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12 Days of Christmas, Day 2.

Ok, it’s not Carol of the Bells, and it’s not Wexford Carol… It’s just something I’ve been playing with and wanted to record before I forgot the interesting chordy things I was doing at the beginning.  I know the vocals aren’t the greatest, and the piano needs a visit from the tuner.  Not much has changed in either of those departments since this blog began two Christmases ago.  As it was when I started blogging, I’m still uploading raw, only maybe slightly practiced bits of ideas and arrangements.  Most importantly, not second-guessing myself (too much), and just letting it be a record of my days.  It’s been really great to look back on all the posts and marvel at the diversity of tracks and videos presented here.  I wish I’d started doing this long ago!  And a note to myself… I need to do some research and looking to find an affordable recording device to recommend to all my students.  It’s a big missing piece in all my teaching and musical meandering.  Not enough people out there documenting their musical worlds!


Lovin’ the Chattanooga Life

Well here’s me skipping a month of blogging, all for starting a folk music school…building local connections stronger, deeper, and more intricately woven than before.  It’s been an amazing month since returning from Belgium.  For one thing, I hit the ground running with the promotion of the Mountain Music Folk School fall schedule.  I’ve been the mad music messenger of Chattanooga, riding around everywhere with my posters and schedules to hand out.  Matt’s been right there with me, and so has our business consultant, Mike Harrell.  We’re a few more meetings away from having a completed business plan, but we couldn’t wait for that– we decided to jump on this wave of momentum and kick off our first “semester” of group classes.  We’re throwing ourselves into this with all our energy, all just to find out the answer to this question: Will the people of Chattanooga support a folk music school, student by student, class by class?  It would be too soon to speak now, but let’s just say, so far so good.

I’ve decided that my current job title should be “Community Gatherer”, as I’ve been pulling together first all the teachers to teach our classes and workshops, and now the really fun part of pulling in all the people who might be willing to sign up for a class–or at least sign up on our mailing list.  All the lists are growing and growing.  Since Casey’s article hit the Times Free Press last Monday, the phone’s been ringing steadily, and all our “gathering” efforts are starting to materialize with real human beings actually stepping up to say, “why yes, I would like to learn to play the banjo!”… and so forth.  But also in all our gathering this month, we’ve managed to pull some amazing musicians into our folk school orbit.  If our mission is to help these people live musically fulfilling lives, share their knowledge and talent, and help them help others get on board with playing an instrument, heck yeah!  We’ll take it!  It’s been SO worthwhile so far.  I love knowing that a few dozen Chattanoogans (and Chickamaugans, and Ringgolddiggers, and Hixsonians, and RedBankistanis, etc.) are going to spend one hour a week for the next 8 weeks in the presence of patient and passionate musicians like these….

Lon Eldridge.  Biologically, he’s 23 years old.  Spiritually, he’s 108.  When this guy plays and sings, it makes you wonder what kind of soul-swapping took place to stuff the weathered old bluesman into Lon’s body.  Lon’s teaching some classes with us this fall, and he’s been such a good sport, coming out with us to all of our wild promotional stunts, like the gig we did at Riverbend last June.  Here’s a video clip from that:

Obuobi Ashong.  I call him the African gypsy, because he’s been wandering the planet following his musical whims.  It is so nice to spend time with someone who cares about nothing more than to play music… and you gotta love the permanent smile look.  I think it’s quite the fashion statement.  Obuobi will teach a guitar class with us this fall, specifically on this style he plays called “palmwine” music or “highlife.”

Thank you, Chattanooga, for bringing my musical path to a point of intersection with these and other musicians.  I’m not taking this for granted!

Amazing Grace with Madeline MacNeil

I was never going to forget these five musical minutes of my life anyway, but I’m super glad that Laurie McCarriar captured it all on video.  Maddie MacNeil, Tom White, Ken Lovelett and myself were all on stage together for the teachers’ concert at the Northeast Dulcimer Symposium, and our setlist consisted of things that each of us had brought to the table to share and be played on by everyone.  So this was my contribution, my arrangement of Amazing Grace that I’ve been living with and working on for a year now (or more, if you count back to when I first started playing around with it back in Ireland).  I think we’ve reached an all-new level of perfection with it now.  What could ever be more beautiful than Maddie’s voice?  And the rest of the band made us sound like we were some Irish super-band, like Altan or something.  Love it.

