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The intersection of words and music


If musical and literary inclinations run in families, the Emersons are no exception. With Donna being an award-winning local poet and her son, Jared Emerson-Johnson, as an accomplished composer, their talents sometimes overlap in a mother-son harmony.

Jared pieces together the music for each one of Donna’s books, including her latest, “Following Hay.”Although they are both busy in their own professions of composing and writing, the two worlds come together for Donna’s book releases.

Donna Emerson’s newest book of poems is centered around a farm atmosphere, which, as Donna explains, is more meaningful than merely dry heat and grazing animals.

“I grew up spending summers on my mothers fathers farm in western New York, and everybody was better there,” she says. “We had horses and pigs. It felt like a whole new world. And so I’ve thought about it lately as I’m getting older, you know, what are you attached to? What really matters? And I found myself following hay trucks, watching the way people were finding their hay out here in California. I would find myself following hay trucks on the freeway and country roads, and going out to see what season it was for the hay. What I realized was my cousin had died not too long before that and I think I was sad about his passing. He’s in a poem that’s in the center of the book called “Finding Hay” and it was a way of paying homage to him, I think, as much as the farm. I didn’t really know why I was writing the poem until I was finished, because poems are not a linear thing. You start writing and you think you’re writing about one thing, but something else might come out.”

Donna decided to do a double launch of her book with Phyllis Meshulam, fellow poet and author of “Dull Moon.” Both authors read their new publications at Occidental Center for the Arts.

“We have similar sensibilities, we’re close in age, and her new book was coming out, so it seemed like the right time to do a double launch,” said Donna.

Jared Emerson, her son, helps her select the music to accompany her poetry for reading tours.

“Her poetry is often very autobiographical and has a lot of musical references in some of the poems. Sometimes it’s literally just the music that is referred to in the poems. The rest of the time it’s a combination of her suggesting things and me suggesting things,” Jared says. “It’s very much a dialogue.”

Jared, who composed the score for Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” video game, works full-time as a composer for Bay Area Sound. After studying music, theater and English at Cornell University and taking on a composing internship, he began working at Bay Area Sound, a company that handles audio and music production.

“At the time I was thinking ‘Yeah, I’ll do this for a couple years. It’s a great job right out of college,’ but it turned out to be something I really enjoyed and did well at,” he says.

Jared took over the sound department after Cliff Jenkins, the founder, left to become a supervisor at Sony a couple years after Jared joined the company.

Since then, the company has been making the scores for various different game companies in the area. One of the biggest clients is Telltale, who has made the games for “The Walking Dead.”

Jared received a British Academy Film Award nomination for the score he composed for “The Walking Dead.”

The company is now working on the score for a game based on what armies of fans would viciously argue is the best show on television.

“We’re going to be doing the music for the ‘Game of Thrones’ game,” Jared says.

In addition to composing, Jared has taught and conducted at Cinnabar Opera, Sonoma City Opera, the San Francisco Lamplighters, along with various other student companies in New York.

“I think it’s really important for composers and all kind of creative people to be constantly consuming as much outside stuff as well as doing their own thing,” he says. “Otherwise, I think it can get kind of flat.”

(Contact Quinn Pieper at argus@arguscourier.com)