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Fred Hersch: Piano Poetry

Fred Hersch

Pianist Fred Hersch first encountered the poetry of Walt Whitman as a 19-year-old student at the New England Conservatory of Music in 1976. “Whitman’s ‘Calamus’ poems, which are about men loving men, were very powerful for me at age 19, when I was just coming out,” Hersch says. “To know that someone had written about that so beautifully 150 years ago meant a lot to me.”

Hersch continued to read the poet over the years, and there was one memorable moment on a European tour when the homesick musician bought Leaves of Grass in a Parisian bookstore and devoured the 1347-line “Song of Myself” at one sitting. It was then that he realized there was a lot more to Whitman than sexual frankness.

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