Another fabulous Voiceworks class, this with Anna and Elizabeth. As the week progressed and we ate lunch and dinner with the instructors at the tables as well as each other, I felt more and more blessed and impressed. These teachers said, “Come talk to us. We have time. We are here and you can talk to us between classes.” What generosity and blessing.


This is Ruth Merenda, one of the many brilliant faculty, from a Centrum Voiceworks class this week.

Ruthie was at Voiceworks with her husband Mike and two children. I got to trade jokes with their son William at lunch one day. I am listening to their newest album as I write this, Sunshiner. It’s good that only really hear the faculty near the end of the week, because we would be WAY too intimidated if they did the concerts at the start! William has an album too, Piano Nerd, that I have not tracked down yet. He was seven when he made it.

I took the first class of the week with Michael, his Song Doctor class. We each brought a song with problems to the class and sang it to the class. I did that class first because it was hands down no holds barred the scariest, so I thought best to get it over with. I sang Tree Boat a capella. The feedback I got makes me very happy, but the assignment is hard: now I have to learn guitar. Or mandolin. Or something. Accompaniment. Also it’s not my song alone: I wrote the poem but not the melody.

I took two classes with Ruthie. One was on music theory and chords. The other was a performance feedback class.

I had a rather surreal moment in that class. Ruthie has us close our eyes and visualize a protective sphere of energy around us. Now, I’ve been writing about trying to lose my armor suit. So WHAT am I to do with a protective sphere of energy? I thought of my story Good Girl and that gave me my answer. My protective sphere moved outwards, the entire universe. I visualize that protection as holding everyone in the room, gently, lovingly. My protective sphere is my connection to the Beloved and the Beloved’s entire universe and anything beyond that. And then I could do the visualization.

Blessings on Mike and Ruth and their children and on all of the teachers at Voiceworks. The week brought me tears of joy over and over and over: and tears of grief and tears of hope.



Songs to raise girls: Long Black Veil


This and The Fox are what I think of as the two core family songs. We sang this from as early as I can remember and my father played the Band’s version on the record player all the time. I taped his records to take to college…

This is the song my parents chose to raise girls on? Oh, and I do have it memorized….

Ten years ago on a cool dark night
There was someone killed ‘neath the town hall light
There were few at the scene and they all did agree
That the man who ran looked a lot like me

Ok, it starts with a murder. Someone is killed, in the town, at night. Be careful, little girls, bad things can happen at night.

The judge said “Son, what is your alibi?
If you were somewhere else then you won’t have to die”
I spoke not a word although it meant my life
I had been in the arms of my best friend’s wife

It is about infidelity and not only infidelity, but infidelity with his best friend’s wife. This song is a morality play. He doesn’t speak. I see the magazines at the counters in the grocery store and think about how different this song is from our current culture. Divorce and splashed all over the papers, that’s what the celebrities do today.

She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave where the night winds wail
Nobody knows, no, and nobody sees
Nobody knows but me

So she doesn’t speak either. She remains faithful to him in visiting his grave, but the marriage must continue, because she only goes at night.

The scaffold was high and eternity neared
She stood in the crowd and shed not a tear
But sometimes at night when the cold wind moans
In a long black veil she cries over my bones

She watches him die for what they considered a sin. This song is about ethics, really. The two of them had broken their code of honor and paid the price, which was that he died for a different crime. And did the man who really killed the person in the first stanza then go free?

Why wouldn’t they speak up? Perhaps she had children and he couldn’t support them. Perhaps they truly considered it a sin, a dishonor, a horrible mistake. Perhaps honor and honoring his best friend was more important than love…. Our current culture seems to think that love conquers all, but it doesn’t in this song. Did they do the right thing? This is a song to discuss and to think about and yes, a song to raise girls.

Though I think the husband and any children would know that there was something…. a parent and partner can’t really hide that deep sorrow….

It was written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin in 1959 and originally recorded by Lefty Frizzell.

