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These Walls are Alive

Song Stories

album liner notes

In this series of Song Stories we’re taking you behind the scenes of each song.

We’re starting with Chapter I – Old Bones Odyssey  and our third song on the album These Walls Are Alive.

Coming soon: we’re creating a podcast that dives deeper into the stories and history behind our songs.


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These Walls Are Alive


These Walls Are Alive

“These ghosts say, I can’t save you now,
ut I can tell you how, how to live a life that’s brave and free.
I can tell you what I cared about,
I can tell you what I regret,
I can tell you to remember me”
-Lyrics/Ellen Kaye

Ellen Kaye – Lead Vocal
Ethan Fein – Guitar/Banjo
Diane Monroe – Violin
Koa Ho – Upright bass
Zach Mullings – Drums
Jackie Presti – Backing Vocals
Soara-Joye Ross – Backing Vocals
© 2022 Ellen C Kaye and Ethan Fein. All rights reserved.

These ghosts say: 
I can’t save you now
But I can tell you how
How to live a life 
That’s brave and free

I can tell you what I cared about
I can tell you what I regret
I can tell you to remember me

Forget me not in the fog of war
Lost in memory
I’m all that’s left 
That’s left of time
My thoughts are the bones
I leave behind 

I feel it burning right through me 
The past is lighting my way 
Though all is dark around me 
This lantern guides my way 

The ghosts are talking right through me 
Their light shines across my mind 
Troubles and doubts pursue me 
But their wisdom fills my mind

These walls can talk 
These walls are alive 
These wall tell stories in their very bones
There’s things worth fighting for
Things worth dying for
All our loyal hearts are true

I hear their words ripping through me
Their thoughts are tumbling down
Ancient stories surround me
What’s lost can now be found

It’s the heart of things that matter
What’s buried deep and gone
The weight of time pulls on me
But dreams live on and on

These walls can talk
These walls are alive
These walls can tell us who and what survived
These walls can cast a brighter light
Burn bright all through the night
Burn until the day is new

Spinning straw into golden light
Burning bright all through the night
Burning bright till all our days are new

Ellen C Kaye – Lyrics
Ethan Fein – Music 
Recorded/Mixed/Mastered by Bill Moss
Ellen C Kaye, Ethan Fein, Alan Joseph, Bill Moss — Producers.
Outlier Inn Recording Studio – Woodridge, New York
(c) 2023 A Repair With Gold Production LLC SM. All rights reserved.


The Story

These Walls Are Alive

“…what it feels like to discover the past, to learn from the dead.”-Ellen Kaye

These Walls Are Alive is the essence of Old Bones Odyssey. The ghosts that live inside you, the people you loved, the wise things they taught you, the things you couldn’t grasp at the time, the secrets.I wrote it from a few different points of view. The dead talking to their loved ones, trying to protect them, trying to teach them. And then the living, what it feels like to discover the past, to learn from the dead, to be caught up body and soul in the wisdom all around us.

