Category Archives: Folk Music

Weekend Update

I’m baaack! Relaxed, refreshed and recharged. Oh, and actually appreciating my family. Or rather, I’m not so freaking exhausted that appreciation is out of my vocabulary. Here’s the scoop…

Friday. Finished work. Headed into town for my retreat, and hit… Traffic. Bad traffic. I guess everyone in H-town had Big Friday Night Plans, because they were ALL on the highway. Determined not to let it ruin my mood, I decided to play CD surprise. Never heard of it? Not surprised, considering I made it up Friday night while stuck in traffic on the highway. How do you play? Easy. Reach over (in the dark, while keeping your eyes on the road), grab a CD out of your CD wallet, and insert. Anticipate what it’s going to be. Listen. Hey, I figured it would pass the time, and since I really DO have interesting CD’s in the car I figured it was a win.

Fail. First CD – Kidz Bop. Veto. Second CD – some guy playing hammer dulcimer EZ listening hits. A holdover from my elementary teaching days. Veto. Third – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Music Memory from days gone by. Veto. Fourth – Diana Krall live in Paris. Ok, that one was doable.

Finally navigated the traffic and checked into my sweet digs. I found a great in-town deal at an extended stay place, which meant that I had a full kitchen, sectional couch, desk and separate sleeping nook. Oh, and a walk-in closet. That’s crucial for a two night stay, right? Got situated, surfed the web and started A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. How is it I never had to read this for school? It’s amazing. But if I’d had to read it for school I probably wouldn’t have liked it anyway. Most of the time when I’m told I have to read a certain book I don’t like it. It’s the passive/agressive rebellious side of me. Fine. I’ll read it. But I won’t LIKE it. Anyway, I finally made myself put the book down and sleep.

Saturday morning? It’s a good thing I’ve got priorities. I mean, if I hadn’t checked Facebook before eating breakfast and showering, I’d have missed the message about my folk dance session. “A slight mistake has been made. The original start time of 9:30 posted here was incorrect. Today’s workshop will begin at 8:30.” Good thing it was only 7:30 when I decided to Facebook.

Day of folk dancing. Skipped the fitness room workout due to the time change, but hey – six solid hours of folk dancing HAS to count as exercise, right? I mean, I did actually break a sweat once or twice and it was cold in the room. And I realized how much I miss that part of my musician life. The sense of community and collaborative music making with a group of talented people. And I’ve always loved dancing. If I’d actually been born with the right body type I probably would have kept up with it past sixth grade. But hey – at this point it’s a fun hobby. Did you get that? A hobby! Me!

Lunch on my own at a group of swanky little shops across the street. Leftover time and an Anthropologie gift card. Darn. What was I to do? Yep – found ONE – sweater that I loved. There was ONE left. In my size. And my favorite color. On sale. Score!!

More folk dancing, then a trip to the HUGE Half Price Books I’d spotted near the hotel. Huge. And, for some reason, much cheaper than the HPB near my house. Hmmm. Cheaper in town than the ‘burbs? Shocker. I love wandering in used book stores. The musty smell of old bindings and slightly mildewed dusty paper is like a drug. So addictive. They should bottle that and sell it for Plug Ins. Seriously. I’d be all over that. And I managed to score a biography of Alan Lomax – one of the songcatching family that traveled Appalachia and recorded TONS of American folk songs back in the day. You can access the recordings for free here. It was a message. This is a hobby that needs pursuit. Message received.

Back to the hotel. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Couldn’t. Put. It. Down. Hours of uninterrupted reading? Check. Intersperse journal writing? Check. Inspiration? Check and check. Right before a massive migraine sidetracked my entire plan.

Skip ahead a few hours – too much Excedrin and caffeine left me wide awake, so I pulled up the Netflix queue and started Sweet Land. An indie flick that the Spouse wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes into, it’s full of lovely shots of Minnesota wheat fields, prairie and 1920’s postwar issues. It’s easy to forget that those of us with German ancestry faced discrimination during and after WWI. Anyhoo, yes, this could be looked at as a chick flick since there was a love story. But the messages of humanity sticking together and hardworking people with their innate connection to the land can’t be ignored either.

More journaling and reading this morning, then back home. Fam was happy. Apparently I was missed. Rested, recharged and appreciated? Priceless.

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Filed under Folk Music, inspiration, Journaling, Moms, Reading, working moms, writing


I’ve been a music-lover/musician for most of my life. Admittedly the ‘musician’ part has slipped recently. I’ve channeled my energies into more of the ‘active listener’ role over the last few years. And as a musician I was mostly a performer. But my real love has always (secretly) been music history, analysis, research, etc. The composition and arranging part of it is my husband’s passion. I’m always amazed at his abilities – he can listen to anything and write it out, harmonize it and turn it into a performance piece. He should go into business full-time. Really. He dabbles at the moment, but he should really do more of it. He’s also been known to compose original stuff – which is something I thought I’d never do – until…

My recent obsession has been the Hunger Games books. I know, I know – I’m a bit late to the party. Seemingly everyone I know has already read them. But when I picked up the first one last week I couldn’t put it down. Literally. For a good 2-3 days that’s all I did. And I’ve almost finished the third book.

If you know the books, then you know the song ‘The Hanging Tree.’ The books only give the lyrics and hint at the harmonies sung by the birds in the woods. It’s a haunting song – and the other day I woke up with the first three notes of a melody stuck in my head. I can’t shake it. But my Type-A-ness wants to make any attempt I make at writing it out historically accurate.

How can I possibly be historically accurate in writing a melody for a fictional song that occurs in the context of a fictional future? Let me explain. In my music-teacher days I had the privilege of spending three summers in the most grueling, agonizing, musically and intellectually inspiring experiences of my life. From 8-5 every day I was stretched, molded, brainwashed and challenged in lesson planning, sight-singing, musical analysis, conducting (take that, Phil Clements!), folk music research and choral performance. The last was one of the more agonizing given that I am an oboe player, not a singer. Well, the requirement of playing three piano parts (yes, on piano) while singing a fourth was definitely the worst, given that my piano skills are abysmal on a good day. But I loved every minute of it! One of the long-term effects was a fascination with and interest in folk music research. And this leads back to ‘The Hanging Tree.’

See, one of the proponents of my training is that any musical performance must be not only musically, but historically accurate. The Hunger Games’ Katniss, who sings the song as learned from her father (in true folk tradition) has lived her whole life in District 12. We are told that ‘in old times’ District 12 was part of a region called Appalachia. And Appalachia has a rich folk song tradition going back to the original Anglo immigrants. So it makes sense to me that any version of the melody must have some of those characteristics. Of course.

I’m excited. I have a project!! I’ve dug out all of my materials and resources to research music in the Appalachian tradition, analyze common elements, etc. Because my goal here is to compose (yes, me! compose!) an authentic ‘futuristic’ Appalachian folk melody. I can’t even tell you how overwhelmed and driven I am at the idea! Especially since YouTube has a few arrangements that other people have written for the song – and they are so ignorant of the region’s rich musical tradition it’s embarrassing. Plus they’re bad.

So that’s my goal for the week. And if I’m really lucky, my extremely-gifted spouse will agree to harmonize and arrange it for me. I’ll keep you posted!

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Filed under Arranging, Composition, Folk Music, Hunger Games, Music