Lefty Frizzell: [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50k18gL76AU]

The Band, 1968

Johnny Cash, 1968

Lots of others…. and us.

The photo is me and my sister, probably in 1993 or 1994.


Songs to raise girls: Pack up your sorrows

This song interests me. It is the fourth in my series about the songs that my sister and I learned growing up.

When we recorded our family songs, my sister said she liked it. I said, I think it is creepy, with that juxtaposition of a sweet tune and then words that are not so sweet.

No use cryin’
Talking to a stranger
Namin’ the sorrows you’ve seen

Oh, ’cause there are
Too many bad times
Too many sad times
Nobody knows what you mean

If somehow
You could pack up your sorrows
And give them all to me

You would lose them
I know how to use them
Give them all to me

The line that bothered me was “I know how to use them”. What does that mean? Use them for what?

No use ramblin’
Walkin’ in the shadows
Trailin’ a wanderin’ star

No one beside you
No one to hide you
An’ nobody knows where you are

Ah, if somehow
You could pack up your sorrows
And give them all to me

You would lose them
I know how to use them
Give them all to me

And how could you give your sorrows to someone else? The singer is offering to listen to sorrows but also take them away. “You would lose them.” And then the singer “knows how to use them”.

No use roamin’
Walking by the roadside
Seekin’ a satisfied mind

Ah, ’cause there are
Too many highways
Too many byways
Nobody’s walkin’ behind

Ah, if somehow
You could pack up your sorrows
And give them all to me

You would lose them
I know how to use them
Give them all to me

I never got around to asking my sister if it was the tune she liked or the words or what it meant to her. I chose to play that recording at her Washington memorial. I could not go to her California memorial because I was too ill. My father had terrible emphysema and was on oxygen. I thought I had pertussis but it turned out to be systemic strep A, which hurts. At any rate, I was too sick to travel. Her Washington Memorial was a month or two later, when I was well enough to organize it…..

You would lose them
I know how to use them
Give them all to me

It is by Pauline Baez. The version by Richard and Mimi Farina is the one I’m familiar with, so my parents probably had the record:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4LbU8w7Th4.

Joan Baez, Pauline and Mimi Farina were sisters. Joan Baez recorded it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAMe1bRW8Ao. So did Peter, Paul and Mary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVxNleqVpx4.

And so did Johnny Cash and June Carter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ctVhDEuTYE

The picture is a music party at my house in 2009, my father seated and Andy Makie on harmonica, Jack Reid standing with the guitar.

Songs to raise girls: Billy Barlow

I knew the song “Billy Barlow” as “Let’s go hunting”. It was one of the silly songs that we recorded. I adored this song when I was little for two reasons. One was that it was funny. The other was that I interpreted it as a song that could be changed and sung about more than one animal. I can remember when I realized that no, the adults sang it the same way each time and they would not change the animal. I was disappointed but I still loved the song. And I could change the animal on my own.

It’s a good song to raise girls: an illustration of a group of guys….

Let’s go hunting, says Risky Rob
Let’s go hunting, says Robin to Bob
Let’s go hunting, says Dan’l and Joe
Let’s go hunting, says Billy Barlow

When my son was a teen, another parent commented that the IQ dropped in half for each teen added to a group. Two boys cut the IQ in half, three had it to one quarter and four was trouble.

What’ll we hunt for, says Risky Rob
What’ll we hunt for,
What’ll we hunt for,
Let’s hunt rats, says Billy Barlow

How’ll we catch them,
How’ll we catch them,
How’ll we catch them,
Let’s borrow a shotgun, says Billy Barlow

How’ll we divide them,
How’ll we divide them,
How’ll we divide them,
How’ll we divide them, says Billy Barlow

I also loved this song because the last line changed. Sometimes Billy Barlow said the same thing and sometimes he said something different. When I was very small and still learning the song, that was part of the joy of it, to see what Billy Barlow would do. And clearly he was wicked, like Coyote or Pan or Loki and going to lead the group to trouble if he could….

I’ll take shoulders,
I’ll take sides,
I’ll take hams
Tailbone mine, says Billy Barlow

How’ll we cook them,
How’ll we cook them,
How’ll we cook them,
How’ll we cook them,

I’ll fry shoulders,
I’ll boil sides
I’ll bake hams,
Tailbone raw, says Billy Barlow

Oh, delicious ickiness, raw rat tailbone… It would give my sister and me shivers….

Let’s go hunting, says Risky Rob
Let’s go hunting, says Robin to Bob
Let’s go hunting, says Dan’l and Joe
Let’s stay home, says Billy Barlow

And relief. Billy was messing with them all the time and he doesn’t want to go and he never did, which is why he suggested a shotgun to hunt rats…. I like this Billy.

When I search on Billy Barlow, here is an entirely different song, a civil war marching song for Company B from New York City that marched into Maryland in 1863 and had a 63% loss. My sister had a civil war marching band play at her rehearsal dinner and we ended up marching in pea gravel for a couple hours. It turns out that my oldest cousin had ambitions to be a marching band drum leader. The band thought we were so funny that they offered to return. But the civil war fighters on both sides had marching bands with them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1ZlfsP7dZA

And here is Pete Seeger with our song, in a slightly different style: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrgTOPufru4

And here is another site that says the song is a version of “The Cutty Wren” or “The Hunting of the Wren”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_oAPCVkMP0

The picture is my daughter. She was playing alone and was having a wonderful time with her imagination. I am not sure who took this picture…..

Songs to raise girls: Dark as a Dungeon

We sang Dark as a Dungeon as a family song and at singing parties from when my sister and I were very little. We learned many of the songs before we knew what the words meant. At some age I considered this a cautionary song and was glad that my father was not mining coal. I also decided that I didn’t want to mine coal.

It was written by Merle Travis, whose father was a miner in an Appalachian shaft mine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FPmSLzsbdM&list=RD-FPmSLzsbdM#t=1. Johnny Cash sang it: and Willie Nelson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKGCKwACj1I and Willie Nelson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s66nbyzqq8o. It became a protest song, to fight for safer conditions. We learned this and Drill ye Terriers, Drill and Sixteen Tons, so we were raised on protest songs.

The song words have morphed a little, since we sang from memory. Here is our version:

Come all ye young fellows so young and so fine
And seek not your fortune in the dark, dreary mines
It will form as a habit and seep in your soul
‘Til the stream of your blood runs as black as the coal

Where it’s dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew
Where the danger is double and the pleasures are few
Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines
It’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mines

I wrote an essay in college about a song that I learned from my mother. I researched versions of Green Grow the Rushes Oh. I had always wondered about some of the verses, because it’s a counting song, from one to 12. Twelve for the twelve apostles and eleven for the eleven that went up to heaven. In an atheist household it takes a while to figure out the meaning of apostle. But other verses are mysterious to this day: nine for the nine Bright Shiners and eight for the April Rainers. In oral traditions if you forget a verse you make up a new one.

There’s many a man that I have seen in my day
Who lived just to labor his whole life away
Like a fiend with his dope and a drunkard his wine
A man will have lust for the lure of the mine

The comparison of  mining to addiction impressed me: “it will creep in your soul, til the stream of your blood runs as dark as the coal”. “Like a fiend with his dope” — opiate addicts were called fiends. And people were called drunkards. So this song also made me cautious about both drugs and alcohol.

We didn’t learn the third verse:

The midnight, the morning, or the middle of the day
It’s the same to the miner who labors away
Where the demons of the death often come by surprise
One fall of the slate and you are buried alive

The last verse interested me. I liked the idea of bones turning to coal over time. My parents were atheists and did not go to church, but there were lots of songs that talked about God or heaven or the devil: including sacred music. We went to big chorus rehearsals when my parents couldn’t find a sitter and we were expected to behave politely during concerts: The Messiah. And we got to go to operettas. I saw Ruddigore in Ithaca at Cornell when I was 5 and the ancestral ghosts stepping out of their portraits and singing was terrible and wonderful.

