Wednesday, November 29, 2006

So, Larry Cordle called.

Ok, not really. But just before waking up today I dreamed that I was out of town, presumably in Nashville, with my son. My cell phone buzzes as I’m in line at a bakery/coffee shop, and Larry Cordle’s name is in the little caller ID window. But I missed the call and am troubled by why someone like that would be trying to reach me.

Kentucky-born and raised Larry Cordle and I have a tiny bit in common, aside of the fact that we’re both crazy about bluegrass. This time a year ago, I wasn’t sure I’d still be here. I’d been diagnosed with a pre-cancerous condition, and since no one else in my genetic line had dealt with this, I really had no idea how to prepare for the uncertainty.

This time a year ago, Larry Cordle didn’t know that in the following April he’d be diagnosed with cancer. He had surgery in May and this past August was given a clean bill of health. That’s amazing news, for Larry, for his family, and for music fans everywhere.

Larry Cordle served in the Navy and got his accounting degree when he came out. Known mostly today as a songwriter, in the beginning he stuck to his day job and wrote songs and played clubs in his off hours. Then one day, a former neighbor and childhood friend named Ricky Skaggs recorded a song of Cordle’s called “Highway 40 Blues,” which shot to the top of the charts and launched Skaggs’ country career (thanks, Ricky, for getting past that). The rest is history – not only is Larry known as a solid writer, with more than 50 million records sold carrying his songs recorded by everyone from Alison Krauss to George Strait, but is a beloved performer with his band, Lonesome Standard Time. We catch them every year at IBMA, and since I didn’t return his call, I’ll do better to catch him and LST whenever I can.

One of the things I failed to mention in a previous post is that I’m thankful I’m still here. More than that, I intend to live the second chance I’ve been given. I’ve been working harder at that, and I have so many examples around me both in the music world and among my friends and family of how to live through the tougher times. My friends laugh and balk when I say this, but I really do mean it when I say that even if it means I’m eating tuna out of a tin can when I’m 80, I’m gonna honor the opportunity I’ve been given by staying aware and true to the gift of knowledge that music is what I love, organizing people and projects is what I’m good at, and putting the two of these together is going to somehow touch people and hopefully make a difference in their lives.

Thanks, Larry Cordle, for making a difference in so many lives. We’re blessed that you’ll be around to make a difference in many more. And next time, I promise to answer that phone! Maybe I'll see you at the Pennyroyal Opera House (Fairview, OH) in January!

When it comes time for requests, no matter whether you're at a Mountain Heart or a Metallica show, someone inevitably asks for this one. Truth be told, any bluegrass version I've heard does it justice--it's got that lonesome feel to it, and hey, at least it's an honest ode to the fear of commitment. Here's a clip of Freebird (click the link at left for the Wiki history of this southern rock classic) as rendered by Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time, from their CD, Lonesome Skynyrd Time. For real. (Might be worth a visit to iTunes for you Skynyrd can never have too much Freebird.)


If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be travelling on, now,
'Cause there's too many places I've got to see.
But, if I stayed here with you, girl,
Things just couldn't be the same.
'Cause I'm as free as a bird now,
And this bird you can not change.
Lord knows, I can't change.

Bye, bye, its been a sweet love.
Though this feeling I can't change.
But please don't take it badly,
'Cause Lord knows I'm to blame.
But, if I stayed here with you girl,
Things just couldn't be the same.
Cause I'm as free as a bird now,
And this bird you'll never change.
And this bird you can not change.
Lord knows, I can't change.
Lord help me, I can't change.

Friday, November 24, 2006

A Moment of Thanks

This afternoon, I stole away on my own for a couple of hours to one of the few places I actually like about Northeast Ohio. It's a beautiful spot in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I ascended up to the Ledges Overlook from the visitors center, where I learned the Wailin' Jennys will be playing next Friday night.

As I walked, I listened to a different kind of tune--the leaves and soil underfoot, the odd bird call, the laughter of children making discoveries in Ice Box Cave, the barking of dogs running into each other on the path. When I got to the top and to the lookout, I just sat for a moment and thought about the many, many things -- not so much things, but intangible wonders and gifts and a few people whose company I've been fortunate to keep -- for which I am deeply thankful.

