious (and secular) communities. His new organization, InnerFaith Resources, sought to bridge the gaps of mutual ignorance, as well as deepen appreciation for a life of faith by sponsoring Spiritual Issues Forums, Songs & Stories gatherings, and events like their popular Inter-Religious Thanksgiving Celebration.

Writing back to the Gibran National Committee as Executive Director for his organization, Mark received a more sympathetic hearing — after all, it was also one of Gibran’s goals to help build understanding between religious and ethnic communities. After Mark offered to dedicate profits from any future CD to the ongoing work of InnerFaith Resources, a contract was signed authorizing his use of Gibran’s poetry.

Mark promptly returned to the task of assembling a group of back-up musicians who were not only talented, but were themselves inspired by The Prophet.

Through the auspices of his local Arts Council — notably director Grace Lieberman and board member Brenda Francis — Mark connected with Lucky Lew, a studio owner and recording engineer who was also an accomplished musician. Lucky promptly enlisted several key players and the resulting group, eventually dubbed “ProphetSong,” began to record in the summer of 2006.

Mark Little, a twice Grammy-nominated keyboard artist, was especially helpful in creating a more unique sound for each of the songs, building on the previous work of Dave Wallace and on the character already inherent in the music. Award-winning “gypsy violinist” Kim Angelis, aware of Haskett’s project since meeting him at one of her concerts, volunteered to contribute her passionate playing on two of his songs. With Lucky providing both lead guitar and bass, and his friend Dave Hawks laying down percussion tracks, the music slowly took shape.

Backup vocals presented a special challenge. While Mark had overdubbed his own harmony parts in early versions of the music, it was ultimately decided that a completely different vocal accompaniment would enhance the songs. Theatrical songstress Shelly Bort, who had wanted to accompany Mark on his song “On Laws” for years, added her bluesy vocals not only to that composition, but to his exuberant “On Pleasure.” For the other ten songs, an informal talent search turned up a promising vocal student at the nearby University. With a range from mid-alto to crystalline soprano, Katy Burrough’s voice was not only surprisingly well-suited to complement Mark’s lead, her ear for the tight harmonies and sometimes complex syncopation of the phrasing made the combined voices sound as effortless as they are soaring.