Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

jean ritchie piercing the air

During my recent used book store run, I picked up, for 99 cents, a chapbook called "Cherished Christmas Carols".

I like the back cover. It's dated Christmas 1966, and it's a letter from W. Robert Stover, President of a temp agency called "Western Girl, Inc". Mr. Stover expresses: "We do appreciate each opportunity our customers have given us to suply girls for temporary assignments". He expresses his view that Christmas is a "season of opportunity" and in particular a time to speak a word of appreciation to clients and friends in the busines community. Inside the book, numerous Christmas songs are rendered, with words and piano music, as well as guitar chords quite useful for autoharp play. Little liner notes explain the origins of the songs. It's a charming booklet, and no doubt a great joy for temp agency customers in northern California in 1966 to receive.

I find over time that the "fun to play the autoharp" songbooks tend to have more limited repertoires than finding simple songbooks with easy chords. Similarly, at the used bookstore I found one of those 60s electric organ books, with chords placed in for the purpose of permitting one to play the "one chord" buttons in lieu of difficult fingering. I can play those songs on my autoharp. This is frequently the way of things.

I had a lot of fun, for example, with a "rock fake book" some years ago. The "fake book" used simple guitar chords, not that different from the 21 chords available on the autoharp, to set out popular hits of the day. I recall that I soon got proficient at Elton John's "Daniel", which, while not my favorite Elton John song, did fine for me.

I paused at a website to look longingly at the "evoharp", a hand-crafted autoharp no doubt a bit nicer than my own Schmidt from some years ago. It looks so naturally wooden and strings-ish, and that's good.

I got in the mail a CD of Jean Ritchie's material. Jean Ritchie is the Kentuckian who brought the mountain dulcimer to the city when she got a social worker job in NYC and somehow ended up a recording artist on Elektra.

The songs, largely vocals over a quiet dulcimer, are just breath-taking. The lilting voice and the simple production aesthetics really enchant. The whole effect is quiet and stark. It was quite a contrast with the dense mixed-sound fun of Bill Nelson's "Atom Shop", which I'd been listening to on the drive home.

I placed the CD on pause, and got out my own new dulcimer. My beginner's versions of "Camptown Races" and "Amazing Grace" do not have the same fixity of simple purpose, and my voice will never have that resonance. I wondered, parenthetically, if I could learn Brian Eno's "Julie With..." on the dulcimer.

I'm well along into "Positively 4th Street", the book from a few years ago about the Baez/Baez/Dylan/Farina stories. I'm still drawing impressions about that era, and those folks. I went and read Carolyn Hester's website, to see if the Texan in the bunch could shed light on it all, but, alas, she's moved on.

I also read this morning comic poems from a Penguin book, a few of which were funny. I put a bid on a 4 track recording machine.

Listening to "authentic" folk music does not make me want to try to replicate old mountain songs. I still imagine instead doing songs like the pounding-beat gospel songs I remember from going to Bible school at other people's churches. I like the idea of things that
anyone can sing, and anyone can play. I like the idea of accessible everything.

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