Working Hands

Here’s a little gospely number I wrote in the shower the other day.  Seems like something that could’ve come out of the Unitarian hymn book, and no surprise there.  This song has some of my favorite things in it– playing the piano, lots of fifth intervals, and invented words (“feelya”, “walkya”, “growya”, and “giveya”).  I’m not that crazy about the quality of the recording… Still on a search for a good digital recorder, I suppose.  This one makes the piano sound muffled, my voice sound unreasonably clear, and is overall too quiet or something.  It could just be that I need a good microphone.

Anyway, all technological critiques aside, I’m pretty happy with the song… It sounds to me like a conversation between a person (ok, me) and the universe.  Just some happy thoughts passed back and forth, you know, a little small talk, me and the universe.

“Working Hands” recorded at 524 East 18th St., Chattanooga, June 8, 2009:

Working Hands, by Christie Burns

Mountain Music Folk School

This is an exciting day!  I am announcing the opening of the Mountain Music Folk School, co-founded by myself, Matt Evans, and Steve Daugherty.  And in the spirit of all things nifty and new, I’ve changed the look of my own blog–And yes, I will continue to post clips from my musical adventures on this blog, but keep an eye on the Mountain Music Folk School blog as well, because there’s going to be a lot of activity there!  All of the teachers are blog contributors, so there will be a variety of stories, videos, and photos coming soon.

There’s a great video there now of Casey, Matt, and myself playing “Cockeyed Hen”, an original by Casey Phillips.

Mbira for a Rainy Sunday

I’m sitting on my futon with the hot pink tee shirt sheets and an incredibly soft brown faux fur throw on top. Cymba, my gorgeous new kitten is kneading my chest and purring away. His eyes are closed like he could drop his little head and fall asleep at any moment. I’m so glad I took the time to sew silk flowers onto the bottom edge of my curtains, because now when they’re twisted back they make this bright floral frame for the picture outside. It’s not a particularly nice picture otherwise. Lookout mountain is there, sure, but so is the big muddy field recently cleared for townhouses that have yet to be built. And word on the street says we’ll soon be seeing a cell phone tower planted behind our properties…how’s that for beautification? Maybe when it comes, I’ll go sew silk flowers on it.

But it’s beautiful inside my room. The warm, magenta glow as all the pinks and reds and oranges soak up the daylight, even during this morning’s storm. The minidisc recorder seems to have gotten lost in all the commotion here at the house, so another way to share this track from mbira player Forward Kwenda is to link to this YouTube clip someone else posted. This is the music I want to be hearing when I’m taking my last breaths.

Tadzungaira, “We Are Suffering”, played by Forward Kwenda on his 1997 album, Svikiro.

Call Me the Breeze

Lou Wilson and her son Russ live in Speedwell, TN. I was fortunate to meet them both during my project in Campbell County, and made a special effort to visit with them a second time last week when Butch and I were up there for our New Harmonies gig. These are really special people who easily pass any amount of time by playing music in their kitchen. It’s a joy to be with them because they enjoy making music so much, and it’s wild to hear what a range of instruments and styles these two play. Russ is a fantastic fiddler, but also plays guitar, and sings, and whipped out the dobro on this last visit. Lou sings, plays guitar, a bit of fiddle, and who knows what else. She has a wealth of songs in her head, little treasures she’s collected over her life. I don’t know if she learned this one from Lynyrd Skynyrd or J.J. Cale or what, but she sings it like she owns it. The rest of us had a real fun time trying to keep up.  Thanks to Jo Anne Myers for the photos!

“Call Me the Breeze”, sung by Lou Wilson, accompanied by Butch Ross, Christie Burns, and Russ Wilson, April 20, 2008: