Music of the Appalachians...

kathyjane(z6VA)March 20, 2011

To begin with---I opened up GP with tears on my cheeks over this hours-long PBS series following the hardships and music of many of our ancestors, which aired on our local station--

--and there is Don's post waiting, labled 'Music'.

Don, I tell you sure as can be, we are connected from somewhere before this time---this has happened too many times to be a coincidence.

I've always said you were my brother.

Well, to get back to my post, I had to just tell you guys this series they showed today has been fascinating, even though I haven't even been able to see the whole thing.

It showed poverty beyond belief, which was better than the poverty these folks were escaping from across the Atlantic.

They had the clothes on their backs and great courage to see whatever dreams they had, to be planted in this new land.

They brought their music with them from their homelands and sang songs handed down through the years; songs made up as a gift for a meal or a night's lodging, songs of murder and deceit, and of course, songs about broken hearts and ruined dreams and now and again, songs of happiness and joy.

As a child, I would spend summers with my grandmother and we would travel all over upper New York State, where she, as a county historian would record many, many old folk ballads straight from the mouths of ancient folks living in old, old little houses in the middle of who-knows-where.

('The Lass of Glenshea', 'The Wedding', and 'In the Days of Old' were a few of my favorites)

These ballads had straight-forward tunes, while the lyrics rang out with a clarity of echoes from the mountains and moors of countries left behind. My grandmother sang them clean and true to me with her exquisite voice during our travels in her little Studebaker.

When my Mom moved my brothers, sister and me from DC to Virginia in the late 50's, most of the music we heard on radios down here was 'country music'.

Mom loved classical music and whistled pieces daily as she worked.

As a family, we were pretty much looked upon as common city-slickers and were not given much more than the time of day by the locals for quite some time.

(Until the regulars learned she was a great Poker player!)

When a dirt-poor girl at school invited me to spend the night at her house, my mom said OK. No one else had exteneded any invitations.

The trip to her house was somewhere around Boswell's Tavern, on Purcell's Farm, a spot in the middle of no mans' land, between Charlottesville and Richmond, where her Dad worked as farm help.

We went through cow fields and cattle gates had to be opened and closed until we reached the provided-for old shack of a house with a rickity front porch facing the sunset with a small setting of trees charming their way around the immediate yard.

We had dinner---fried chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy---a feast for me---we lived on the short-order stuff at my Mom's restaurant; this was incredible food these 'poor' people were eating! (the chicken had been killed for dinner---glad I didn't see it...)

The most intresting thing was, that after dinner, they put the radio in the front window and in the fading light of nowhere, they had some religious service on with hootin' and hollerin'---I'd NEVER heard anything like that before!

You never heard anything like that up North! It was a little scary, actually.

After that, they listened to some country music show with banjos, guitars, fiddles and mandolins; my first real experience with the music these folks related to and loved as part of their own identity.

The strangeness of it was mellowed by the happiness of this family gathered around and enjoying a good time, after a day of hauling water and doing chores.

My 12 year-old heart found respect for them, all on its' own, not because Mom said it was worth respecting, but because it WAS worth respecting, regardless what background any of us had come from.

If any of you out there get to see the series, 'The Appalachians', or any series from the past regarding your geographical area, take time to watch.

We're only here because of THEM and their courage to start anew, leaving so much behind, but never their heritage, their hope or their beautiful music.

I'm getting teary again remembering I had the joy of hearing, 'Oh, Bury Me Beneath the Willow' once again.

One of my most favorites.

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Glad I helped your day along, Sis.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 10:22PM
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petaloid(SoCal 10a/24)

I love many kinds of music, including traditional folk tunes.

Did you see that movie Songcatcher? It was fiction, but based on people at the turn of the last century, doing what your grandmother was doing collecting songs in the Appalachians. They even hauled a big old phonograph up the hills, making some actual recordings. Iris Dement, a favorite of mine, played one of the local singers.

Those songs are so precious, and it's great that so many have worked to preserve them.

Thanks for sharing your memories.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 11:44PM
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Yes, Petal, thank you for reminding me of that great little movie!
My family invited me over to their house one Fall evening for Pizza & a Movie Night, and Songcatcher just stole our hearts. She was so determined to find and SAVE those old tunes. It was an incredible little movie.
(my Grandmother's little recorder used wax cylinders, which were sent off somewhere and transferred to some kind of pliable green vinyl, which could be played on a little phonograph she had)

You know what other movie comes to mind along those lines?---not the content, but the DETERMINATION of the true-life character?---It's a little movie called
'Temple Grandin'.
She was autistic to a point, I believe and was able to tune into the livestock being held in stock yards, as they waited for the end. She was able to read them as no one else had and by the time the movie ended, it was because of her, many stockyards put a much kinder Last Walk in place for the animals. I think Claire Danes won an Oscar for her performance as Temple, with Temple, who was there, just over the top with joy over it!
As a weepy 'barely-eat-meat' animal lover, I can recommend it----I even stood in the doorway, waiting to bolt at the first sign of animal suffering, but was able to watch the whole thing.
Her undying determination is what finally got her where she is today. A real hero in my book.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 1:57AM
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My grandmother Lannie Ross Thompson came from Rich Valley. Steve in Baltimore County.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 8:14AM
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Kathy, what a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing your memories.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 1:34PM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

Have you ever read the Sharyn McCrumb "Ballad" series? I found them fascinating. She took Appalachian ballads and created a fictional series around them.

The Ballad novels are a series of award-winning Southern/Appalachian novels set in the North Carolina/Tennessee mountains. These books weave together the legends, natural wonders and contemporary issues of Appalachia. Each story is built around a theme, intended to express an overall idea, and each one centers on an event or era in North Carolina history.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sharyn McCrumb

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 4:02PM
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mwheel, thank you for enjoying our sharing!

Lisa h, I had no idea Sharyn McCrumb was such a prolific writer! I thank you for the link and a chance to read about her. I'll share it with my granddaughters, for sure!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 4:41PM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

I love her Ballad series, but her other books have not really caught my attention too much.

I hope you enjoy them!


    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 4:49PM
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Also in Songcatcher was the one and only Hazel Dickens, who along with Alice Gerard recorded some brilliant albums of their mountain music. I spent most of my college years with bluegrass musicians in Madison Wisc., and learned to love the stuff so much that we started a coffeehouse, The Wild Hog in the Woods, which, since 1975, has been providing a place for bluegrass and blues and folk, and it's still going.
Oddly enough, you might be surprised at the amount of bluegrass we get here. Lots of amateur musicians all over the country, and every May, there's a festival called Jacob's Ladder Folk Festival, which takes place right on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. This year we get the Abrams Brothers, again, for headliners, and boy oh boy can they pick and grin! All kinds of Irish, Celtic, world and folk music happens on three stages, and the highlight is the square dance. Five hundred Anglos and Israelis and a pick up band create the wildest thing you've ever seen.....look at all the happy creatures dancin' on the lawn!

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 2:38PM
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kathy thank you for that inspiring post. Have you thought of submitting it to a magazine? I think it should be shared ,, Thanks again

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 10:59PM
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Minnie, thank you for your sweet words.
I used to send stuff in to our paper pretty often, some years back. Don't do it any more--too busy---but you've made me remember how nice it felt.
You are so supportive of others here!

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 11:21PM
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