Natalie Merchant’s 2010 album, “Leave Your Sleep,” surpasses the scope of any of her songwriting projects to date. - Photo courtesy of Mark Seliger

A new path for Natalie Merchant

With her 2010 album, "Leave Your Sleep," Natalie Merchant embarked on a new artistic path: composing music from literary inspiration for ensembles and orchestras.

Merchant says she's never started an album project knowing how it would turn out or what musical directions it would take. "Leave Your Sleep" was no different.

"I just wanted to write," Merchant says during a telephone interview. "That's the way any project starts. I don't usually know what it will be in the end."

"Leave Your Sleep" initially started with the idea of writing lullabies for her newborn daughter, then evolved into a project that dwarfs anything the singer and songwriter has done.

"Songs from Natalie's album require an orchestra," says Zybele Abbett of the Rogue Valley Symphony. "I'm a huge fan. When Britt called and asked us to collaborate, we were more than happy to oblige."

Abbett and about 25 musicians from RVS will perform with Merchant at 8 p.m. Sunday, June 24, at the Britt Pavilion, 350 First St., Jacksonville.

Ashland singer and songwriter Jeff Kloetzel, winner of South Stage Cellars' Rising Stars competition, will perform from 6 to 7 p.m. on Britt's Table Rock City Stage.

"Leave Your Sleep" is a large collection of poems set to songs written by Merchant. The 26 songs — on two CDs — took more than six years to write and record, and feature contributions from some 130 musicians from around the world, including the Wynton Marsalis Quartet, The Fairfield Four and The Klezmatics.

The first steps toward the project came when Merchant, now 48, reached something of a crossroads in her career. After marrying Spanish filmmaker Daniel de la Calle, Merchant was ready to stop touring and start a family.

"If you put all the time that I was on the road together, it was 12 solid years without a day off," Merchant says. "It's a long time being in a different city every day."

Though there were seven years between Merchant's albums, she wasn't away from the creative process of music for long. She began writing for "Leave Your Sleep" soon after her daughter, Lucia, was born in 2003.

As Merchant latched onto the idea of adapting a collection of children's poems to music, she dove in deeper. She spent months researching poets and finding selections she would turn into songs. She also researched information about the poets to create an 80-page book included in the deluxe edition of "Leaving Your Sleep."

"I've always had a latent archivist or librarian living inside of me, so discovering who these people are was a really fun part of the project," Merchant says.

Musical ambition grew as the project took shape. Merchant says she abandoned her four-piece format of drums, guitar, bass and keys for a wide-ranging sound inspired by folk, pop, Celtic, Chinese, Cajun, klezmer and symphonic elements. The resulting CD is sophisticated enough for adults and playful enough for children.

Tickets cost $59 for reserved seating, $37 for lawn, $32 for children 12 and younger and $236 for premium blanket seating for four. Call 541-773-6077, see www.brittfest.org or visit the box office at 216 W. Main St., Medford.

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