Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

The Evocative Power of Music, Part N

I recently purchased a 5-CD set of recordings the Carter Family made in the late 20s and early 30s. I've started playing them in my car, and boy does this stuff have resonance.

My parents sang a fair amount of Carter Family music, particularly in their folk trio. But I also heard this music played and sung by countless people at singings and festivals throughout my childhood. Every note and every lyric and every guitar strum for a good percentage of these recordings was absolutely familiar to me.

But after a bit I realized something odd: Despite the tidal wave of familiarity, I don't think I ever actually heard these recordings before. It would all seem so precise in my memory, and then there would be some bit of a song where Sarah Carter would sing something rhythmically off from what I was expecting. I think my father regularized a few things. There were other cases where for individual measures or lines what I have burned in my memory was not the melody Sarah was singing but a harmony line I had thought was the melody. Even the specific sound of AP's tremulous harmony was not quite what I have in my head.

My parents own much of this music on LPs, and obviously they played them. My father would write down the chord progressions for my mother to play on the autoharp. (Not the chords themselves, but the chord progressions: I, IV, V7, etc.). Sometimes my mother typed the words up for a lyric book. But I honestly don't think I myself ever listened to the originals.

But it wasn't just my parents' interpretations I have in my early brain memory cells. I probably heard 40 or 50 different people sing "Gold Watch and Chain" at some point or another before I was 15 years old. The entire style of singing and playing and all that it evokes in me is more general than any specific song, and as comfortable as a bowl of cereal. The influence this trio had on so many people I heard play throughout my childhood is stunning and almost unbelievable.

To me, these recordings are the primary source for a specific repertoire and style that seems to be in my bones, although I've never really sung these songs. But there they are, in my head, in a place that seems to be below consciousness. Across time and across the mediation of the interpretations from which I learned this music, the primary source seems very powerful indeed.

I play the CDs when I am alone in the car and I am absolutely lost in them.
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