2017-10-04 / Families & Friends

My ‘world premiere’ at the Pine Mountain’s 100th Sharp Celebration


One hundred years ago American doughboy soldiers were crossing the Atlantic Ocean to help the British, French, and other Allies defeat the Germans and other central powers in World War I.

In that same year — 1917 — Cecil Sharp, the greatest English folk song collector, crossed the Atlantic the other way to collect about 1,000 Appalachian versions of ballads and songs for his monumental English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians.

This weekend, from Friday night’s traditional mountain square dance with our Carcassonne Sunset Ridge Band at 7 p.m., to Saturday afternoon’s and evening’s performances by the Berea College County and Festival Dancers, Pine Mountain Settlement School is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Sharp’s arrival with free performances, workshops, tours and a Sharp photo exhibit. Only meals and lodging are not free.

Between 5 and 6 p.m. on Saturday, hopefully my good friend, 89-year-old banjo legend Lee Sexton, who cannot read music, will perform and maybe I, with some help, will perform the world premiere of my 54-year-old study for piano (and voice) of the Pentatonic Scales and Harmonies of G and C# to the English American Appalachian Song, “Come All You Young and Tender Ladies” — actually included but not collected by Sharp, but collated by his collegue Olive Dame Campbell a few years earlier from two anonymous Knott County girls.

In 1963, years before I came to Carcassonne in 1967, I plunked out my setting of this simple, beautiful song in Harvard’s Music 2 Class, where non-piano players and non-music majors tried their hands at composing musically in the style of medieval Gregorian chants, Renaissance Lassus yhotets, baroque Bach (maybe the ancestors of our Backs), romantic Beethoven, up or down to 20th century Hungarian Bela Bartok, who, like the great English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams, collected folk songs and used them in serious, modern classical music. I know of no great 20th century American collector-composer who did the same thing.

My feeble setting of this beautiful folk song in the dissonant tritonic Bartok harmonies got me an “A+, this is delightful” grade. It has never before been performed for me or the public to hear. I hope this can happen at Pine Mountain School next Saturday at the Sharp Celebration.

For more information, you can call (606) 558-3571 or go online at: http://pinemountainsettlementschool.com/events. php.

I think Letcher Countians can best reach Pine Mountain Settlement School from the north side by taking KY 160 off of KY 15 to Gordon, right 7/10 of a mile on KY 463, and left on KY 590 to the settlement school.

From the south of Pine Mountain, take US 119 to Cumberland and find KY 160 over Pine Mountain, and then on to KY 463 from Gordon for 7/10 of a mile and left onto KY 590 to the settlement school.

I believe the beautiful fall ride and wonderful dance and music (even mine) will be well worth your while.

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