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Reviving the art of letter writing in song: Soprano Christine Brewer brings WWII letters to life

Christine Brewer
Christian Steiner
Next week, Christine Brewer will sing a song cycle based on the World War II letters of Lieutenant George Honts.

Good morning, darling, the sun has just come up. It is a beautiful morning…

So begins a letter from 1944 that 1st Lt. George W. Honts wrote his wife Evelyn Honts, while deployed during World War II.

The text to these letters has been set to music by composer Alan Smith. The song cycle, “Vignettes: Letters from George to Evelyn, from the Private Papers of a World War II Bride,” will be performed by soprano Christine Brewer on March 3 at Concord Trinity United Methodist Church.

On Tuesday, Brewer joined St. Louis on the Air contributor Steve Potter to discuss the songs and her upcoming performance.

Brewer has been performing these songs for a number of years. She said that Smith, the head of the piano department at USC, is known for setting letters to music and has done so previously with stories from the Oregon Trail and Ellis Island.

A few years ago, he was approached by a woman who heard of his work and gave him a pack of letters she thought he could make music with. Her name was Evelyn English, previously Evelyn Honts.

“When he showed them to me I said ‘was this man a poet or some kind of writer? They’re so beautiful,’” Brewer said. “And he said: ‘No, this is just how people wrote letters in the ‘40s.’ We’ve kind of lost the art of letter writing.”

Brewer, who likes to page back through her mother’s letters ever since she died almost 20 years ago, said that letters hold a special place in her heart.

“The letters are so personal and sweet,” Brewer said. “They were only married for a year when he was deployed to Europe for WWII.”

Brewer’s upcoming concert will pair these songs with those selected with her accompanist, Craig Terry, who suggested pairing the song cycle with songs that Evelyn and George might have heard during that time period. Brewer will sing selections performed by Dina Shore, Doris Day,  Ella Fitzgerald and others in the 1940s.

Lt. Honts survived D-Day, writing his observations of army life during World War II to his wife. The letters range from humorous depictions of how muddy the European front was to heart-wrenching: shortly before the end of the war, Honts perished.

His final letter to Evelyn arrived weeks after she found out he had died. The song cycle reflects that letter, too.

My heart, my mind, my soul is yours. Love me. I adore you. Love me too. My best to everyone. Must run now, my sweet, gotta run now, baby. Love, George.

While Brewer does not know the entire love story of Evelyn and George, she said it is an easy story to connect to for many reasons — we’ve all lived through war and conflict of some sort.

“I think it lets us get a little glimpse into what our grandparents were like, that they weren’t that much different than we were,” Brewer said. “They loved, they had relationships, they missed each other when they were apart. I feel like I’m eavesdropping, seeing into their relationship, and it is not that different from my relationship with my husband today.”

Related Event

What: Concord Trinity United Methodist Church Presents Christine Brewer in Recital
When: Friday, March 3 at 7 p.m.
Where: Concord Trinity United Methodist Church, 5275 Lindbergh Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63126
More information.

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