home
poems
essays
art
music
submit
archive
events
Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax


Covenhoven was built by his Grandfather. One skinned log atop another. Arcadia in the woods. A cabin where he and they always came together to be alone. The Grandsonís childhood grew from that soil and when he was back in the city he dreamt of those surreal washes of color and scent: those sounds that donít live in the other places. In real places.

Over the years the family learned that secret places are difficult to share with others. You canít tell somebody the story by just giving them a map. You see, while Covenhoven is a real place, itís also not. Itís more than that. Itís thousands of memories and entire childhoods, lives that have passed-on. And now, this place, this thing Ė because of the Grandson: itís a symphony of sound. Itís an orchard of stories. And, it sounds like a good novel should read.

You can hear it in ďA Love SincereĒ when the strings kick up like autumn grass in that old aspen grove. This was something different than the Grandson had done before. Alone, he wrote, played and recorded the entire thing save for the stringy violin and cello, whose parts he wrote instead.

The Grandson is Joel Van Horne and this is his project.

For his siblings, parents and relatives, Covenhoven was always a place they drove four hours up to. But it was just as well a place that the Van Horne's could take back with them, when the summer was over as an emotional souvenir. It was a dreamy respite in the middle of a work day. A subalpine scent in the middle of a traffic jam. A memory of everything quiet and celebrated. And then, as years turned into decades and those logs settled down into their place in the earth of the Medicine Bows, Covenhoven grew into the central legend of their personal, familial history.

For Van Horne, a Colorado native, this storied plot of land was where the best of his childhood took place. And so it wasnít such a surprise that, when the 33 year old was looking inside for a new project and a fresh lease on his musical life, he stumbled back upon the memory of that time. That place way out there had been something that he had wanted to write about. Up until this age, he just wasnít ready.

The symphony hadnít arrived. Not yet.

Van Horne grew-up on the west side of Denver, next to the hogbacks, beneath the sunsets. Every summer his family would go for a couple of glorious weeks, up to the Medicine Bows, up to Covenhoven. Dad played Dylan tunes on his old six-string. Others had their instruments. Music had been painted all over his family. Everybody had been infected. So it was no surprise when the Grandson, Joel, caught the bug. At eleven Van Horne had his first guitar. At fourteen, his first band. Before he could even drive, he was on the road. Playing his rebellious soda pop punk, touring the west coast.

But his goal was to write a symphony. Always, there was going to be an orchestra.

He couldnít really read music, but he tried out for a jazz program anyway. He auditioned with his guitar. He was accepted. And it wasnít a surprise or an obstacle, the fact that he was on probation for his first semester. It was going to be a challenge, like he was tangled in the cattails at Covenhoven, waist-high in the Rafting Pond. Trying to get in, trying to get out. 6, 7, 8 hours a day he practiced by himself. Reading. Making runs up and down his fretboard. And he was rewarded. He gigged-out with other students. They even played in Russia, in a hall that Rachmaninoff built. But Van Horne wasnít content yet. His heart called to an even different style of music. Original music. Sure, paying homage to your past grew him, but he wanted to tell his stories, sing his songs.

Eventually he ended-up in Carbon Choir, a big, full band with a penchant for the mellow, but a drive toward the rock. Like with his adolescent band, you felt this one in a physical place. But still, his emotional center, that inspired pit, needed sunlight. And so he continued looking around until it began to grow and make sense. Within the last couple of years,it came back to him: the symphony. Covenhoven. It was all there, all the sounds and stories, if he could just paint them clearly.

Van Horne would do it all differently. He would go at it alone. No band. No body else. He would write all the parts. All the lyrics. He would record it himself. He would make the calls. He wouldnít have to worry about finding a part for this instrument, or that player. This was finally the time to write that story, those pictures, about those days.

The symphony of an American upbringing. A Colorado childhood.

Itís a series of vignettes. Revelations. Private memories made public through spacious textures and dynamic composition. Because if thereís something apparent about Van Horneís sense of song itís his ability for smart, poignant textures. Organic, as though a naturalist built it altogether. Each one as though they were truly given a space, a place of their own.

Van Horne was his own filter. He would bounce-out songs to go over in his car, sometimes with 40 different takes. He was on his own through it all until he enlisted the help of sound engineer Jamie Mefford to help mix it. Finally he had a second eye on it. The two of them set those sounds onto the page, and the chapters, the movements became concretized. They bound the book.

Van Horne is a songwriter. He knows his way around verses. Covenhoven is not just about streams of banjos and mountains of heavenly percussion. Itís about the things you say when youíre way out there, with others, but by yourself. They are simple, woody meditations on his ďLove SincereĒ. In ďYoung at HeartĒ Van Horne sings, ďAnd Iíve always been an old soul/Empty has always been full/Lost is my own kind of found/And silence my favorite soundĒ.

If there was an analogy in this for Van Horne, it would have been about the accumulation of skill sets. The sum total of the previous challenges into one more. A tribute to that path, to everything heís become and more than that: a celebration of a place his grandfather built by himself. It is a tribute. An articulation of reverence. To his family. His siblings. The secret memories that are only theirs.

This is that sound. That place. Covenhoven.