In no particular order, and not because you asked, I'll share some.

  • Two beautiful, creative, hilarious children. They are everything to me.
  • An extraordinary family -- three brothers, a sister, all their children, my my mother's sister, and dear cousins. We're an odd bunch that only nature could have created.
  • An extraordinary group of friends without whom it would be difficult to imagine my life unfolding.
  • The father of my children, who cares for them deeply, is willfully engaged in their lives, and whose ongoing support allows them many advantages, not the least of which is two relatively cooperative parents who are willing to deal with each other because of our love for them.
  • Work that satisfies my mind, my soul, and the need to put bread on the table and a roof over our heads.
  • The family I work for, who are themselves some of the most extraordinary people I have ever known.
  • The gift of knowing what I love, even if I don't exactly know how to put it all together.
  • Finally recognizing that as long as I have my brains, I have everything I need to make a go of any venture on my own.
  • A deep respect for my self worth.
  • The knowledge that love is an action.
  • A hope and optimism that should have died off long ago, but possibly never will.
  • The people who share my passion for this music, who are working hard at preserving it and yet somehow manage make it new. For all of them who've taken the time to share their vision and encourage me to believe in my own.
For all the times I thought my life was the Titanic, I'm thankful I got past them to enjoy all these and many other gifts dear to my ragged little heart.

May you have the gift of seeing all the things you can be thankful for this weekend and always.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

How To Turn A Desert Into A...

Tonight while fighting with a pie crust, I toppled over a beer that flipped off the counter, bounced off the garbage can, and landed upright on the floor. Now, sure there was a little spillage, but damn, if I could only put that kind of talent to better the state of musickind in Northeast Ohio, I'd really be doing something worthwhile.

I finally broke down and watched the DVD that came with the Sugar Hill retrospective recording. Barry Poss is someone who kind of played an instrument -- he played old-time banjo fairly well -- but mostly he put his love for the music to work by creating a home for bluegrass artists to spread their wings, explore their artistry, and make some really good recordings without a lot of corporate mumbo jumbo or interference. That's a contribution.

While I was enjoying the DVD and waiting for the final two of three pies to come out of the oven, I scanned some of the larger names in Bluegrass, some Sugar Hill and some not, to see who might be coming to Ohio anytime soon. Then I scanned venues.....there's not even a schedule posted for The Kent Stage beyond December, and that makes me nervous.

Northeast Ohio is terrific if you like new, young, kind of lost in a sweet funky way little bands. It's great if you wanna be a rock star or a kinda, sorta blues musician. But I don't wanna be a rock star. Maybe two or three of my favorite artists of all time were ever rock stars. The rest are just solid, solid, solid musicians who have a measurable following -- evidently most of whom live outside the Ohio state line.

So this is a bit of a challenge. Not only is it a dry wasteland between now and, oh, APRIL, when Doyle Lawson finally comes back through, but the place he's coming through is a tiny little auditorium in WADSWORTH. The likes of Blossom, House of Blues, the Beachland -- ok, the Beachland is bringing Iris Dement and Robin and Linda Williams out in 2007, so skip them -- the big venues, nothing. Nothing, and nothing beyond December at my standby, The Stage.

Do I have to go to Nashville for EVERYTHING? Or, Ithaca, where a number of favorites will be playing in the coming year?

Nobody should.

I don't think I can turn this arrid desert wasteland of acoustic music into a raging river, but I probably could start a trickle.

The trouble is when, and how, and for whom. I make a fine pie, but on this score, I am lost. Lost.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Trail of Fans

The other day I wrote something about how bluegrass fans are all out there, just kind of waiting to bump into each other. I shoudl clarify that in Northeast Ohio, bluegrass fans are like the underground alternative music crowd. We don't wear a lot of black underliner or sharp objects through our noses, but we might as well.

So I pull into auto zone, hoping for some handy advice about why my engine light is really on and a couple of new wiper blades (another annual birthday gift to myself).

The young man fetches my new blades and listens to my diagnostic query about a cracked ignition coil tower and the imminent threat to my catalytic converter. We step out to the car, and after he puts the blades on the wipers pulls out his handy electronic diagnostic device and plugs it in under the dash. When the ignition kicks in, Carl Jackson is crooning loudly "I'm Not Over You" and my face flushed a little red.

