Chilean Guitar, Part One…

emily_pinkerton_5I’ll be writing some blog posts in the coming year about how I use Latin American folk rhythyms in my songwriting, and there’s no better place to begin than with one of my greatest musical influences, Violeta Parra of Chile.


She lived from 1917 to 1967, and dedicated her life to the preservation of traditional music.  Dragging large reel to reel recorders up and down the length of Chile, she created an archive of songs that she felt were in danger of disappearing forever from the countryside.  Through her radio work and performance, she brough these sounds and the experiences of rural Chileans to listeners in the city.  She also drew on her first hand experience of poverty–what she lived as a child and what she witnessed in her travels–to write original songs that critiqued social and economic injustice.


We’ll start with a song called “Floreció el Copihue Rojo” (The Red Copihue Flower Has Bloomed), recorded in 1957.  This is a traditional “cueca,” a song and dance style that has a variety of strums, all in variations on 6/8 meter. The link above takes you to Violeta’s original recording where she plays the guitar in an open G tuning that lets her play melody and harmony over the percussive strumming pattern.


From low to high, the tuning is D  G  D  G  B  D.  If you’re a blues and folk guitarist in the U.S., you might recognize this as the “Spanish” tuning.  I’ve also heared it called by a similar name  (“La Españolita”) in Chile.  Banjo players might recognize this as their standard tuning as well. The beauty of the tuning is that you can play your main chord (the tonic or the I), with all the strings open!


Violeta’s strumming pattern looks like this (where the X=stopping the strings with your nails slightly curved in to your palm):


X  down-up down  X down X


Here is a video where you can get an idea of what the stops and the left hand movements looks like.  I play a variation on the basic pattern:


Up down-up down X down down


And just for fun, here’s what it sounds like on banjo.


Take a listen to these tracks, and I’ll break down the chord and melody patterns in the next post!


Abrazos para todos,




Three Forks of Hell

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.

Songs for Isaiah

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 🙂

Kingdom Down

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…

Sounds from Tributo a Chile…

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!!!

Tributo a Chile, Soundcheck

Happy Anniversary, Ends of the Earth!!

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…

EmilyPCharcoalAlbum cover