Emily Pinkerton, Patrick Burke, and NOW Ensemble
EMILY PINKERTON, PATRICK BURKE, AND NOW ENSEMBLE
Folk composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Emily Pinkerton and contemporary classical composer/NOW Ensemble member Patrick Burke's new collaborative work with chamber group NOW Ensemble, Rounder Songs, was released November 17, 2017.
Rounder Songs is a song cycle for voice, banjo and chamber ensemble that brings together the sounds of 21st century post-minimalist classical music and North American old-time. The work is based on public domain songs and legends from Kentucky and West Virginia that tell the stories of several “rounders”: rural drifters who include a gambler, a murderer, and a mill laborer who strikes a deal with the devil.
Rounder Songs was conceived and composed by Pinkerton and Burke (who are also a married couple) to focus on the common ground between their musical styles -- hypnotic, pulsing rhythms, subtle melodic variation over time, and perhaps most of all, the vivid evocation of certain moods. The workfeatures old-time and classical genres on a level playing field, rather than subsuming one within the other.
Pinkerton and Burke started with traditional songs and lyrics from Appalachia, then re-composed them for Pinkerton to sing and play banjo with NOW Ensemble, using the group's unique instrumentation of flute (Alex Sopp), clarinet (Alicia Lee), electric guitar (Mark Dancigers), double bass (Logan Coale), and piano (Michael Mizrahi) to amplify the mood of each song.
Each movement of Rounder Songs is motivated by a distinct vision of this wedding of musical cultures. In “Red Rocking Chair,” NOW Ensemble’s instrumentation serves as a distillation of a clawhammer banjo pattern. The individual lines interact in a way that echoes the relationships between the banjo strings, creating a minimalist texture. In "Marcum and the Yankee" a mill worker strikes a deal with the devil and trades his soul for a gun in this legend from the famous Hammons Family of West Virginia. Both eerie and cathartic, it represents the intersections of industry with the environment.
"Pretty Polly" is chilling murder ballad, set in a 6/8 meter, unlike most well-known versions. It opens with the evocative line "left nothing behind but the birds to mourn": the words the murderer speaks as he walks away from the fresh grave he has dug. “Three Forks of Hell" is an adaptation of a Civil War-era tune that explores the harmonic boundaries of old-time banjo, and suggests the movement of water through canons and counterpoint.
The last movement, “Darling Corey" is a warning to a banjo-playing and moonshine-making Corey with heavily syncopated interjections and foot-stomping that bring the verses to life. Emily draws from field recordings with a shifting seventh degree that the voice and ensemble explore throughout the piece.
Rounder Songs is supported by grants from New Music USA, The Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation. The album was produced by Grammy-award winning producer Jesse Lewis, and edited, mixed and mastered at Immersive Music Project. It was engineered at Audible Images. Album art is by Joanne Wiggins with design by DM Stith.