Dr. Mary Crowell
Written by Rob Wynne
I can still recall the first time I heard Mary Crowell perform. It was at the Georgia Filk Convention (GaFilk) in 2001, during the two-shots concert. Mary had never been to a filk event before, but had been composing and performing original songs for her gaming group, and her friends John Brewer and Karen Murphy insisted she should come see what this filking thing was about.
My first thought, as she was setting up, was “Oh, piano, that’s interesting and different.” Then she started to play, a jazzy, bluesy torch song that snaked through the room like smoke through the lights of a tiny nightclub. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard done in filk to that point, and left me with one longing, aching impression: I want to hear more of this music.
Fortunately for all of us, she decided we were all right too, and she stuck around. Over the past five years, she’s become a staple in Atlanta’s filk community, and it’s not uncommon for housefilks she attends to become all-out jams revolving around her delicate jazzy piano and infectious grin. In 2004, she was asked to join the filk band Three Weird Sisters when Gwen Knighton moved to England, and she has stepped into that role with typical grace and charm.
In addition to Three Weird Sisters, Mary has been the anchor of the GaFilk House Band, which provides the dinner and dancing entertainment every year. What started as a solo piano-bar act designed to fill a hotel-requested food function has grown to include such talented musicians as Jodi Krangle, George and Theresa Powell, Dave Rood, and Brian Richardson. The house band plays jazz standards, blues, and, yes, filksongs, in front of a packed dance floor every year, and has become one of the featured don’t-miss attractions of that convention. During his Guest of Honour concert in 2003, Robert Asprin remarked on the band: “I’d really like to tell the concom how much I appreciate them booking that little combo right before my set. But this is a family show.”
Mary lives in Athens, Alabama, with her husband Wesley and son Simon. She has a B.A. in piano performance from Huntingdon College, an M.M. in musicology from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and a D.M.A. in music composition, also from the University of Alabama. When she isn’t traveling back and forth between home and Atlanta for rehearsals with Three Weird Sisters, she teaches music appreciation, class piano, and private piano lessons at Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Alabama. She also teaches yoga at the Athens-Limestone Wellness Center. and spends part of what she laughingly calls her “spare time” in a role-playing campaign with her husband and other long-time friends, which frequently keeps her muse supplied with material for new songs.
Mary is a prolific songwriter, and has tackled a range of subjects in her music. She has extolled the virtues of Legolas and the sensuous charms of Jessica Rabbit. She has managed to explain through song topics as esoteric as the Doctrine of Ethos, or the rules governing targets of opportunity in third edition AD&D. Of course, it’s the torch songs that she’s known for, and she manages to infuse even the most innocuous subjects, such as, say, an advertisement for a local alchemist in her gaming campaign, with a sultry undercurrent that will seduce the unwary and ensnare their senses.
Her stage presence has earned her three Pegasus nominations for Best Performer, and she has performed concerts at Confluence, TorCon, GaFilk, and NorEasCon. Poison Ivy, her octet for flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, french horn, trumpet, and trombone was performed at the UAH Local Composers Concert in March of 2004. Mary gigs primarily in Athens, Alabama at downtown bookstores and garden markets. She is currently working on her first studio album.
But what I really want to tell you about Mary Crowell is something that you are very soon going to discover for yourself: she is one of the kindest, warmest, most generous people that I’ve ever been privileged to meet, and we are every one of us fortunate to have her intersect our lives.
Ladies and Gentlemen of Concertino, I present to you your Toastmistress, Dr. Mary Crowell.