Thursday, June 29, 2006

Girl Friday: Hitch Up That Wagon

Being half asleep and trying to improve on this post, I accidentally deleted what was here previously. I had to laugh, because mostly it was about making mistakes. While I'm not happy about what happened here, I've decided to just let it go, and leave you with the notion that, after due consideration, I've decided that I'm not perfect. And here's a news flash: you aren't, either.

And actually, that's all good. We need things to work on. We're here to evolve our imperfect selves, through work and through relationship. We're not likely to attain full enlightenment any time soon; as fellow blogger Don is fond of reminding us, there are a LOT of reasons humans are circling the drain. But as long as we're here, we have to make the best of it, even if that means making mistakes.

I make a lot of mistakes. But I've done a lot of good things in my life, too, and I daresay those things outnumber the things I'm less proud of. My biggest problem is the fear of disappointing others or myself, and the addiction I have to other people's expectations over my own. For crying out loud, I'm 40 years old. I should be over that. But every now and then I have a run-in with someone or something that re-sets the meter all over again, and I'm back to remembering that, as my sister would say, I'm a magnet for people who are impossible to please.

Life, and friendship, and partnership all take work and learning and processing. Babies don't do what they're "supposed" to like it says in a book; they teach us. Grown people don't always understand each other. Not everyone has the same set of values or goals or drivers. I don't have to have yours, and you don't have to have mine.

My ex and I work really hard at raising our kids. I feel like a real jerk that our marriage didn't survive, but that's a choice we made so that our kids would not learn the wrong things about marriage. Now after mistakes comes the work and loving guidance and the ability to each bring what we bring to the children to see that they are successful and happy to the degree we can facilitate that.

I do wish I had been a better partner to all the people I've been in relationship with. I love the people I work with like my second family and I am extremely careful to nurture those relationships because we have to spend a LOT of time together to benefit other human beans. I love my children more than life, and whenever I feel like I failed them, I talk to them about it, because they need to know that no matter what, there is nothing more important to me than the two of them. They know I have faults and that I make mistakes and that learning about that stuff is part of life.

But there will be new people down the road who don't know I'm not perfect. What then? When they find out I'm not, will they still be able to see the rest of me like most people do, or will they put me in the other column? And will it matter to me if they do? Or will I just be able to keep my eyes on the inner prize knowing a lot of other people who could have given up on me, haven't? It's a slippery slope to even think about it.

Meanwhile here's a great song by a young woman named Adrienne Young and her band, Little Sadie. Young is just that, and a very impressive, smart, intuitive musician, a heck of a banjo player, and a terrific songwriter. This tune, "Conestoga," is really lovely and honest. It's about admitting to not being perfect but still being willing and ready to go. And I am. Who's with me?


I have wandered through the hills of better days
Broken my own heart with my cheatin’ ways
So I’ll try to make amends I will rectify
All the time I spent more dead than alive

Darlin’ hitch up the Conestoga
Ride my gently to & fro
I have searched many a lifetime
All for what I do not knowAll for what I know

Give me freedom like the flight of a raven’s wing
Lie down with the sun, rise and start to sing
Lonesome doves will always find their way back home
But there’s seed to feed anywhere we roam

I will take the reins when you need to sleep
I will soothe your pain if your back grows weak
But first these words you must speak
I am ready to go, I’m ready to go

Darlin’ pack up the Conestoga
Ride my gently sweet and low
I have searched many a lifetime
All for what I do not know
All for what I know

Ready to go…ready to go

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

What Am I Missing?

I miss not writing to this blog. It's not as though I have terribly much to say that's terribly relevant to a terribly large number of people. But I miss the processing of something I feel is noteworthy and then finding a way to share it.

Things have been very hectic, busy. It's all good, except that I haven't had much time to practice for my Mando lesson tomorrow. Much of it is work related, which at least means I'll be able to keep my family fed through the summer.

About an hour ago (it's now going on 11 p.m.) I got back from a meeting with a group of faculty working on the project I referenced a post or two ago. Sitting among a group of music professors felt like home in a way. But with all my training, I bet I still would not be able to engage a single person in that room in a conversation about traditional American music.