"How about a little bluegrass while you work," I say self-effacingly.

"Works for me," says the young man. "I grew up in North Carolina. I could listen to it all the time. I used to go to festivals and all that stuff. There's nothing to do around here."

AHA, well, at least not right now, but once I figure out how many seats are in the Blossom Pavilion and how willing House of Blues would be to try three concerts a season to test the waters, there might be something to do.

But the young man made a point. It's pretty hard for fans in this part of the world to find each other. It's a dense and diverse region, which is really wonderful culturally, but the trick is that many fine smaller arts and cultural institutions struggle to be seen and heard.

In Cuyahoga County, that will change a little bit with the onset of revenue from Issue 18, which passed on November 7 and will raise money through a cigarette tax. Institutions stand to gain anywhere from ten to five hundred thousand dollars depending on their budgets, and that's for operating costs.

Meanwhile, back to our trusty Auto Zone mechanic. I hope he has a good reason to be in Ohio, and that he can get back to North Carolina someday. And I hope that in the meantime I can get something going that will make it a little nicer for those of us who'd enjoy a little bluegrass, or a lot.

This song was recorded by Pete Rowan and the Nashville Bluegrass Band on the 1988 Sugar Hill release, "New Moon Rising." The album featured Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Mike Compton, and a host of other heavies, plus the beautiful Maura O'Connel with her own deep rich singing. I love Pete Rowan's voice, it's really a soul comfort. He is wise, and his music is deeply soothing to me. His lives shows with Tony Rice are about as close to a religious experience as I get in public. Pete's music has a deep connection to the native land and to the West. Here's a clip; the lyrics aren't readily available but I'll get them down soon.

Trail of Tears

Monday, November 13, 2006

AHA Moments

The most important lesson I've learned since my last birthday had nothing to do with mandolin technique or who did what version of which fiddle tune from this county or that.

In fact it had very little to do with music at all although I see now it has everything to do with how I approach it and most other things in my life, too.

I've been a fiercely independent woman since long before someone recently pointed it out to me. Partly it was who I always was; my mother always said I was the one to dart off while my sister was always right by her side. Partly I can blame my upbringing, or lack of one to really cling to. I spent summers exploring what seemed like a vast expanse on my own, never for a minute feeling lonely or bored. When our father died, my sister and I were left to take on a greater deal of independence while my mother, who worked nearby, maintained our family business. Through the years it just worked, it never felt uncomfortable and I never felt denied something because of it.

It did however become a big problem when I couldn't reconcile it with the societal expectation to hook up, which unfortunately became the governing principle as I entered the age of intimate relationships.

It was almost impossible not to let that expectation govern. I grew up in a decent-sized family with three older brothers who'd all begun having kids before I was in high school. Family and partnership were things that I expected and wanted, but yet I had this "streak" -- when individuals express qualities that are not typical, the qualities are lumped together into a "streak" so that other people can deal with them without feeling threatened by difference. I married way too young because, well, everybody seemed to get along ok and so it would work out, and it meant not being alone.


Now, I've always been a hopeless romantic, which didn't help matters one bit. I'll always be a romantic. But there's a big difference between romance and living a fulfilled life with or without a partner. Sure, I've yearned. I've been driven nuts by the fact that plenty of people seem to find me a talented, smart, attractive, interesting, accomplished, fun person but no single person wants to step into shoes next to mine. Even though I know that's a really stupid way to evaluate success, it's a holdover from the need to fit my round peg of a personality into a square hole of The Perfect (-ly Conventional) Life. I am all those things, along with ambitious, creative, and extremely passionate about the things that matter to me -- and chances are I'm going to be all those things with or without a man.


I'm not saying at all that love isn't important, or that forming a permanent bond with someone isn't wonderful. It just has to be the right someone, and for the right reasons, and the reasons have to be real ones, not just because "it should work" or "we have the same middle names" or "gee the sex is terrific!" Love is an action, not an accident. And you can't just depend on one single ordinary or even extraordinary person to show you the way and be your guiding light. That's just crap, and a helluva lot to put on another human being regardless of how wonderful they are, because when one day they don't live up to all that you've thrown on them, POOF. We have to form strong bonds with other people, with our passions, and with ourselves too, in order to lead lives with balance and purpose and that hint at our potential.