The Past
Sidney Kaye. b.1914 d.1967.
George Ernest Burwell II
b.1897 Tarboro, North Carolina. d.1980 Columbus, North Carolina. WWI - Navy Pilot Ellen’s maternal grandfather.
Annie Horowitz Kalmanowitz
b.1884 in Minsk,Russia. d.in 1970 in NYC. Family lore says that she was a teenage Bolshevik who escaped the Cossacks by fleeing to America in 1901 with a hidden bag of gold. Ellen’s paternal grandmother.
Marshall & Alice (Earnhardt) Courtney Family
Circa 1904. Lenoir, North Carolina. Ellen’s maternal ancestors.
John Tsang
b.(possibly)Canton, China. d.Long Island, New York. Toiled in the restaurant industry to support his family and married Iris Seay, an interethnic marriage. Father of Ellen’s husband, Kim Tsang.
Susan Peerce
1961. Osborne, 57th Street, New York City.
Courtney Family
Circa 1907. Andrew Hull Courtney home, Caldwell County, North Carolina. On the front porch, left to right: John A. Courtney, Laura M. Courtney Webb, Robert M. Courtney, Marcus L. Courtney, Andrew Hull “Dan” Courtney , Fannie L. Courtney Teague, Mary E. “Polly” Courtney, Henry M. Courtney, and William G. Courtney. Ellen’s maternal ancestors.
Isaac Chertok
A Russian who emigrated via Tokyo to Istanbul to Israel until the beginning of WWII and finally to New York City. Here he is wearing the uniform of the Russian Army. Possibly WWI. Ellen’s cousin on the paternal line.
Ellen Kaye & Lloyd Williams
New York City - 1970's
Tuttle Family Tree
The Descendants Of William And Elizabeth Tuttle by George Frederick Tuttle - published 1883. A History of Ellen’s maternal ancestors who emigrated from England to America in 1635 on a ship called the Planter.
Cruz Alejandrina Defanti
Cruz emigrated from Chile and became an American citizen. She raised me from six months till I was seven. Whatever is good in me is from her love and care. City Island, New York City.
Burwell Family
Circa 1903. Ernest, Mary, Francis & Henry Burwell. Tarboro, North Carolina. Ellen’s maternal ancestors.
Sidney Kaye
Sidney Kalmanowitz, far right front row. Serving in WWII.
Andrew Hull Courtney Family
Circa 1907. Andrew Hull Courtney Home. On the front porch, Caldwell County, North Carolina. Left to right.John A. Courtney, Laura M. Courtney Webb, Robert M. Courtney, Marcus L. Courtney, Andrew Hull “Dan” Courtney , Fannie L. Courtney Teague, Mary E. “Polly” Courtney, Henry M. Courtney, and Wil- liam G. Courtney. Ellen’s maternal ancestors.
Czarist Ruble
1898. One ruble note from the Russian Empire, passed down to Ellen.
George Frederick Tuttle
b.1823 in Cheshire, Connecticut. d.1904 in Brooklyn, New York. Author of a Tuttle Family Genealogy, “The Descendants of William and Elizabeth Tuttle, Who Came From Old to New England in 1635, And Settled in New Haven in 1639, With Numerous Biographical Notes And Sketches”.
Jan Peerce Family - The Perelmuth’s
Circa 1905. Jan Peerce with his father Levi, mother Henya and brother Mottel shortly after his parents and brother emigrated to the United States from Horodetz, Poland (now Belarus). Photo taken on the Lower East Side, New York City.
James Henry Bell At Work
b.1842 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. d.1914 Tarboro, North Carolina. He was a silversmith, watchmaker, engraver and jeweler. Ellen’s second great-grandfather on the Bell-Burwell line.
Sidney J. Kalmanowitz
Sidney Kalmanowitz serving in WWII.
Faith Courtney Burwell Jr with George Ernest Burwell II
WWII. North Carolina. Ellen’s mother and maternal grandfather.
Jan Peerce - 1958
"Burwell's Boys" Fight Axis
Major Clyde M. Burwell and Colonel James B. Burwell. American war heroes. Ellen’s maternal ancestors.
Jake & Annie Kalmanowitz
Circa 1940's.
Mystery Child
Courtney line early 1900’s, North Carolina. Ellen’s maternal ancestor
Family gathering.
Cruz Alexjandrina Defanti
New York City - 1960's.
Chertok-Chertoff Family
Mystery photograph. Circa early 1900's possibly. Russia possibly.
George Ernest Burwell II & Buster George Ernest Burwell III
WWII. North Carolina. Ellen’s maternal grandfather and uncle.
Sidney J. Kalmanowitz
Circa 1917. New York City.
Abraham Lincoln
“If A. can prove, however conclusively, that he may, of right, enslave B.—why may not B. snatch the same argument, and prove equally, that he may enslave A?” Lincoln wrote. “You say A. is white, and B. is black. It is color, then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own. You do not mean color exactly?—You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own. But, say you, it is a question of interest; and, if you can make it your interest, you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you.”-Lincoln Illustration from an old magazine beonging to my family.
Confederate Twenty Dollar Bill
On the bill is the Tennessee State Capitol and Alexander Hamilton Stephens (b.1812 d.1883) who served as the first and sole vice president of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865, and later as the 50th governor of Georgia from 1882 until his death. Engraved by Keatinge & Ball, Richmond, February,1864. 776,800 issued. Found in family belongings on Ellen’s maternal line.
Mystery Boy
Kalmanowitz/Kalmanowitz/Kaye Family History
Old Family Photo Album
Andrew “Dan” Hull Courtney’s Peg Leg
Andrew: b.1837 and d.1909 Caldwell County, North Carolina. Andrew fought for the Confederacy and was wounded at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Before his capture by Union soldiers his leg was amputated. He was known to the family as “Uncle Dan”. Ellen’s maternal ancestors.
WWII Gasoline Ration Card
Belonging to Ernest Burwell II. Ellen’s maternal grandfather. Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Gertrude Courtney Blackwell
b.1895 d.1986 Lenoir, North Carolina. Gertrude playing Marguerite in Faust. She was a singer, voice teacher and choir director in Lenoir. Ellen’s maternal great aunt.
Maye Kalmanowitz Oldin
Circa 1960s, New York City.
Family History
Burwell Family Record, Burwell Family History, Andrew Hull Tuttle History, The Descendants Of William And Elizabeth Tuttle.
George Ernest Burwell II
B.1897, Tarboro. d.1980, Columbus, North Carolina. Ellen’s maternal grandfather.
Tuttle Coat Of Arms (possibly)
The Tuttle line may possibly be traced back through William Tuttle to Thomas Totehyll of Woodford, born 1506, county of Northhampton, England. They seem like pretty regular people so we’re not sure how the coat of arms fits in. More to explore. Ellen’s maternal ancestors.
Earnhardt-Courtney Letter - 1880
From Marshall Marcus Courtney to Alice Gertrude Earnhardt. June 1880, six months before their marriage. Ellen’s maternal great grandfather and great grandmother.
Courtney Family Record
Faith Courtney Burwell Sr. family record book.
Burwell Family History
Genealogy research compiled for George Ernest Burwell Sr and Ernest Burwell Jr.
Cruz Defanti & Ellen Kaye
Fire Island - 1960's.
Faith Courtney Burwell Sr.
Graduate of Converse College, Spartanburg, South Carolina b.1902, Lenoir, North Carolina. d.1985, Spartanburg, South Carolina. Ellen’s maternal grandmother.
Burwell Coat Of Arms
Ellen’s maternal ancestors.
Mystery Family Photo
Mystery photograph on the Burwell family line.
Old Family Albums
Uncle Boodle & Nanny?
Circa 1903, North Carolina.
Iris Seay
Kim Tsang's mother. Possibly Long Island, New York.
Letter To Alice Earnhardt
June 1880. Letter from Marshall Marcus Courtney to Alice Gertrude Earnhardt, six months before their marriage. Ellen’s maternal great grandfather and great grandmother.
Mary Ivey Courtney & Marcus Vincent Courtney
WWII> Mary Ivey Courtney was a Lieutenant of the WAVES, having received her commission in 1942. Marcus Vincent completed 20 missions before he was killed in action on June 6, 1944. Ellen’s maternal ancestors.
A View Of Central Park
A View Of Central Park Circa 1960's. Taken from the Osborne roof on 57th street. Photo taken by Sidney Kaye or Faith Kaye.
The Past
Faith Courtney Burwell Kaye Stewart-Gordon. b.1932 d.2020.
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 I hope people feel exhilarated listening to it. Inspired to find out more about who the people in their own lives are, living and dead. To think about how each person is an accumulation of knowledge, and you want to tap into it. You want to be the vessel too.
I feel deeply about the opening lyrics. I hope they resonate and make you think. Think about how each one of us is responsible for what happens in our own small world. No one can save us. We have to save ourselves, but wisdom, knowledge, it’s all around us and we can grab it, absorb it and become more than we thought possible. Riding on the shoulders of those who came before. 

I love the music that Ethan wrote. It’s so strange to think something and then translate it into words and music with someone else. He has an extraordinary ability to take complicated thoughts and emotions and express them through the language of music.

And the genesis of this song, it’s odd really. We went down south to do some research and I saw my Confederate ancestors for the first time. In black and white photos of their blue and gray uniforms. I had seen their names before, but not their faces. And we wrote this song. Which isn’t about them at all. It’s the opposite. It’s about all the people who made me think the way I do, made me think in a way that could never understand, never forgive the horror of the Confederacy.

An Early Collaboration During Covid

An Interview with Ellen

These Walls Are Alive

Full Transcript Of Interview with Ellen Below

“I want people to feel that they can change the world when they listen to “These Walls Are Alive”. “-Ellen Kaye

I was inspired by a bunch of photos I found on a wall in a museum in the south that was part of it and that had some of my ancestors on it. And another part of it was from just all the pictures that I have inherited over a lifetime and then the ones that I’ve very recently been working on and archiving. I’m kind of surrounded and immersed in images during these last three years. And the pictures speak to me. They talk to me like I feel that I can hear what they’re saying at least. I feel that at my very best, I’m listening to the people that came before me and hopefully the ones that are wise and have something good to say, though I have to say that there are bad ones there too.ᅠ
Ones whose voices I don’t want to hear. I do want to learn about them, but I don’t want them to infiltrate my mind. And These Walls is about the battle we have with the things that come before us. And what do we do about all of these lessons and stories?ᅠAnd do we just accept them at face value? So it’s kind of like grabbing all the wisdom that there is around us and at the same time learning to have the discretion to choose between what is actually wise and beneficial for other human beings and what would best be put to rest forever.ᅠ
That is what I’m writing about when I’m writing These Walls.ᅠ

I want people to feel that they can change the world when they listen to These Walls Are Alive. I feel that the very most important thing that we can have is hope. And I want to be one of those people that makes people hopeful because I know what it’s like to have no hope. And I feel that this song digs down and says that there are so many reasons to get up every day and fight for things that you believe in and to make the world a better place. And in this sense of this song, it’s through stories and history, the things that matter to us and the dangers if we don’t learn and get a lot smarter, a lot faster than we are right now. 

I love the opening lyrics. I feel like it’s in the trenches in World War One with the mist floating around and all those young boys dying on either side. And you hear these lyrics – “These ghosts say, I can’t save you now, but I can tell you how,how to live a life that’s brave and free. I can tell you what I cared about, I can tell you what I regret, I can tell you to remember me.” I feel like that is what I want to say to my son and also what I wish so much that older people in my family had said to me. My family is not so great at passing really important stories down, and I’m trying to do a better job when it comes to my son. 

I think that the whole project, These Walls Are Alive is almost completely about how much I miss the people that I’ve lost in my life and how I can bring them back to life through the things they taught me. And that makes me then think about everyone in the world who has people that are sharing with them and teaching them and making them the people that they are. And I’m trying to honor those people. Aunt Alice, uncle Jan, Cruz, Lero, my brother Joel, Lloyd they’re all inside of me. And so I feel that we all have These Walls Are Alive inside of us. Every single human being is made up of other people, and if we’re lucky, we can remember them and keep them with us always. 

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Ellen C Kaye

Singer/songwriter, producer, podcast maker, mom, born and bred in NYC. Night Club singer at heart.