When Jessica Victoria was brainstorming for her next music album, she looked to ancient tales of chivalry and valor. She rediscovered her childhood passion for the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
Victoria, originally from New Mexico, has called Mt. Lebanon her home for the last two years. She is a classically trained vocalist with a master’s degree in music from the New England Conservatory in Boston and a doctorate from the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.
Songs of the Summer Realm is her third album.
“A lot came together at the right time,” she says. “I always loved Arthur as a child. I always wanted to be the knight and fight for justice and right. I thought going back to that feeling would be a great idea. The Arthurian ideal can still teach us a lot. It never goes out of season.”
Songs of the Summer Realm drew inspiration from a diverse body of literature, including books in the Pendragon series written by Steven Lawhead.
Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King was another composition that informed the album’s creator.
Everything on the album is either directly from Arthurian legend or written from a narrative format. A few songs talk about Arthur’s death.
Queen Guinevere plays an important role on the album. Victoria wanted to show the woman’s complexity.
“Her personality really intrigued me,” Victoria said. “Mine is of a warrior queen who was unpopular not because of her conduct, but because she was married to an English king and she was Irish.
“This idea also is from the Pendragon series. Her character is a strong woman, who is not pursuing her own agenda.”
Victoria’s husband and manager, Jason Ewell, watched her become enamored with the Arthurian legend.
“It was something she was excited about when she started reading them,” Ewell said. “When you’re a musician or managing a musician, you’re always thinking about a new project.
“Sometimes there’s an idea you toss around. She really got into these stories, and I think the idea of joining them connected with the idea of doing a new project.”
The couple traveled to the western highlands in Scotland, which is about three hours north of Glasgow, to record the music. They chose that location because of its connection to the local folklore surrounding Arthur.
They produced the album at Water Colour Music, and they are happy with the result.
“I think the songs are beautiful,” Ewell said. “There is a good variety. No one will ever accuse them of sounding the same. They tell good stories. They can be listened to over and over and you can get something new each time.”
Victoria, who is blind, started to sing when she was 12 and learned to read Braille music when she was 16. Though her blindness has influenced her perspective, she said it is just one trait of many that she possesses.
“Everyone’s life experience shapes them,” Victoria says. “For me, it’s undeniable that the blindness and the attitudes toward it helped to shape me. But to me blindness is just a characteristic. It should be given its own importance, but not more or less than other traits.”
She has garnered high praise for her work from music critics across the country. Slim Randles wrote in the Albuquerque Journal that Victoria “starts to sing and it’s almost a spiritual event.”
Victoria said the songs would be easy for people to relate to. She hopes people visit her website, www.jessicavictoria.com, to listen to the songs.
“I hope people check out this recording,” Victoria said. “Anyone who has ever dreamed as a child or longed for something greater will enjoy it.”