Frankie and Johnny
Good-By Liza Jane
In 2010 I participated in the Artclash Collective’s Fun-a-Day challenge with my Lomax-a-Day project. Each day in January I adapted a folksong from Alan Lomax’ 1960 Folk Songs of North America, recorded it on Garage Band, wrote an analysis and posted it on my blog. This project changed my life. It inspired my to start me the Red Yarn blog, which grew into my folk music and puppetry side-project, which grew into my new, fulfilling career. This year I’m doing a similar project, but with Carl Sandburg’s 1927 The American Songbag.
Sandburg was a true American Bard, the kind that Walt Whitman called for in his introduction to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass. In the early 20th century Sandburg toured the midwest lecturing on Whitman, reading Whitman’s poems, and eventually sharing his own poetry. In 1910 he bought a guitar and began mixing American folksongs into his performances. In 1921 he wrote to a friend, “I am reading poems and singing Casey Jones, Steamboat Bill, and medleys… This whole thing is only in its beginnings, America knowing its songs.” Sandburg’s song collection soon took shape into The American Songbag, a sprawling anthology of “pioneer, railroad, work-gang, hobo, Irish, Negro, Mexican, gutter, Gossamer songs, chants and ditties.”
Since college I’ve been obsessed with Whitman’s idea of the American Bard. My senior thesis project explored Bob Dylan’s fulfillment of the bardic project. My former band Bark Hide and Horn’s 2008 album National Road attempted to give voice to the voiceless people and animals of old magazine articles. Red Yarn is my unabashed attempt to create a bard persona accessible to the younger generation. I am deeply committed to “America knowing its songs.”
I am also excited to embark on another grand and public mistranslation of the American folk vernacular. While I’m loosely familiar with much of the material I’ll explore over the next month, I am deliberately avoiding other recordings of these songs. Unlike Lomax’s collection, the Songbag doesn’t have guitar chords, only piano arrangements. So I teach myself just the top line–the melody–and develop a chord progression by ear. With this method I hope to synthesize my amateur knowledge of traditional folk music with my own musical sensibilities and whims.
Yesterday I recorded “The Boll Weevil Song,” a song Sandburg learned from Alan Lomax’s father John. Today “I Ride an Old Paint.” I hope to dig into song analysis as I go, but with my busy schedule I’m making no promises beyond the recordings. Enjoy!
I Ride an Old Paint
The Boll Weevil Song
I hope you and your families are having a wonderful holiday season. In light of the recent tragedies in the news, let’s treasure the precious time we have with the ones we love. I’ll be out of town visiting my own family for the next two weeks, so not performing my regular shows. Please take a look at the show schedule below to see when I’ll be resuming my regular gigs in January. (I’m leading a camp when I return, so some shows don’t resume till the 2nd or 3rd week of January.) Also, I’m leading several new afterschool classes in the new year. Find the details below and if you’re interested, register your school-aged child!
NO SHOWS TILL JANUARY 8
NO SHOWS TILL JANUARY 9
NO SHOWS TILL JANUARY 17
NO SHOWS TILL JANUARY 11
NO SHOWS TILL JANUARY 4
Time and details TBA
“The Deep Woods,” 6:30-7:15pm
Musical Puppets (K-3rd)
2:30-3:30pm, Mondays, Jan 14-Mar 18
(No class on Jan 21 or Feb 18)8 classes for $70/$60 for FH students/$50 free/reduced lunchStudents will adapt an American folktale into a musical puppet show, weaving in folksongs and original music. After choosing a story, participants will build elaborate sock puppets of the characters. They’ll adapt dialogue, develop voices and practice puppet manipulation. Andy will teach the group folksongs related to the tale. Finally the group will perform their new show for families and friends at a special showcase!
Friendly House Kids Band (2nd-6th)4:00-5:00pm, Mondays, Jan 14-Mar 18
(No class on Jan 21 or Feb 18)
8 classes for $70/$60 for FH students/$50 free/reduced lunchIn this exciting acoustic music ensemble, students will build skills on instruments, learn to play familiar songs, compose original songs, record and perform. Kids will explore guitar, violin, xylophone, percussion, and piano, then choose an instrument on which to focus. Students may also bring other acoustic instruments from home. Finally the group will perform their new musical creations at a special showcase!
Musical Puppets (K-2nd)3:15-4:15pm, Thursdays, Jan 10-March 148 classes for $70(Same description as above)Pop Song Chorus (2nd-6th)4:15-5:15, Thursdays, Jan 10-March 14
8 classes for $70
Are you a fan of Glee, American Idol, or the awesome new music you hear on the radio? If so, join Red Yarn Productions for this one-of-a-kind club! Students will choose their favorite radio pop songs and develop choral arrangements. We’ll work out simple instrumentation with guitars, keyboards, percussion and a drum machine. Finally, the group will perform their songs for families and friends at the showcase!
Musical Puppets (K-2nd)
2:15-3:30pm, Fridays, Jan 25-Mar 22
(No class on Feb 1 or Feb 15)
7 classes for $30
(Same description as above)
As always, keep Red Yarn & the Critters in mind for birthday parties, school residencies and performances. And show your support by“liking” Red Yarn on Facebook!
- Tuesday mornings at Cafe au Play, 10:30-11am. SPECIAL THANKSGIVING SHOW TOMORROW. No shows on Dec. 18, 25, or Jan. 1.
- 2nd & 4th Wednesday mornings at Woodlawn Swap’n’Play, 10-10:45am. No show on Dec. 26.
- Select Thursday mornings at TreeHouse Boutique, 10:15-11am. Shows on Nov 29 & Dec 6, then picking up more regularly in January.
- Friday mornings at Warehouse Cafe, 10-10:45am. No shows this week (Nov. 23), Dec. 21, 28, or Jan. 4
- Friday afternoons at Milagros Boutique, 3:30-4:15pm. SPECIAL THANKSGIVING SHOW THIS WEEK. No shows on Dec. 21 or 28.
Red Yarn Productions and Friendly House are excited to present the first of its kind FAMILY JAM on Friday, November 30, from 6:30-8:00pm at 1737 NW 26th Ave. Children and parents/caregivers are invited to bring acoustic instruments–guitars, ukeleles, percussion, etc.–to participate in a joyous, raucous, all-ages jam session. Musician and teaching artist Andy Furgeson will lead the group in simple jams, engaging beginners and more experienced players alike. We’ll warm up on familiar songs and end the session by writing an original song as a group. So dust off that guitar or tambourine and get ready to rock, family style! Friendly House will have some instruments on hand for all to use. Light dinner will be provided at this free, inclusive event. Thank you Neighbors Meeting Neighbors for funding!
- Monday afternoons at Friendly House, Jan 14-Mar 18
- Musical Puppets for K-2nd graders, 2:30-3:30pm
- Friendly House Kids Band acoustic music ensemble for 2nd-6th graders, 4-5pm
- Thursday afternoons at KCLC, Jan 10-Mar 14
- Musical Puppets for K-2nd graders, 3:15-4:15pm
- Possibly a Pop Song Chorus for 3rd-6th
- Friday afternoons at Bridlemile ASE, Jan 25-Mar 22
- Musical Puppets for K-2nd graders, 2:15-3:30
Red Yarn Productions
Tomorrow, October 24, is National Food Day 2012! To celebrate, all of my shows this week will be food-themed with messages about healthy eating. Thanks to the Portland Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for contacting me and inspiring me to get involved!