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.