I worry too much about whether my kids think I'm a cast-off, which runs counter to everything that matters about being an individual and being loved for who we are. Independence, real independence, is not valued. When we don't fall into step or laugh on cue, or agree with everything that's said at a club meeting, we're sidelined, passed over for promotions, squeezed out of relationships, left out of social gatherings. Questioning and challenging is seen as criticism, everything is taken personally, and suddenly, we find ourselves apologizing for having an idea or an opinion. Also crap.

A kindred spirit who has been a good model of true individuality, tipped me off to a suitable response to that kind of crap:

That dog won't hunt.

So my birthday gift to myself this year, I suppose, is that every precept I held about love, relationships, or the way life ought to be lived has been tossed into the sea. Life can no longer be viewed through the lens of What Works for Everybody Else. I have no choice but to view it through my own lens. Maybe there's no single perfect idea in view, but I sure see a lot of possibilities.

I should have figured all of this out a long time ago. You have to be a little independent to crave the likes of old mountain tunes or appreciate the high lonesome twang and the sometime showmanship of bluegrass. When I fell in love with that music, I fell in love with a fairly different type of community. The people I have met are extraordinary, warm, wonderful, talented people committed to the music. It may seem like there aren't a whole lot of us, but I'm surprised at how, when asked about my interests, people seem to come out with bluegrass or trad guns a-blazin. Recently I had the chance to sit and chat with a client who overheard my conversation with a fellow bluegrass fan in the hallway. He admitted he was a bluegrass fan, too. We are all out there, looking for one another.

Thanks to the musicians, presenters, students, mentors, people who go to gatherings and record playing, people who sit in studios to record playing, engineers, promoters, graphic designers, instrument craftspersons, people who repair instruments, the copywriters who help with the liner notes, the research assistants, and whoever makes the coffee and turns on the lights. Whoever I've forgotten, thanks to you too. Like Rudolph said, we're all independent together!

This sweet and easy going song, crammed with the lyric poetry of the late Dave Carter, turns the old fashioned phone number song into an experience. The lover in this song is something of a mystery, somewhat unattainable but yet present, if occasional. It's a song about the dance between independence and interdependence -- and the hope of someday getting it right. Click on the title to listen, or visit to sample more of Tracy's work and that of her partner, the late Dave Carter.

236-6132 is the number of my love
even though it's been some time since he made fair to answer
'cause he feints and fades from view like a fighter ducks a glove
though i play the highway kind and he the china dancer
if i was afraid to break or bleed
i would find someone much easier to need
but when drifters' dreams come true
and when push comes 'round to shove
236-6132 is the number of my love

236-6132 is the number i must call
when casey's at the bat, and sleeping beauty slumbers
when the frost is on the dew, and my teardrops freeze and fall
till the world is frozen flat, and the long night snows me under
on the icy nails of no return
we will strike the match and set the night to burn
'cause when beauty wakes anew and when casey cracks the ball
236-6132 is the only number

i am not looking for no champion of my freedom
i am anything but anybody's foundling
sometimes i feel like i am wandering, an old balloon on broken string
a bubble in a baby's dream, a lost and lonely buzzardling
a vulture beating creaky wings, while angry storms go gathering around me

236-6132 is the number of my love
when the clouds are howlin rain and the sky is black as ashes
'cause it's sunlight where we flew, though the trail is cold above
and the raven quakes in vain while the lightning barks and flashes
still the clouds will fade to gray cocoons
and spring the winken monarchs, nodding never-blinken moons
when the crows come home to roost and the eagle weds the dove
236-6132 is the number of my love

Saturday, November 11, 2006

We're All Different

At FanFest this year I was taking in a mandolin masters workshop. At the helm sat five well heeled players, including Roland White (a player formerly of the Kentucky Colonels and the Nashville Bluegrass Band whose tabs have been helping me along quite a bit), and amazing 16-year-old Sierra Hull. We all got a chuckle out of the fact that all five players each held a Gibson--a great photo op missed by the revered mandomaker. To me, the most interesting part about that was that as members of this bunch illustrated a point with a tune in which each player took a turn, each instrument sounded distinctly different. Granted, each player took the melody in a slightly different direction or treated it more individually, but the actual tone evoked from each Gibson was unique among the five.

