Mary Crowell: The Marvelous Mistress of Magnus Retail
Written by Brenda Sutton
Most of us filkers struggle along with our instruments, hacking and faking our way through three-chord songs. Not so Mary Crowell. She's actually Dr. Mary Crowell, a former college professor of music and adept piano teacher. Mary knows music the way a sommelier knows wine, and she uses her knowledge to the benefit of the rest of us, underpinning our three-chord songs with arpeggios full of sevenths flatted, diminished, and mobiused -- and she makes us all sound so much better.
I first met Mary in 2001 when some good gaming buddies of hers dragged her off to GAFilk. She'd been making up a few songs about their D&D characters' antics, and they knew that the folks at GAFilk we're going to love Mary's music. We watched this beautiful young woman lug her keyboard (not the most portable of filk instruments, mind you) into the filk room with a slight amount of dread and a large measure of anticipation. And then she played her opening measures -- all Gershwiny, bluesy, and fine -- we all relaxed. This was going to be an expertly arranged piece of music. And then she sang. Oh my stars and little purple comets, she sang! -- with a sultry, southern voice that made most of the men in the room melt into puddles on the ballroom floor. And what she sang -- challenging lyrics with internal structure, plot, and daring wit. Mary's first fore into filk was an unmitigated success. We fell in love with her and her charming Dungeon Master/pediatrician/masterchef husband, Dr. Wesley Crowell. (We met their precocious, creative son, Simon, later in the year, and fell in love with him, too. Simon has been the inspiration for many of Mary's songs, and shares a co-writing credit for Get Down Mama.)
The next year, we asked Mary to entertain at GAFilk's banquet. The setting was just too perfect to waste -- grand piano, lovely lady in a slinky dress, brandy snifter tip jar. Everyone loved it, so we hammed it up even bigger the next year with a lounge-act-glitter-and-feather-boa glossy poster. Each following year something new was added to the act -- a bass player, a drummer, a guitarist or two, a sax or three, a trumpet, more singers -- and voila! GAFilk soon had one of the most amazing house bands ever, Play it with Moxie.
A few years later, when Gwen Knighton married a crazy Irishman and moved to England, Three Weird Sisters found ourselves one Sister short. Teresa Powell and I loved the TWS music and didn't want it to end, so I suggested that Mary might fill our gaping hole in the band. I mean, come on -- pretty, talented, charming, fun-loving, keyboard singer/songwriter living not too far away in Alabamaland -- Mary was the perfect choice. "Would you like to be our sister?" we asked. She squeeed a little, accepted, and we were oh so grateful to have her.
Becoming a Sister wasn't easy, and Mary worried that she wouldn't be able to match Gwen's sound. At that first rehearsal, T and I were amazed at Mary's ability to not only nearly recreate the harp on her keyboard, but the exact vocal harmonies as well. Eventually we all relaxed into the music and the arrangements moved into new and different and Mary-influenced sounds. We found that we enjoyed this new sound just as much as the old sound. Alabamaland turned out to be farther away than any of us thought, so we rotated practices and shared the driving. Music weekends at Mary's house are always made even better by the magnificent cooking of Wesley Crowell, who delights in filling our tummies with delicious food. Then we really lucked out when Mary's songwriting kicked into overdrive. Other than the handful of D&D-inspired songs, she'd never let herself explore the wide possibilities filk offers. Music with crows and goddesses, myths and heroes, sex and puzzles started pouring out of Mary's mind and hands. Her music students were treated to very unusual songs, by collegiate music class standards, and we even played a concert at the college where many of them sang along.
Mary has this magical power, you see, but she only uses it for good. Don't let that pretty, flirty exterior fool you. Mary is a very strong, complex, passionate, and compassionate person who owns a creative mind and an overwhelming ability to improve everything she touches. Before you know it, you'll find yourself on the floor in Downward Facing Dog position. I consider myself fortunate in the extreme that Mary touched my life. Now she gets to touch yours. Mwaaahahahahahahaheeheeeheee. Squeee.