New album is fond letter to artist’s Riverdale father


Tanya Leah sits on the couch in her apartment, ukelele in hand. She is poised to play the first song on her new album, “Somewhere Beautiful.”

“The whole idea of the record is, let’s go somewhere beautiful, even if you can’t go anywhere,” she says. “It’s a state of mind.”

The album, “Roses for Panjo,” is written for her father, longtime Riverdalian Ira “Panjo” Wollen. In 2011, Mr. Wollen, a sculptor who was an artist-in-residence at Lehman College, suffered a stroke. It left him half-paralyzed and in need of care.

A successful songwriter in Nashville who has written for artists like Wynnona Judd and Natalie Grant, Ms. Leah moved to Riverdale with her husband Arnie when her father’s illness worsened.

“I don’t think I even knew at the time how life altering it would be,” she said of the change.

For the first five months of her time here, she rented an apartment within walking distance from the house where her father and his wife live. Ms. Leah recalls the time before she decided to settle into her apartment permanently as an uncertain period. She did not write any music.

But the wheels were turning. The artist researched the therapeutic effects of music on patients like her father, who suffers from dementia. She made a mix for him with songs like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and tracks by Norah Jones.

When she returned to Nashville for a trip before settling in Riverdale for good, she finally had the chance to pick up an instrument.

She wrote two songs in one sitting. The next day, she penned two more. 

“It was like a dam broke and all this music needed to come out,” she said. “I wasn’t trying to do anything but make my dad feel better. The music just came.”

A self-taught guitarist who recently picked up the ukelele for her new album, Ms. Leah, originally from New Jersey, spent her time after a brief college stint playing in bands throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Her songwriting career began in the city, where she often co-wrote with other artists.

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