Within bluegrass and traditional music, there is room for different sounds -- different approaches, different opinions, different styles, different favorites. In the older tradition some tunes have distinguished themselves along state lines; the Gypsy Dandy of Kentucky is not the BLackjack Davey of Virginia. The Blackberry Blossom I was working on a little while ago is the one heard in the workshop, but not the same one played to me once by my friend Jawbone. Even within the scope of a single song there is variety almost to the point that to some ears it becomes a different tune altogether.

Over the last few months I've begun to take more seriously again music and its role in my life, and likewise, my role in its life. I recently tried to explain to someone that, while I enjoy performing and would be quite good at it again if I gave practicing all I should, my real strength is never going to be in being right out front. I'll always be a sidewoman, and that's ok with me. I belong behind the scenes because that's where I do my best work.

Part of that, to me, is generating enthusiasm for the kinds of music that although dear to me may not be widely familiar to many people. There are many ways to spread that kind of love, and one is playing, which I do some, and which I may do more, perhaps at times in the company of superior musicians and others in the company of friends who know little about the music other than what they've heard me talk about or play. Another way is encouraging others to explore, listen to, and play this music. Sometimes that requires making it available in places people least expect it, the way my friend takes trad to the Flats when it's warm enough so his fingers won't freeze. Sometimes it means leaving a door open for those individuals who show an interest to come inside and look around. Sometimes it means cultivating more interest where a little is shown in a song, an instrument, or a performer. At all times, it means being willing to listen, to open the circle, to try new ways of passing the torch, to help break down barriers.

That may sound a little like some kind of intervention. But even musicians training musicians for the next century are proclaiming the urgency of thinking outside the box -- or in our case, the circle -- when it comes to survival in the next 100 years plus.

Tonight after what felt like a relaxing birthday with my kids despite the many loads of laundry and other chores, I picked up my mandolin after a week of evenings out, and finally played through Blackberry Blossom about two dozen times without the tabs for the first time. I know that my friend Jawbone will play a single tune hundreds and hundreds of times until its "right" and then beyond that he plays it another few hundred times until he gets it the way he wants it. It's not much different from a young cellist working through a cello sonata or an organist hammering out a prelude and fugue. We're all musicians at heart.

The difference is I'm not really all musician. I haven't allowed myself to be, and frankly, I'm pretty lazy compared to most real musicians who spend hours every day at their craft, hours I'm usually sleeping or working (candidates are human beings who have questions and concerns evenings and weekends like the rest of us), or rarely anymore, reading to catch up. I might spend an hour a day, sometimes two on a Saturday and Sunday, but not like some.

But I do spend hours every day building and maintaining relationships with cultural institutions that could advance this music, learning about how healthy organizations operate, reading about developments and trends in music education and historic preservation, and doing all kinds of other things that eventually will crystallize into some kind of sensible path forward, some new collaborative (or so I imagine) strategy for bringing this music to the table as a critical voice in how we describe our nation's history and the history of music, and most importantly claiming it's place in our cultural future.

A lot of people are working really hard at doing that from their perspective of getting together and playing music. Other people are working really hard at doing that by making sure some of this music and culture is introduced in elementary school classrooms. Still others are doing this by bringing that traditional culture into the studio, or taking the studio to the culture, or combining the studio, the culture, and economic development with education such as with Appalshop or the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music, or the organizations combining tourism and education along Virginia's 250-mile Crooked Road, the Heritage Music Trail.

The ways we work are different. Could they be improved with more collaboration, more effort to reach out and intermingle? I don't really know. But while each of these are different, all have in mind the goal of bringing more of this kind of music to more people to try. Some will nod and move on. Others will stop and listen for a while. Some will pick up an instrument and play along. We're all different. I'm ok with that. I hope you are, too.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Today was one of the worst days I've had in a really long time. I opened my eyes and it was all downhill from there.

Except for one thing.

Donald Rumsfeld quit.

To me, that was the most brilliant and decisive move he's made in six lonnnng years. I am grateful for his insight, his candor, and the wisdom to get out before he was thrown out.

