Sunday, July 1, 2012

Appalachian dulcimer and the world a-changing

Went to Portage, Pennsylvania, last night, to the wonderful Portage Mountain Dulcimer Day with yearly dulcimer-player Bing Futch.   With a dad hailing from a little place known as Chuckey, Tennesse, I have spent my life running up and down the blue ridge to dulcimer festivals.  And I do love them - but I am often the only nose-ringed and dreadlocked person there!!

Well, not with Bing Futch headlining.  His dreads are awesome (just cut mine); his dulcimer playing even more awesome.  We got traditional tunes, Lead Belly tunes, even Jimmy Buffet tunes. Most amazing to me was listening to Bing put his found love of Appalachian music and his exploration of his Seminole heritage together by playing mountain dulcimer/Native American flute in a gorgeous improv.  With the sun setting over the Laurel Highlands and a perfect late June evening, the moment was magical.

And the times are a-changing.  Here in Western Pennsylvania, a notoriously conservative part of the world, other multiracial families like my own tell me what I see happening - with the election of President Obama, the acceptance of multiracial peoples and multriracial exploration is changing tremendously.  I go down the street in a Black neighborhood in Pittsburgh and African American strangers no longer curse me, but compliment my dreads.  I go to rural Pennsylvania, and not only do the many seniors there greet me with smiles, the seniors are there to see a multiracial, dreadlocked dulcimer artist.  Neighborhoods that used to be all white are no longer; schools that used to be all white are no longer.  Appalachian dulcimer and Native American flute and Leadbelly all go into one performance.

I am not being hopelessly naive here.  Trayvon Martin shows that we have so far to go. Yet I am heartened to think that Appalachian dulcimer is helping change the world for the better.  There is magic in music and magic in sharing music and more magic in sharing old music in new and shining ways.  On a perfect June evening, the sunset shone and the music glowed and everyone was smiling.

The way it should be.

30 years ago I heard dulcimer artist Holly Tannen take the Si Kahn song, "Gone, Gonna Rise Again," and play it on her dulcimer.  It has remained one of my all time favorites:

I remember the year that my granddaddy died
Gone, gonna rise again
They dug his grave on the mountainside
Gone, gonna rise again
I was too young to understand the way he felt about the land
But I could read his history in his hand
Gone, gonna rise again

It's corn in the crib and apples in the bin
Ham in the smokehouse and cotton in the gin
Cows in the barn and hogs in the lot, you know, he never had a lot
But he worked like a devil for the living he got

These apple trees on the mountainside
He planted the seeds just before he died
I guess he knew that he'd never see, the red fruit hanging from the tree
But he planted the seeds for his children and me

High on the ridge above the farm
I think of my people that have gone on
Like a tree that grows in the mountain ground, the storms of life have cut them down
But the new wood springs from roots in the ground

How awesome last night, to hear new music worlds grown from the roots of all of our ancestors.

Happy Summer and Happy July to everyone!

1 comment:

  1. when I was teaching school gardening I sang that song with kids. If it was raining, we would go to the barn and do hand work and sing songs about the earth and farming. Thanks, Bridget.
    Red Crow