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.