When Muriel Anderson first began playing the guitar at age 8, she was inspired by more than just music.
“Nature and music go together in my world,” said Anderson. “One of the first things I did was to try to imitate crickets.”
It was listening to and mimicking nature that became the inspiration behind her song “Owl’s Psalm,” off of her 2006 album "Wildcat."
“I heard two owls singing one day, and I remembered melody, added bassline and other things, but that melody, the owls were singing, was so touching. People say it’s a beautiful song, but I didn’t write it,” she laughed.
Anderson’s love of nature is evident in her 17th studio album, "Nightlight Daylight," which features a unique fiber-optic lighted CD cover. The cover image is of two children holding hands, surrounded by fireflies, underneath a starry night and a full moon. The moon, when pressed, lights up the stars and fireflies, and a shooting star sails across the sky.
“Music comes first, but I always wanted to be an inventor I guess,” said Anderson of the award-winning double album that took two years to produce. "With no deadlines and no maximum budget, I gave (the album) whatever it needed. The whole project was a joy.”
After seeing his photo illustration “The Lightning Catchers,” Anderson sought out photographer Bryan Allen to aide with visuals for the album.
“In that image you can see intrigue and humor and optimism, ingenuity and detail, attention to light. He was capturing in his images much of what my music was trying to capture," Anderson said.
“She sent me an email saying, ‘what would it take for you to do my album cover?’ Which is not how people have typically approached me,” added Allen with a laugh.
Soon after working together through Skype, a relationship developed.
“She was very flirty on Skype,” Allen said.
“You were flirty right back,” added Anderson.
Of the early part of their relationship and of talking with Allen through Skype, Anderson wrote the song “Perfect 10.” After meeting in 2013 during the principal photography for "Nightlight Daylight," the two formed an unexpected working and romantic relationship, with Allen providing the visuals for Anderson’s videos and live performances.
Caught again by unexpectedness, the Great American Eclipse inspired Anderson, who drove from New York to Nashville to witness the natural phenomenon, to begin work on a new album aptly titled "Eclipse."
“I had no intention to record an album,” said Anderson. “I was sitting on a hillside [in Nashville] with my harp guitar and people started requesting songs and I just thought we should share this experience.”
To help share the experience, "Eclipse," comprised of 12 celestial-themed originals and covers, including “Here Comes the Sun” and “Why Worry,” comes enclosed in a greeting card with images of the eclipse taken by Allen. An open space inside the card allows for individuals to write of their own memories and experiences of the Great American Eclipse.
“Part of the wonder of [the eclipse] was being around other people who were so entranced with experience. So I thought, in addition to having the music yourself, you might want to send it to a friend and relate your story or greeting,” said Anderson of the greeting card layout. “I think now I’m just having fun with it and playing with the possibilities.”
Anderson evokes images of the eclipse using the lush instrumentation of her custom-made harp-guitar, an instrument she admits was at first intimidating. Upon learning classical music at DePaul University in Chicago, she realized her compositions called for low, resonating bass strings.
“I was reaching for notes that weren’t on my guitar, but with the harp-guitar I had nearly the range of grand piano at my disposal,” she said. “It was intimidating because it’s this huge sea of strings, but then I realized I had to approach it musically and only add the extra strings if it added to the music. Everything is in service to the music.”
From picking up a guitar from a family friend who was going to throw it away to attending DePaul University on an academic scholarship, Anderson has spent a majority of her life in service to music. Eventually her dedication led her to take mandolin lessons under Jethro Burns, who then introduced Anderson to his brother-in-law, Mr. Guitar himself, Chet Atkins. Atkins become a friend and mentor to Anderson, sending her songs to learn and tutoring her. Now, Anderson herself offers workshops and private lessons.
“At a certain point there is an obvious giving back you have to do in order to experience music in more full way. I feel like it gives the students a way to save a bunch of time by pointing out some things and helping them explore their own music. I think it’s important to share that experience.”
In addition, Anderson is the founder of the Music for Life Alliance Charity and is host of the Muriel Anderson’s All Star Guitar Night, an event which raises money and awareness for music education.
After their "Eclipse" tour, Anderson and Allen hope to continue working together on future projects and maybe even a book.
“We don’t want to give it away, but we can hint at it,” said Anderson. “Just an appetizer for what’s to come.”