By EMILY R. WEST
Next to the grounds of Carnton Plantation, Patrick Thomas strummed his guitar on the back porch steps of Hattie McGavock Cowan’s former house, an apt setting to debut songs from the new Civil War musical opening soon.
Thomas helped bring “The Battle of Franklin: A Tale of a House Divided” the musical to life on the Studio Tenn stage. Performances are starting Nov. 3 and running to Nov. 10. Thomas and others debuted a handful of their songs acoustically with a banjo, violin and a guitar Wednesday night.
After looking at the script, Thomas said was able to write all the music for the play in two weeks, balancing the emotion of the script with the tone he wanted to set.
“I wanted to treat it like a sound track,” he said, leaning against the back porch railing. “I didn’t want it to be genre specific. I wanted there to be a lot of the right amount of emotion and there’s a lot of uncomfortable emotions, but that’s in line with our country’s history.”
There are five original songs and four arrangements in the production. When Studio Tenn releases the musical soundtrack, Thomas said additional songs will come included. This musical is the first completely created by Studio Tenn from the ground up – from the script to the sets. A blend of historical fact and fiction is used to convey both internal and external conflicts facing the Carter family and the region during the war. The production will incorporate original songs as well as authentic period music, including Southern spirituals.
Playing “Run River” as the final song for Studio Tenn’s guests at Rod and Kay Hellar’s residence, Thomas said that song is also at the ending of the play.
“With the other songs, it was easier because I didn’t know where we were going,” he said. “I knew this was going to be emotional and that was a challenge.”
Thomas tried to write all of the songs in an a half hour to an hour, wanting to capture the full, raw emotion he felt and convey that to the audience. The playwright A. S. (Pete) Peterson started the construction of the play’s book in May, noting it normally takes at least a year to come up with this type of production.
“We recreate moments of life,” Studio Tenn Artistic Director Matt Logan said. “We want you to feel and become informed with the narrative of the human experience. I love the Civil War, but we need to look back at history with a forward motion. We need to look at the past, and look into our future to see how the past will affect us and our every day life.”
In addition to two weeks of public performances, the company will host special weekday morning performances for area school groups, including 5th-grade field trips for Williamson County schools.
Tickets are on sale now at studiotenn.com.