Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Desert Dream

As to the great length of time between my first entry and this, it can be attributed to a couple of reasons, the least not being sheer phlegm. No, not the kind you get in your nose and throat, but rather the kind of psycho-torpor that sets in from October to February. But aside from that, there was the issue of my biography that my trip to Phoenix begged me to reconsider.

If I do say so myself, I have had a pretty interesting life and never wanted to brag about such matters in the bio on my website, wanting to keep it professional and let the music speak for itself. So I’ve always felt a little cagey and withholding, and have left myself out of the mix. But isn't authenticity the singer/songwriter's stock in trade, raison d'etre, bird in the proverbial hand? And besides, it makes for a good read and back-story. And they always say to 'salt the story', so here goes.

Come here, little birdie, and show me your tale....

While in Phoenix, I visited the Kerr Cultural Center, which my grandmother, Louise Lincoln Kerr, bequeathed to ASU. This is her adobe house and music studio which was converted to a cultural center after her death in 1977. Normally they program a mix of classical and folkloric shows, but Chris Smithers had played there recently so they feature a pretty broad mix. The main adobe contains the green room, ticket office and gift shop.
It made me just a bit uneasy seeing my grandmother's teacups and photos in a glass case near the cash register.

The house was built of all native materials, and she designed the "studio," a concert hall which apparently had extraordinary acoustics and were studied by many architects. There were also small adobe houses on the property called the 'shacks', which were used as guest houses for great musicians and artists such as Pablo Casals, Isaac Sterns, and the Juilliard String Quartet. I imagine there were some really swingin’ times out there what with party animals like that hanging out. The plans for the house's construction somehow fell into my hands, and I saw that she plotted every native plant and tree so the ecological balance would be undisturbed. And all this in the 1940's... Now the house and studio are surrounded and dwarfed by horribly chic designer malls and green lawns. It's so incongruous as to seem almost ridiculous.

You can read up on it here.

Regrettably, I was never especially close to my grandmother. I met her only a couple of times. But I did end up with several of her scores, papers, recipes and some furniture. I’ve heard some incredible stories about her, which my father told me: that she was friend to the Hopi, had organized caravans of food and medicine for them long before it was "PC." to do so. In fact, they called her “Mother”. Often in the house there was a cacophonous mix of chamber music, a Hopi chief drumming and children yelling. The house was full of Katchina dolls. In her scores, there are a number of songs based on Hopi texts, very lovely. Here's an excerpt:

Indian Serenade

Neither wind nor bird, that was my flute you heard last night by the river
When you came with your wicker jar where the river drags the willows,
oh that was my flute you heard, Wacoba, calling come to the willows
neither wind nor bird rustled the lupine blooms
, that was my blood you heard
answer your garments hem, whispering whispering through the grasses

She was one of the first two women to win a seat with the Cleveland Symphony, performing as first violinist there. She also wrote symphonic works that were performed during the 1950's, a era not especially known for nurturing women composers.

More info on Louise Lincoln Kerr here:

So in short the Phoenix Folk Alliance trip turned up much more than ever expected...

All the best and a Happy New Year,