Now, we just have to sit back and say the mantra:


I'll get through this day and most every other, but few will shine with the same hopeful brilliance as this day that started with a new Democratic Senator, the wonderful Sherrod Brown, and Ohio's first Democratic governor in more than a decade. For all the dark moments I have in my life, I have to remember, I'm just a speck among us, one person who brings to the table her contributions and her problems, like so many others. I'm a citizen of the world, not just a lonely old woman with lots of friends.

This is a retread but I was always hoping to visit it on your heads in the event of a big deal like Rumsfeld's departure. So here it is again. The best version is sung a capella by Bruce Molsky, one of my favorite tradition bearing fiddlers. It originated in the West as a work song of Black Texicans, as documented by my hero, Alan Lomax.

Come on boys, let's go to huntin
Come on boys, let's go to huntin
Dog in the woods, he done treed something
Come on boys, let's go to huntin
Come on boys, let's go to huntin
Dog in the woods, he done treed somethin

Your dog barks, it don't mean nothin
Your dog barks, it don't mean nothin
My dog barks, he done treed somethin
Come on boys, let's go to huntin
Come on boys, let's go to huntin

Dog in the woods, he done treed somethin

Old Red howlin up at the moon
Old Red howlin up at the moon
Took off runnin, and he treed him a coon

Come on boys, let's go to huntin
Come on boys, let's go to huntin
Dog in the woods, he done treed somethin

Now he raised his tail and he took off runnin
He raised up his tail and he took off runnin
Come on boys let's go to huntin

The gun says boom and coon says zip
The gun says boom and the coon says zip
Old Red grabbed him with all his grip

Your dog bark, it don't mean nothin
Your dog bark, it don't mean nothin
My dog bark, he done treed somethin

Come on boys, let's go to huntin
Come on boys, let's go to huntin
Dog in the woods, he done treed somethin

Waterproof your boots and whistle up your dog
Waterproof your boots and whistle up your dog
Shoulder up your gun when you're wadin in the bog

You get the shot, I'll get the powder
You get the shot, I'll get the powder
Your dog bark, my dog louder

Come on boys, let's go to huntin
Come on boys, let's go to huntin
Dog in the woods, he done treed something

Sunday, November 05, 2006

I'm Not Stupid, How 'Bout You?

Since I will be on the road for a work-related mission for a couple of days, I thought I'd get this off my mind.

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman pitched a great piece in the Friday edition. In case the link doesn't quite work, here's a snippet:

George Bush, Dick Cheney and Don
Rumsfeld think you’re stupid. Yes, they do.

They think they can take a mangled quip about
President Bush and Iraq by John Kerry — a man who is
not even running for office but who, unlike Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, never ran away from combat service — and get you to vote against all Democrats in this election.

Every time you hear Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney lash out against Mr. Kerry, I hope you will say to yourself, “They must think I’m stupid.” Because theurely do.

They think that they can get you to overlook all of the Bush team’s real and deadly insults to the U.S. military
over the past six years by hyping and exaggerating Mr. Kerry’s mangled gibe at the president.

What could possibly be more injurious and insulting to the U.S. military than to send it into combat in Iraq without enough men — to launch an invasion of a foreign country
not by the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force, but by the Rumsfeld Doctrine of just enough troops to lose?

What could be a bigger insult than that?

What could possibly be more injurious and insulting to our men and women in uniform than sending them off to war without the proper equipment, so that some soldiers in
the field were left to buy their own body armor and to retrofit their own jeeps with scrap metal so that roadside bombs in Iraq would only maim them for life and not kill them? And what could be more injurious and insulting than Don
Rumsfeld’s response to criticism that he sent our troops off in haste and unprepared: Hey, you go to war with the army you’ve got — get over it.

The Bush team has created a veritable library of military histories — from “Cobra II” to “Fiasco” to “State of Denial” — all of which contain the same damning conclusion offered by the very soldiers and officers who fought this war: This administration never had a plan for the morning after, and we’ve been making it up — and paying the price — ever since.

