omposer Rick Sowash has a simple idea: Anyone can buy any of his CDs for any amount they want to pay and he promises to give half to the St. George Food Pantry. The other half goes to cover the cost of producing the albums, which is considerable.
The Mansfield, Ohio native and Cincinnati resident is a Classical music composer — not a heavily populated line of work — and unlike most of his colleagues, he produces his own recordings. He pays out of his own pocket, without grants or institutional support, so that he owns the rights to his work and can make his own decisions concerning the releases. His first album came out in 1989, and since then he’s produced a total of 15 recordings.
Some albums are sold through his website, where he has a following who know his work, but he also sends them to 165 Classical radio stations across the country. They go to the stations for free, and he’s cultivated relationships with the music directors at these stations so they welcome his work, he says.
But why does he want to share his income with the food pantry? That has a lot to do with where he lives: on Milton Street in Mount Auburn. With Over-the-Rhine next door, Sowash is part of perhaps the city’s most varied population mix.
He and his family moved to Cincinnati 16 years ago and settled into the first floor of a house whose second floor is rented out as a separate apartment. (The upstairs tenants have included opera singers, based here but traveling to perform; the Sowashes enjoy hearing them practicing.)
Even though there might be expensive houses with terrific views nearby, some others who call the neighborhood home don’t have houses at all. Or, if they do have housing, they don’t necessarily have access to a kitchen or food. The St. George Food Pantry up the hill in Clifton is a lifeline for them, and it is the composer’s plan to help provide financial support during the pantry’s demanding holiday season.
Sowash’s lyrical, accessible music is “American sounding, draws on Gershwin, Coplan, traditional folk tunes,” he says. Many of Sowash’s fans — among them myself — first knew him through his music. (I picked up a CD at WGUC — they were giving them away to station supporters — and liked it immediately without knowing anything about the composer.)
Sowash also writes children’s books and does public speaking engagements — things that he does well but aren’t necessarily income producers. And the composer/author/speaker is also a part-time guard at the Cincinnati Art Museum; he likes the work and the opportunity to get to know the art more intimately than he might otherwise.
However, producing your own music — hiring musicians, engineers, a designer for the album cover, renting a recording studio — isn’t cheap. Each album costs between $5,000 and $8,500; Sowash prefers more cost-effective large runs.
As a result, the hallway of the Sowash residence is stacked with leftover CDs, even as the sidewalks of nearby neighborhoods may include people who are hungry. Sowash’s sales concept addresses both of these situations at the same time.
“Some people have paid $10 for 10 CDs,” Sowash says. “Others have paid $100 or more for a single CD.”
He asks that people send whatever seems right to them.
His timely album, A Christmas Gift, includes four short original Christmas carols sung by opera baritone José Rubio, among other holiday tracks.
“You can almost hear him smiling,” Sowash says, speaking of the warmth of Rubio’s performance.
The album is among 15 Sowash offers on his website, where he details ordering instructions and donation details.
This is one of those rare opportunities where everybody wins. A splendid holiday idea, indeed.
For more information on RICK SOWASH and a list of his available albums, visit sowash.com.