I hope when I’m gone and the ages shall roll
My body will blacken and turn into coal
Then I’ll look out the door of my heavenly home
And I’ll pity the miners A-diggin’ my bones

The photo is my father’s family and he is in the back, first trumpet. This is the Bayers Family Orchestra. My great grandfather is conducting, my grandmother on violin and my grandfather on saxophone. They became a band when my grandparents moved away, because my grandmother was the only string player.

Voice lesson 2

I joined the Gospel Class of the 2014 Centrum Blues Festival. You can join just for the Gospel Choir and it gets you the lessons, performance and into one concert.

It was taught by Dr. Ethel Caffie-Austin and Delnora Roberts.

Dr. Ethel Caffie-Austin is described as West Virginia’s First Lady of Gospel Music and Denora Roberts is from Maryland. Both are black. Their gospel choir for Centrum was nearly exclusively white, though there were a few asian people. I went to high school in Alexandria, Virginia. I thought, oh, goody, these women will yell. At some point, they will raise their voices at us.

This class taught me the best voice production of anything I have ever done. I have not focused on voice, being a rural doctor, but I have sung folk songs since I was tiny. In college I joined the university community chorus at the University of Wisconsin, where we did Carmina Burana. I took some private lessons. When I moved here in 2000, I joined Rainshadow for the William Byrd Mass that they were going to sing for my mother’s memorial after she died of ovarian cancer. My father had helped start it in 1997. I asked to stay in it after the memorial and they let me. I have been in it ever since.

And still, these ladies from the east, did the best voice training I’ve ever had.

First they had us sing and they divided us into Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass. They did it by ear in groups. That in itself was impressive. They could hear everything.

Here is what they told us:
1. Sit in a chair. Take as deep a breath as you can, then inhale three more small breaths. Hold it. You should be able to hold it for five minutes. I can’t yet. But I am doing better. Let the breath out.
2. Do six fast inhalations and exhalations, as deep as you can and sticking your tongue out on the exhalation. You will look like a Maori warrior — that is the face you want. It may make you light-headed. That is because you have blown out your store of CO2 and your body is adjusting.
3. Nasal wash every day. Neti pot or Neilwash or a Sinugator. Ok, the last one sounds like it would bite your nose. I chose the Neilwash because neti pots look too much like teapots.
4. Stretch your range. Both of these woman could sing all four parts: down to bass, up to high soprano.
5. Drink enough water. Drink water all through class. Drink water all day.

Then they taught us. No paper at all. They would sing a part, have us sing it back, and then teach the next part. In four days they taught us four part harmony to 8 gospel songs. We would get confused and start singing each others’ parts. They would stop. “A tenor is singing the alto part. Who is it?” They would have the tenors sing and could pick out the culprit.

Towards the end of the first 3 hour lesson, Dr. Caffe-Austin looked at the Sopranos and yelled full voice: “Sing louder. With soul.” Everyone jumped and I started laughing. The other Sopranos gave me evil looks. Dr. CA didn’t sound angry or anything except loud. Full voice for her filled the chapel we were in.

On Friday we did a lunch concert outside. Dr. Caffe-Austin really messed with us then. “What is the order?” People asked. She just smiled. Out there she would just start a song and we’d better pull it out of our memories. And…. she threw in three we had not done. By the third, we’d gotten it: call and response, we’d better sing.

On Saturday we were first in the lineup for the four hour Blues Concert in the balloon hanger (it is an old fort, remember? Fort Worden, and it was an intelligence dirigible hanger.) This time we were ready and responded to whatever she threw at us. It was so much fun and all oral tradition: no written words, no written music and we learned it.

Hope I can do it again this year. Hope they are back: no listing yet for the Gospel class at the 2015 Centrum Acoustic Blues Festival.

The picture is from July 2005 from the Centrum Fiddletunes Festival outside the balloon hanger.