And what could possibly be more injurious and insulting to our men and women in Iraq than to send them off to war and then go out and finance the very people they’re fighting against
with our gluttonous consumption of oil? Sure, George Bush told us we’re addicted to oil, but he has not done one single significant thing — demanded higher mileage standards from Detroit, imposed a gasoline tax or even used the bully
pulpit of the White House to drive conservation — to end that addiction. So we continue to finance the U.S. military with our tax dollars, while we finance Iran, Syria, Wahhabi mosques and Al Qaeda madrassas with our energy purchases....

If you don't do anything else this week, I hope you'll get out and vote, and really think about it, think about what's at stake.

I've been having a Darrell Scott kind of day. I often am attracted to his work a song at a time because they really are poignant, straight-shooting tunes. In a lot of ways he does with his songs what I've fallen into with this blog -- he puts his honest self forward, his views, stuff about his painful past --only it gets recorded by other people. At least it serves a higher purpose, even if it's to get some of us thinking, singing, or voting.

Go to Darrell's MySpace page and check out this tune from his latest release, The Invisible Man.
















Saturday, November 04, 2006

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

Are you bored yet? No? Good.

Coming off a dinner with friends, what's a girl to do when her man's illin? She plays tunes blogs pedantic.

I've been wrestling a bit lately with why, out of all the music I've studied, played, and sung, it's bluegrass that has me wrapped around its finger at the end of the day. I've been giving this especially serious thought since I'm not getting any younger and sooner or later I'm going to have to make one final permanent career choice and I hope it's the next one and the last one I make.

The reason this is on my mind is that I've been dealing so much with professional orchestras, I'm mighty tempted to go a safer route and stick with that world, which is essentially where I started. But I don't have the same passion for that world as I once used to. I do have passion for the people in the business, particularly the musicians, who have spent most of their lives working for the chair they are sitting in, and for the privelege of getting paid to play the music they are playing.

I had a rather lively debate the other evening about why an orchestral musician might be "persnickety" or "fussy" about a particular venue. It's because it has to be right, the music just has to be right. You spend your life learning a piece of music, and so it does matter if the way a particular room is set up isn't optimal for performing it.

On the other hand, bluegrass sounds good anywhere you go. You don't really need to amplify. You don't need to politic about who sits in what chair (although I'm sure there is plenty of politicking in bluegrass). You don't even have to be very good, although most of us tend to admire a few professionals we consider above the bar and whose styles have over time captured students, as it were.

So I'm torn. I have all the admiration in the world for the professional orchestra musician, and they are making their contribution. On the other hand, another musician or student who may be equally proficient in his or her instrument doesn't carry the same weight. I guess I see that as good and bad.

Students of some of the world's best bluegrass performers who happen to teach at the university level can not get a credit for studying mandolin or banjo toward their music major. Doesn't that seem a bit outrageous? I think so. C'mon, if a kid at CMU can be America's Only Bagpipe Major, what is it about traditional, American stringed instruments that doesn't warrant the same credibility? It may fly at some universities, but not all -- even in areas where Bluegrass music is more traditional.

When I came home this evening I grabbed just any collection of cd's, threw them into the player, hit the randomizer, and played whatever came up in the queue. A year ago I probably couldn't have done that. Lessons helped some, but mostly I gained more proficiency up and down the neck of my instrument by playing it. The people I admire play ten times the hours I put in over the course of a week.

The people in the first chairs of the Cleveland, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia Symphonies -- same diff.

One is not better than the other, they're just different from each other. That, I get. Really.

I just have to determine which different is the one for me.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Songs My Mama Sang to Me

Hard to believe that yesterday it's been four years since my mother passed away. As much as she's missed, it seems like a lot longer.

The pain is lessened by the pace of life, but I wish my mother were here, for lots of good reasons. And as far as the music is concerned, I know there was a link somewhere in the songs she sang to the things that are driving me now. I will always wonder about that. At night she'd sing us these old songs, and all I can recall are fragments, but they sure didn't sound like anything we'd heard on the radio or the stereo or in school. Now I know they were old gospel tunes, and I know she didn't learn them at church. So where did she come from, where did she go? Forever a mystery.

This beautiful tune was a Louvin Brothers song, sung here by Cia and Sandy Cherryholmes. The voices of mother and daughter play off of each other beautifully and add meaning to the song's message. My mother didn't have the most beautiful voice in the world, but it was beautiful enough for us.