Blending traditional and classical music is a difficult dance… but an inspiring one.
I went to Glenville, WV for the state folk festival in June, and I played “Three Forks of Hell” for the banjo competition. I love this tune. Just crooked enough to make its cheerful melody something eerily hypnotic. Maybe that’s why I’m writing a chamber arrangement for NOW Ensemble, an indie-classical group from New York.
No voice, no song, no story like I’m used to. I’m trying to “draw” the river with the banjo, bass, clarinet, flute, electric guitar and piano. I’m trying to keep a foot in both traditional and classical worlds: to bring out the beauty of the banjo melody without tearing it apart. Letting it become expansive, lush and different, but still be the same tune at heart.
Here’s the tune from the festival, and you can find the original recording on the Old-Time Banjo Anthology published by Augusta Heritage Center. “Three Forks of Hell” is from Arthur D. Johnson of Randolph County, WV and dates back to the Civil War.
And here’s a link to another movement of the song cycle that Patrick and I are writing for NOW Ensemble.
I never realized how motherhood and songwriting go hand in hand.
I’m a slower, more deliberate songwriter in the grand scheme of things (with the exception of those “gift” songs that are just whispered to you by the universe). But since Isaiah came along, I write dozens of little melodies every day. Granted, they’re not all for general consumption (I think Isaiah’s the only one who cares to probe the deep symbolism of “The Diaper Song,” for example). But I notice as the days go by, that these tiny melodies and funny rhymes are building a rhythm. A rhythm of singing through the day, and responding to life’s every moment through music.
And out of the fertile soil of the silly songs, some grown-up tunes are sprouting as well. Pulling me out of old ways of composing and drawing me into a stream of sound where I take what comes my way with easy gratitude.
Thanks, Isaiah. Thanks, Universe. I’m having a great time.
Here’s a little preview from the next album. It’s a song that got here before Isaiah did 🙂
A good friend has asked me to post this song, “Kingdom Down” from my Valparaiso album (2008). It’s one of my old favorites that I don’t sing quite as much as before. In a lot of ways, I don’t feel like I wrote this song. The notes fell from the sky one day, and tumbled out of my banjo. They found me at one of those landmark moments in life, where all of a sudden you see the world in a completely different way. The ground has shifted beneath you, and you have to draw a new map. It’s about harnassing the power of change, having confidence in your visions, and standing tall when things you thought you knew have crumbled away.
Lately I’ve sung it softly, in a lower key with more of a sense of yearning. I still love the original, however, with its volume and energy! Hope you enjoy it…
It feels good to see a project through: to bring friends together from near and far to create something beautiful together. After a long road of raising funds, writing new material, and applying for visas, it was such a gift to have Rodrigo Invernizzi, Ella Ponce, Daniel Fuenzalida, Orión Morales, and Jorge Pérez-Albela come visit my home and share music with this community.
Thank you to Carmen Julia Blanco, José Puentes, John Petrucelli and Carlos Camacho for being part of the concert. Thank you to Chris Boyd, Phil Thompson and Alan Tear for your expert technical assistance. Thank you to the University of Pittsburgh Department of Music, Center for Latin American Studies, Chatham University Global Focus Program and The Chilean National Council for Culture and the Arts.
Here is “Sin entender” (by Orión Morales), recorded at our visit to First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh. More songs and videos to come!!!
Yes, it has been a year already since we released this album! I couldn’t be happier with the project, and I couldn’t be more grateful for all your support. Thanks for being there for us through it all, and I look forward to sharing the next batch of beautiful songs with you soon.
Just for June, all CDs and T-shirts will be on sale for $5! Click on the pictures below…