CLAYTON — Music critics have come to know Ann Sweeten’s music by the first couple of notes in her compositions.
“All I can say is I do what I do because of everything that I’ve been exposed to,” Ms. Sweeten said. “That’s my theory — why it sounds so unique.”
As a pianist and composer, she is often placed in the new age musical genre, but her music embraces not only the classical realm, but aspects of jazz, film scoring and popular music. She’s one of the most decorated pianists of the past decade with albums consistently ranking in the top five of new age charts. Her latest album, “Before Today, Beyond Tomorrow,” reached No. 2 in May on the New Age International Radio Chart.
In addition to being a pianist (and a Steinway artist), she’s been in a rock band and had a career in musical theater, with starring roles in such productions as “Man of LaMancha,” “Chicago” and “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” She’s written more than 100 musical scores.
Nature is a key part of her inspiration, which is why she reached out to the Thousand Islands Land Trust and said that she would be agreeable to performing a benefit concert to support the nonprofit organization, which since 1985, has helped safeguard the regional landscape of the 1000 Islands by accepting conservation easements, acquiring property and by establishing accessible areas available for public enjoyment.
Ms. Sweeten’s “Across the Midnight Sky” performance at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 3 at the Clayton Opera House will benefit TILT’s Zenda Farms on Route 12E near Clayton. The Zenda preserve was a dairy and beef farm that operated through the 1950s. A 1 ½-mile trail around the perimeter of its meadows was completed in 2011.
“Zenda Farms Preserve is a magical place and we’re grateful for this opportunity to celebrate it in such a special way,” said Terra Bach, TILT’s director of development and communications. “Loyal supporters in our river communities like Steinway Artist Ann Sweeten help TILT conserve the unique treasures of the Thousand Islands region for future generations.”
Ms. Sweeten and her husband, Randy Yoder, purchased property near the Zenda preserve about a half dozen years ago. She also has roots in Watertown. From ages 1 to 3, her father’s job brought her to Watertown, before the family moved back to New Jersey.
“My mother would take me back up in the summers to maintain friendships with old neighbors,” Ms. Sweeten said in a phone interview on July 22 from her home in the North Shore area, north of Boston.
In 2016, Ms. Sweeten performed a benefit concert for Thousand Islands Emergency Rescue Service in Clayton.
Ms. Sweeten’s music also reflects personal struggles, which is played out specifically on “Before Today, Beyond Tomorrow.” During the album’s conception, she was diagnosed with leukemia. This was after she faced two battles with breast cancer.
In the album’s liner notes, she wrote: “I have never needed a wake-up call in life through diagnosis or event, as I have always felt so very present and awake, but this third diagnosis has dropped me to my knees, and in a way I can’t explain, the world is different, my life is different, my reactions are different, my patience is greater, my capacity for forgiveness as well. Life itself seems so fragile that I hold it like a wounded bird, so that it may grow well within my care and fly free again, carrying music on its wing.”
In her phone interview, Ms. Sweeten said, “I try to make the best out of what happens to me and I’ve always turned to my music as a way to get through and find healing. I find that others somehow hear that process in the music and they themselves pull away the healing elements.”
People have also shared their personal stories with the artist, which have moved her to tears.
“I’ve gotten so much fan mail telling me how much the music has helped them through a difficult time or an illness or a loss of someone,” Ms. Sweeten said. “That’s probably the greatest gift I received from the music; that I’ve been able to touch others.”
“Before Today, Beyond Tomorrow” has received stellar reviews. Steve Sheppard, writing for One World Music, wrote, “Ann Sweeten has pulled off a masterstroke of an album, one that will stir your emotions, that will leave you deeply moved, that will inspire you.”
“It’s not just that they are fabulous reviews,” Ms. Sweeten said. “It’s the content of how the reviewers are so appreciative of not only the music, but my story and my journey.”
Her Aug. 3 benefit concert, Ms. Sweeten said, will appear at first glance by audience members to be a classical performance.
“I come in dressed in a gown and there’s a concert piano there,” she said.
But her years of being a stage performer will come through.
“So I’m very comfortable talking and breaking the fourth wall and share anecdotes and poetry connected to the music,” she said. “Every so often, I end up writing a poem that I actually translate into musical prose.”