After the meeting over dinner, I shared with my boss that probably what I needed to do was go directly to graduate school from my undergrad. I'm almost certain of that now. She is encouraging me to take steps and courses to forge ahead and is willing to support that, and I will take her up on it. Nonetheless, having come 'round to all this stuff at this point, I'll never know what I missed going right into the Orchestra world, green as the dewy grass on a June morning and without any idea of what really drives me. Hindsight is so damn 20.20.

Have a good night.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Boss Update: CNN interview reveals all

Ok, so two of my dear friends, who do not know each other, wrote separately today to tell me about this CNN interview. I wasn't able to load the video but some of you lucky blokes might.

Fearless swears Springsteen was darn near channeling Tim O'Brien. My friend Janice also said something about having read about his "great remarks to that stupid woman." LOL, oh, MAN, how did I MISS THIS!?

Anyway, I'm glad I have friends who are gathering intel for me when I'm not paying attention! This whole Bruce Awakens The Inner Folk Fan thing is really fun to watch, like tracking Santa on Christmas eve.

I should set up a BruceWatch on this blog. Fearless, I wonder what Tim thinks of this whole thing. He's one of the few people who hasn't recently released an album with John Henry (and he had two shots last year, for crying out loud!), and Bruce is one of the few who hasn't done Darling Corey although I bet a Springsteen version of that would open up a big can of whoopass on latent folkies. Eh, there's always the next album.

Thanks for keeping an eye out for me, you two!


Friday, June 23, 2006

Girl Friday #20: Re-education of a young singer

I began vocal training in high school. By the time I graduated from college with a minor in vocal performance and music history, I had more than a few lieder under my belt. My coaches were really fine instructors and the last person I studied with really helped me to understand my instrument and how to make the most of it.

Even though I still use some of the basic techniques, that was a different world, and different music indeed – although for my senior recital I did squeeze a few Aaron Copeland folk song settings on the program.

Last weekend I opened my mail to find the International Bluegrass Music Association’s lineup for its annual World of Bluegrass Conference and Fan Fest. I was thrilled to find someone I deeply admire on the lineup for the Roots and Branches stage. Her name is Ginny Hawker, and has been synonymous with mountain old-time singing.

Ginny and her husband, New Lost City Rambler fiddler Tracy Schwartz, make their home in West Virginia. They grew up in very different places – she was a Virginia mountain girl from a big musical family, he grew up in the hills of New England – but yet share a deep and abiding love for performing and preserving some of the most wonderful music in the world.
Ginny is widely sought-after for conducting vocal workshops, which I hope someday to attend. One photo on her web site shows her conducting a workshop for the Princeton University Department of Music.

Recently I’ve been engaged in a project to find a new music school director for a well-regarded private university. It has been fascinating work to review the backgrounds and the paths trod by some very impressive and well-respected musicians, theorists, musicologists, ethnomusicologists, composers, and conductors. Among them, very few indicate any interest, scholarship or experience in music of the Appalachians. This is pretty typical, although there are some trends in more southerly institutions to include study and performance of traditional music in their curricula. It’s a shame really, because this music is not only beautiful, but a rich part of America’s cultural heritage. To forgo its study is really to ignore a big chunk of musical history let alone a considerable influence on many other kinds of music.

I admire deeply Ginny Hawker’s talent, her unwavering commitment to sharing this music and to teaching others how to perform it, and her ability create enthusiasm around it in places it might otherwise go unheard. And by some, unsung if not for her inspiration and example. Thank you, Ginny.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

There's No 'Retirement' Crisis in Bluegrass

So the big news in popular media as well as our own hometown Pee Dee is that there is a crisis in America because folks might have to work longer before they retire.

Now anyone who understands that more young Americans are graduating from college with debt, delaying the start of marriage and families, holding off on buying homes, or even taking longer to finish their first degrees knows damn well that this is not news. Combine today's economy with all these other indicators, and maybe it's yesterday's news. But another thing's for sure. It's not a crisis. Americans having to work longer is not a crisis. Americans having to hold off on filling prescriptions to buy food is a crisis. Americans having to pick which kid gets shoes is a crisis. Someone's 401k falling short of what was hoped -- disappointing, maybe a little scary, but, not a crisis.

Our society is not so quietly obsessed with consumption and leisure. The reaction to so-called news like this feeds into this mentality of accumulation that offends my sensibilities. I do respect the fact that it's good to plan for the day when we're too old and frail to work. But lots of people have lost everything on their first week of retirement because of a heart attack or natural disaster or whatever that entirely ate up whatever they had saved. So we have the illusion of security, and now, the illusion of a threat to a security that really is only tenuous.

I love to work, and I am very, very fortunate that I have a job I enjoy thoroughly. It is a thrill to help people and organizations succeed every day. And I meet the most fabulous people -- interesting, creative, extremely talented and capable leaders both young and seasoned. And I work with the most amazing organizations, organizations going through difficult change, enormous growth, wonderful success. It's been a real treasure because it taught me that whether it's a government, private, or nonprofit gig, I love working with good people who do great work for organizations that are well run.

I don't get paid as well as I probably could, and a few years into single motherhood it's not likely that I'll retire. I don't have a 401k, and most of what I have saved would last me about a year or less if I had a real health crisis that forced me into not working. But I'm not unlike a lot of Americans as you'll read here. At least I enjoy working and am lucky enough to be able to work, and whether I'm comfortable or eating tuna out of a tin can when I'm 80, hopefully I'll still be able to make a contribution without someone having to take care of me.

Bluegrass and traditional musicians, don't make a whole lot of money -- ok, some do, but not many, and they pay their way when it comes to health care and other benefits just like any entrepreneur has to, or they still have to work for somebody else to feed their kids. But they manage to stay alive, pass on some good learnings, have a good time, do really good work, and give a great many people an enormous amount of joy. And most of them don't stop doing that just so they can play golf (although I understand Doyle Lawson does enjoy his golf!). Doc Watson, Ralph Stanley, Curly Seckler, and Jean Ritchie are all in their 80s, as is folk legend Pete Seeger. Stanley and Seckler each have brand new releases out. The younger crowd--the Grismans, the Rices, the Dels, the Doyles--well, they're all pushing 60 or better. But they're not ready to lay down that weary tune just yet. As my friend Stephanie Ledgin wrote in her book, Homegrown Music, you don't retire from bluegrass.

So the headlines roll right on by me.

Monday, June 19, 2006

There's Only One Word for 'Bluegrass'

About two months ago, I got my first issue of Bluegrass Europe. I had just basked in my son's success with a long-suffering school project and came home to find the magazine in my mail box. I decided it was the perfect way to relax. So, I put on my jammies, poured myself a nice glass of wine, removed the wrapper with great anticipation, and quickly discerned that the contents of this membership magazine of the EUROPEAN Bluegrass Music Association were not all in English.


The charm and charisma of EBMA's enthusiastic treasurer Angelika Torrie and her comrades, who encouraged me to pay my dues in person by stopping over for coffee (bluegrass people are just so bluegrassy everywhere!), won me over to my intention, that is to support bluegrass around the world. Nonetheless it was a pretty funny MandoMama moment. Sort of like the time I was riding along I-75 outside Louisville and looking up, said to my ex-husband, who was driving us to Nashville, "Boy, there sure are a lot of horses in Kentucky."

This past weekend, while Twinsburg endured a nearly five-hour power outtage, I took the opportunity to catch up on my reading to keep my mind off the potential for having to replace all the food in my fridge. I picked up the latest editon of Bluegrass Europe and actually began reading some of the articles. I was struck by the fact that there are some words than just don't translate. Granted, they are considered musical styles, but I thought it kind of interesting that "bluegrass" is the same in any language. Here are a sample of some of the other terms that were untranslated into Dutch or German:

  • brother duets
  • folky songs
  • liner notes
  • country-rock
  • folk music scene
  • lead vocal (kind of an odd one, really)
  • hometown song
  • string band
  • gospel
  • old-timey

Seeing that helped me to remember that I share a connection and a love of some very special and wonderful music and traditions with bluegrass fans and supporters all over the world. It really is a small world, after all.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Tubas, Mandos, Bill Gates, and Bruce

This is the prequel to a short and irregular series on The Springsteen Seeger Session phenomena. What brings this on? Thanks to a nudge, I found myself at Blossom last night, enjoying Springsteen and his 16 person Seeger Session Band from about the 15th row. Among the players was a guy who spent most of the night with a Tuba on his back, but who traded it for mando on a couple numbers. How does that happen?

And here's something to ponder, sort of in the spirit of my dear friend Shannon's random thoughts:

Bruce's version of Pay Me My Money Down contains the line,
Well I wish that I was Mr. Gates
Pay me my money down
Bring me my money all in crates
Pay me my money down.

Bill gates announced this week that he will retire in 2008 in order to concentrate on giving his money away.

WHAT a coinky-dinky!

Ponder that. I'm going to go enjoy the weather and try to think of a way to convey the experience of the show in less than 10 installments. Meanwhile, enjoy some video from the tour here courtesy of AOL. (Sorry, Mr. Gates.)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Girl Friday #19: Buffalo Gal with Mule to Ride

Many readers probably are familiar with the band, Donna the Buffalo. A product of the Ithaca, NY region, they come to Northeast Ohio fairly frequently (just missed 'em last Thursday, in fact...what was I doing?!). I've seen them a few times in town here and at festivals, and always enjoy them, but the real attraction is in the band's spectacularly talented Tara Nevins.

Nevins' first love is old-timey music, and her fiddling and singing are equally passionate. She is also a purdy darn fine cajun musician. On her latest release, Mule to Ride, however, she really serves up some chestnuts -- John Henry, Raleigh and Spencer, Darlin' Corey (I believe since 2005 this tune has appeared on just about every new recording I've's a good tune, but, SHEESH), Sittin' On Top of the World. I look forward to hearing her renditions of these more well-known tunes, but her previous solo albums I found most riveting because of her unique songwriting, her vocal delivery, and her darn fine fiddling.

About a month ago I was enjoying a show at The Kent Stage and talking with a fellow frequent Stage-goer, who indicated that Tara had finally split from longtime band partner and husband, Jim Miller. He is a very talented guitarist and banjo player, featured on Mule along with Ralph Stanley, Richie Stearns, Don Rigsby, Christine Balfa and husband Dirk Powell, Mike Seeger, John Hermann, and many others.

Here's a tune clip from the new album, Over My Shoulder. She's good for a single gal to have around, sing along with, aspire to.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Chanson de Breakdown

Both by intent and happenstance today, I was drawn back to some of the people and experiences of my wonderful four years at Denison University. There are two reunions coming up. One is the 45th (Oh lord) anniversary of The Denison Singers, of which I was a member for an all-too-brief time. (That's mando-me third from the left on the bottom row wearing black floral in the accompanying 2003 reunion photo taken by Bob Seith '74.) The second is a reunion of myself and two college roommates, now 40 or nearly so, with kids. Oy.

I got to thinking especially about my time in the Denison Singers and the Concert Choir, and what an incredible experience that was for me. First and foremost I am a singer, and my first love is choral repertoire of the late Medieval and Early Renaissance periods. (How’s the dork factor now?) I could straggle in after a horrible day or a too-late night, but still manage to feel like a new person after a rehearsal. The camaraderie of creating beautiful music under the stewardship of our beloved WO (for William Osborne, here showing what it takes to keep 60 of his former students in line after too much wine at dinner) who brought his own brand of humor, style, and, well, instruction to his conducting, sealed friendships that will last a lifetime.

In looking back, I have to chuckle at my obsession then with how secular tunes meandered their way into complete Mass settings. Perhaps the most famous example is the tune, L’homme arme, which was turned into no fewer than 30 mass settings. How else could the clergy get everyone to sing along unless the tune was already familiar? Those early church music guys really had something, there.

I’ve spent some time lately reflecting on the heavy influence of early sacred music on my tastes. They seem fairly far removed from where I am now, but at the same time, the intent is still sort of all encompassing, to take something of a simple folk tune and turn it into something everyone sings. Further, the construction of those early pieces, from motets to chansons, masses to madrigals, were spare, dead on vocal pieces and their glory was in their relative musical simplicity. Those were, after all, the golden days of sacred music, and it never really much got out of hand, intentionally. Nonetheless they were simple but beautiful and virtuosic, and familiar.

The Franco-Flemish composer, Josquin Desprez (b 1440), sits among the most influential Western composers in musical history. But even Josquin borrowed the L'homme arme tune for one of his masses. Scan a clever New York times article on the subject here.

With all the hype about tribute albums, I'm wondering whether it isn't time for the Josquin variety. Missa Pange Bluegrass. Chanson de Mando. Flemish Fiddle Favorites. I think it could work.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Bound for the Shady Grove

Sometime before "x" and I left our little house in Cleveland Heights, I remember acquiring two things: one, a Joni Mitchell cd, which returned me to singing good, honest, and perhaps not always kind, songs. The second was a Smokey Mountain cassette tape that had a version of the old fiddle tune, "Shady Grove."

Oh, how I just loved that song. It was like nothing I'd ever heard. The words of that version went something like this:

Peaches in the summertime
Apples in the fall
If I can't have the gal I love
I'll have no gal at all

Shady Grove, my little love
Shady Grove I know
Shady Grove, my little love
I'm bound for the Shady Grove

Cheeks as red as a bloomin' rose
Eyes of the deepest brown
You are the darlin' of my heart
Stay til the sun goes down

Shady Grove, my little love...

And so on.

It was such a sweet little egg-on of a song. I was completely charmed by it. It must have been 1996 or '97, not too long before the move to exurbia but probably after one of the two miscarriages I had. It was like a Siren to my willing ear.

So it's always been a favorite, and is so easy to sing and to teach a child to sing (I recently met a darling little girl who evidently does quite a number on Shady Grove). I think I've decided to put it back in the Bedtime Song Rotation myself.

The lead-up to this evening was that my friend Jawbone and his friend from Kent were to play a gig that included Shady Grove. Well, there was discussion about all these lyrics, which of course I had never heard. Little did I know just how damn many versions there are of Shady Grove. Doc Watson's version features this verse:

When I was a little boy
I wanted a Barlow knife
And now I want little Shady Grove
To say she'll be my wife

Ok, Doc. That's cool.

Then I found all these other verses:

Had a banjo made of gold
Every string would shine
The only song that it would play
Wish that girl was mine

When I was in shady grove
Heard them pretty birds sing
The next time I go to shady grove
Take along a diamond ring

When you go to catch a fish
Fish with a hook and line
When you go to court a girl
Never look behind

Makes sense. This is a song about courting Shady Grove.

My favorite line had to do with little Shady Grove and her little bare feet. I think at some point it hit me that I wish I were that Shady Grove. That's who I was, that's the place from which I grew into a woman, that whole brown-eyed-girl-barefeet-in-the-front-yard-chasing-fireflies.

So I'm gonna teach my children this song. Tomorrow, after we I know my son can handle the guitar part. It will be fun, and something we can hold on to when things get ugly or scary. And when I'm gone, and someday I will be gone, they can sing it with their children. Like the songs that pop up occasionally that Grandma or Grandpa D sang, it will be a way of knowing me.


Shady Grove, my little love,
Shady Grove I know
Shady Grove, my little love
I'm bound for the Shady Grove.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

No Use Weeping Over Spilt Milk (or other valuables)

Yesterday I finally went to iTunes and purchased “We Shall Overcome”, the new Bruce Springsteen recording of old songs that have been championed by American folk guardian Pete Seeger. It’s one of those things I had been planning to do but just needed a little nudge, which I got, and which I will share more about in a future post.

As I said in my previous post about the album, I’ve never been a Springsteen fan per se, but wow, I didn’t expect this recording to be as solid and impressive as it is. He’s really mastered these tunes and given them his own touch without stealing them away from their roots completely. I highly recommend it.

Meanwhile, during the course of the last 24 hours, a lot of people I care about got some pretty bad news. It was as if all that hullabaloo about “6606” came crashing down around our heads, but since I don’t believe in that garbage, I can only assume that a lot of people I know just happened to have a really bad day all at the same time, and for some of them, it’s still going.

I had spent some downtime enjoying my walk and thinking about how some people just will never be about the right things. It’s just the way it is, and we can’t change those people. You can’t turn a regular bad, smelly egg into a golden one. It’s not fair, but that’s life. Look at the asshats running the country, and what they’re doing to hurt people, without a second thought. It’s not too hard to imagine that can happen on the micro level, person to person, mother to daughter, father to son, brother to sister, and it does, every day. And that is not accounting for some of the unforeseen and emergent life events I see family and friends dealing with on a moment-to-moment basis.

Pretty much, it’s all the same. Life is not easy, but it’s also what you make of it, what you put into it, what you give back to it, not, what you personally can get out of it. Some people run up against a little adversity, or a lot, and either roll over and play dead or spend the rest of their lives whining about it. Some people, like my family or my boss’s family, meet adversity head on and roll right through it, because it’s what to do. But nonetheless it can be challenging. As in a line from the track, “Erie Canal,” “How can a poor man take such times and live?” Well, he just does.

One of the other “Seeger Session” tracks that grabbed me and had me replaying a time or two was “O Mary Don’t You Weep,” probably because of the overarching conditions within my little network. Pete Seeger recorded it in 1961. Alan Lomax collected a version by Leadbelly in the late 1950s, and bless-his-heart blues great Mississippi John Hurt gave us his rendition on at least one recording in the 1960s as well. (For a really long list of just how many people have recorded this song, click here. )

And here comes Bruce Springsteen, paying tribute to the heritage of this one gospel tune in 2006. And, in the Springsteen version, true to the tradition, another line, “Sister Mary wears a golden chain/And on each link is Jesus’ name,” another shoutback to other tunes, including the lead track on Tim O’Brien’s 2005 release, Cornbread Nation.

So to those of you on my heart, take heart. Life is temporary. Enjoy its sweetness. Make it sweeter. The rest will come out in the wash and go down the drain not unlike the biblical folktale we’re reminded of in the chorus of this song. As Mother was fond of reminding us, there’s a reason for everything.

O Mary, Don’t You Weep

Well if I could I surely would
Stand on the rock where Moses stood
Pharaoh's army got drownded
O Mary don't you weep

O Mary don't you weep, don't you mourn
O Mary don't you weep, don't you mourn
Pharaoh's army got drownded
O Mary don't you weep

Well Mary wore three links and chains
On every link was Jesus' name
Pharaoh's army got drownded
O Mary don't you weep

O Mary don't you weep, don't you mourn
O Mary don't you weep, don't you mourn
Pharaoh's army got drownded
O Mary don't you weep

Well one of these nights bout 12 o'clock
This old world is gonna rock
Pharaoh's army got drownded
O Mary don't you weep

Well Moses stood on the Red Sea shore
Smote' the water with a two by four
Pharaoh's army got drownded
O Mary don't you weep

Well O Mary don't you weep, don't you mourn
O Mary don't you weep, don't you mourn
Pharaoh's army got drownded
O Mary don't you weep

Well old Mr. Satan he got mad
Missed that soul that he thought he had
Pharaoh's army got drownded
O Mary don't you weep

Brothers and sisters don't you cry
There'll be good times by and by
Pharaoh's army got drownded
O Mary don't you weep

Well O Mary don't you weep, don't you mourn
O Mary don't you weep, don't you mourn
Pharaoh's army got drownded
O Mary don't you weep

God gave Noah the rainbow sign
"No more water but fire next time"
Pharaoh's army got drownded
O Mary don't you weep

O Mary don't you weep, don't you mourn
O Mary don't you weep, don't you mourn
Pharaoh's army got drownded
O Mary don't you weep
O Mary don't you weep

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Joyful Pilgrimage

Sitting at my computer yesterday, waiting for the rain to stop so that I could get outside, I remembered the good times I had Saturday with family. I thought about relevance. I thought about, and am always thinking about, what I want, what I need, what I am. My pilgrimage continues.

I am incredibly fortunate for the family I have and try not to pass up an opportunity to spend more time with them. The more time I spend with my older brothers, the older I feel they believe me to be. I'll always be one of the baby sisters, but as life closes in and the stories about our lives and our parents reach greater dept and truth, the gap in age has begun to shrink, and we enjoy each other on new levels.

One of the things that no doubt influenced me the greatest degree was my brothers' fondness of and involvement in music. I've written before that they had a band, "Filet of Soul" (you don't get much cornier than that, but hey, it did the job), and played covers of the greatest R&B hits of the late 60s. My parents both loved music and my mother played the guitar a little. My dad just enjoyed listening, although he did have a nice singing voice and could whistle better than most folks. So when I look back at my life and how I grew up, I'm overcome with a sense of gratefulness for this wonderful cocoon that surrounded me with all kinds of music, almost all of the time.

