An Artistic Collaboration, Bi-Co Style
Music and poetry meet in a new music album that took three decades to fully realize.
For Chris Mills (HC ’82) and Manjula Dias-Hargarter ’92, Reunion 2022 meant more than just meeting up with Bi-Co friends and swapping memories of college days past. They did that, of course, but on the Saturday afternoon, the two (pictured above) also took to Haverford’s Jaharis Recital Hall stage to perform music almost 30 years in the making.
Released under the name Mysina, the album Mills and Dias-Hargarter showcased was inspired by a seven-poem cycle written by Katherine McCanless Ruffin ’94, which chronicles a young woman’s journey from adolescence to adulthood.
The story of how the poems came to be set to music is a journey in itself, filled with chance meetings and unexpected opportunities. The short version is that around 1990, Mills, now associate VP for college communications at Haverford, was employed at a business where Dias-Hargarter also worked. “I heard her singing one day,” Mills recalls, “and thought, ‘She’s got a great voice! One day I’m going to work with her.’” A couple of years later, he came across Ruffin’s poems through his wife, Elizabeth Mosier ’84, who was working in admissions at Bryn Mawr and had been Ruffin’s admissions counselor. In the summer of ’94, Mills wrote the songs that would become Mysina and recorded a set of demos with Dias-Hargarter.
“Manjula and I did a couple of more elaborate arrangements,” says Mills, “but it became clear that I didn’t have either the piano chops or access to other instruments we’d need to take it forward.” Family life and day jobs intervened for them both, and the project went on the back burner until last year, when Dias-Hargarter (who now leads the translation and editing team at Statista in Hamburg, Germany) suggested doing a performance at this year’s Reunion. “It seemed to me, that would be a great time to take a deep breath and really do a proper set of arranged recordings,” says Mills.
The timing, it turned out, was fortuitous. Due to COVID-19, many professional musicians who otherwise would have been on the road, were available to work on the project. “The thing about professional musicians is not simply that they are virtuoso and able to do amazing things with their instruments, it’s that they come up with ideas I never could in a thousand years,” says Mills. “It was like Christmas every day when these zip files would arrive.” The album was finished this spring.
Ruffin, now director of the Book Studies program and a lecturer in art at Wellesley College, recently played the album for her first-year writing students, who were intrigued that she had written the poems when she was their age. “Collaboration is really important to me, and Chris is a master collaborator,” she says. “The number of hours and the care that Chris and Manjula have put into this, and the vision they have applied to the text, is amazing and wonderful.”
For Dias-Hargarter, coming back to these “very intimate poems” now that she is more mature feels different. “I can sing them with a little more authority than I did back then.”
At Reunion, Mills couldn’t help noting the contrast between the “incredible space” of the recital hall and the dining center basement, where he spent “an awful lot of time playing in bands long ago.” The cherry on top, though, was being on the receiving end of a hearty Anassa! at the end of the performance. “That fulfills a lifetime dream! To hear that was quite something.”
Stream, download, or purchase a CD of the album at www.MysinaMusic.com