When Susan Jordan began writing her first novel, How I Grew Up, she had just finished directing Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s Carousel for the second time in her career. Memories of her time as a student at CCM flooded her mind, inspiring her to write them down into what became The Carousel Trilogy.
Since graduating from CCM with a BFA in Vocal Performance in 1958, Jordan has enjoyed a prolific career in performing, teaching and now writing. Her novels, based on her own personal and professional experiences, tell the gripping stories of musicians faced with painstaking struggles, with whose plights we cannot help but feel a resounding sense of familiarity.
Two of the novels take place in our very own CCM, and the first revolves around Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, most recently produced at the conservatory only months ago in Fall, 2015.
The song from Carousel “You’ll Never Walk Alone” sets the stage for How I Grew Up. Set in the 1950s, this beautiful and haunting fictional tale reveals the transformative and healing power of music. The novel’s protagonist, Melanie Stewart, is based on a close friend of Jordan’s from high school whose parents were murdered just days before their high school audition for Carousel.
In How I Grew Up, Stewart bravely auditions for the musical within two weeks of her parents’ murder and wins the lead role of Julie Jordan.
In real-life, Jordan remembers her friend coping with the deaths in the only way she knew how — on the stage. It’s a story Jordan has shared with cast members each time she has directed Carousel and now she is sharing it with the world.
“Being part of the production helped her through a traumatic time, and I saw firsthand the power of creativity and how it can not only inspire, but be a healing force,” Jordan said of her friend. “Each of the times I directed the show, in 1994 and in 2013, I shared the story with my young cast members and it deepened their appreciation for what they were doing.”
The subsequent books, which can be read independently of one another, tell stories of two characters from different chapters of Jordan’s life.
Eli’s Heart, is the fictional retelling of the life of late concert and collaborative pianist Samuel Sanders, who suffered from a life-long debilitating heart condition. Jordan knew Sanders when he was just a boy, and a child prodigy with a brilliant career ahead of him. Set at CCM (Cincinnati College of Music) in the 1950s, Eli’s Heart tells the story of a brilliant young musician fighting for a career in music against all odds.
“Since this took place at the time I attended CCM, it gave me a wonderful opportunity to visit that time in my life in a place I loved,” Jordan said. “And the faculty members described in the book are actually portraits of some remarkable people I remember from the school.”
You are my Song, the third in Jordan’s series, brings readers back to the life of character Melanie Stewart. In the novel, Stewart’s close friend Jamie Logan, a promising young tenor, decides to pursue his career in music at CCM in voice. Jordan’s own husband was, in part, the inspiration for the character and life events that unfold in the captivating novel.
“Jamie’s challenges are not so dramatic as Eli’s, but they reflect the challenges, both professional and personal, a young singer encounters as he strives for a career in opera,” Jordan said of her novels. “Having known a number of people who set out on this journey — including some of my own voice students — and the time I spent as a director and working backstage, were greatly helpful in developing this book.”
Jordan has led a fascinating and productive life in the music industry. Shortly after graduating from CCM in 1958, Jordan moved to Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, where she would open a voice studio and begin her career as a director of musical theatre.
An ambitious entrepreneur, Jordan built her own musical theatre series from the ground up as part of the Pocono Lively Arts concert series. Her background in opera and musical theatre at CCM, as well as her professional experience as an administrative assistant for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival and Edgecliff Academy of the Fine Arts, provided her the skills necessary to grow her series. She eventually came to direct as many as four theatre productions per year, in addition to co-directing a children’s musical theatre workshop.
Following her husband’s death in 2007, Jordan stepped back from some of her directing responsibilities in favor of pursuing her new passion — writing. Her upcoming novel, Jamie’s Children, will be the fourth in the Carousel series.
Most recently, Jordan was honored by being inducted into the Pocono Arts Council’s Performing Arts Hall of Fame for her lifelong dedication to music and contributions to the Pocono community.
Story by CCM graduate student Charlotte Kies