So now I'm a grownup, a single working mom with a love of music and a deep desire to pass it on. But these days it's different. Working in a field that I love but that does not directly connect me with my passion has me wondering whether I should continue or try a new path. Working and trying to cultivate the kinds of connections that will lead to that new path, or to opportunities to play, sing, and promote music is a difficult balance to strike. I find myself in a bit of a schizophrenic world. Few people really know me well outside of my family, and I'm disconnected from those few who do by distance, occupation, or life circumstance.

So, how do I close the gap? This is the question that most certainly governs my thoughts these days. The answer is of course to spend my time on a worthwhile project that will in some way benefit our disconnected community of fans and musicians in our little corner of the world. We need more of that cameraderie, community. When I'm at an music festival or other event alone or with my children, the connection is deep. Political and religious views fall largely to the wayside, and music takes over the conversation. I'm thinking this must be what my beloved Shannon senses when he and Lynne and others are ensconced at a craps table, everyone cheering on against the House. (Click his link to read the most eloquent Guide to Gambling I have ever read, even if it is the ONLY guide to gambling I have ever read, written by my friend Lynne, who will celebrate her 40th in Vegas later this year.)

A sense of belonging is important. I'd like to have the sense of belonging in my own community that I experience in my family, or when I'm surrounded by musicians or instrument makers or presenters or writers. I'm sure there are others who feel as I do, that there's always room to learn, teach, play, and share more traditional and bluegrass music. I could pick up and move to a part of the country where it's everywhere and I could find exactly what I need in every sense. But the joy would be multiplied and shared if I could create opportunities for more people to come together and enjoy it here.

The answer is so often in the question. Gap? What gap? I didn't notice any gap.

Click here if you want to know about some of what's going on in Northeast Ohio and where you can gig in June.

Are you an Ohio picker? E-mail me if you think a "roving picking party" sounds like fun.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Girl Friday #17: Go Round the World with this Banjo-Pickin' Girl

Many readers will recognize Nashville-based musician Pam Gaddis as a multifaceted Bluegrass contributor. A recording artist, songwriter, and educator, Pam spends much of her time educating the public about the history of bluegrass, particularly the evolution of the banjo.

Pam created A Banjo Journey -- From Africa to the Opry to trace the instrument's history from its origins in Africa to its role as a centerpiece in bluegrass and country music. She takes this interactive workshop to colleges, festivals, museums, conventions, and darn near anywhere people will gather to learn a little American musical history.

Almost all of us had to endure some form of music appreciation classes as children or as young adults. I personally enjoyed my time as a classical music student and am glad for the training and intensive study I undertook. At the same time, I wish that the traditional forms of our nation's earliest music were given at least some of the attention that most other, more "intellectual" forms are. Putting people, and in particular, children, in touch with an instrument like a banjo or a dobro is a critical step in extending the appreciation and the preservation of old-time and bluegrass music, our national folk music. Here's to Pam for doing her part.

Mando, Dawggie Style

Hey 'Grass fans, if you’re in Ohio and desire another exquisite evening of bluegrass players outside the box, stop by the Kent Stage this Friday, June 2 for the David Grisman Quintet.

Grisman, known affectionately to his fans as “Dawg,” goes a-way back. This 1966 treasure from the Dawg photo album features Grisman on the far left, Bill Monroe in the middle there, and that Free Mexican Air Force favorite, Peter Rowan, on the far right on guitar. I was a year old.

I enjoy keeping an open mind about the music within the music. Just as pop or rock has many subgenres, so it is with acoustic music, and within that, bluegrass, and within that, the use of bluegrass instruments in less traditional ways. I remember a few years back at Grey Fox, enjoying a set by Ruthie Unger’s Wayfaring Strangers, and thinking, hm, that’s not like anything else we’ve heard here, and it’s kind of cool. The friend I was with was not all that impressed but I secretly had to admit that I enjoyed their near-radical treatment of some of my favorite old songs.

While I have my limits, and certainly my tastes, there are performers across all genres whom I admire and consider great in their field. I happen to enjoy listening to bluegrass and its origins and offshoots – what some call “roots and branches” – more than most anything else. But as a performance by Grisman will prove, there’s an amazingly wide range there, too.

Check out what's in the Dawg house , including some streaming Dawg tunes with Jerry G (click on Dawg Tracks).