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Appalachian conference

Pastoralism and modernity in the southern mountains: a centenary symposium on Cecil Sharp's 1916 Appalachian journey.

2016 marks the centenary of song collector and folklorist Cecil Sharp's Appalachian fieldtrip, an event that shaped both North American and European conceptions of the history and culture of the southern mountains of America. To celebrate, Cecil Sharp House hosted a weekend of Appalachian music and a conference exploring the culture of the region.

Friday 15th July, 7:30pm
Sharp's Appalachian Harvest - Brian Peters

Brian Peters opened the weekender with his show ‘Sharp's Appalachian Harvest’. It tells the epic story of the trips made by Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles into the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, portrayed in music, narrative and image by leading ballad singer, musician and researcher Brian Peters. Brian Peters sings some of the best of the ballads, reads fascinating excerpts from the collectors’ diaries, and presents Sharp’s evocative photographs of the mountain people, in this multi-media show.

Saturday 16th July, 10am - 4pm
Pastoralism and modernity in the southern mountains: a centenary symposium on Cecil Sharp's 1916 Appalachian journey

To celebrate the centenary of Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles’s first collecting trip in the Appalachian Mountains, the EFDSS and Shepherd University, West Virginia, presented a one day conference exploring the tension between continuity and change in the cultural and social construction of Appalachia from the 19th century to the present.

The conference sought to contextualise how locals and outsiders made sense of Appalachian culture and how these interpretations of the region's traditions fed into broader understandings about British and American culture, history and identity.

The hundreds of ballads gathered and recorded by Sharp and his collaborator Maud Karpeles resulted in the publication of English folk songs from the southern Appalachians (New York and London, 1917), a work that greatly influenced the English and American folk revivals of the 20th century. Last year, 2015, was also the centenary of the birth of perhaps the most prolific American folklorist of the 20th century, Alan Lomax. Like Sharp, Lomax embarked on a "Southern Journey" in 1959 with collaborator Shirley Collins. The image of the region that he crafted in the selection of songs recorded on this and other journeys undertaken for the Library of Congress and the Public Broadcasting Service differed from the one constructed by Sharp. While Sharp viewed the southern mountains as a pastoral idyll where the pre-industrial traditions of Britain still flourished, Lomax saw Appalachian culture as a synthesis of cultures – African, Native American and European – upon which a distinctly American identity was built. The tension between these two visions of the mountain south – the ancient vs the modern, the time-honoured, static and ethnically homogenous vs the dynamic, adaptable and multi-cultural – is the central theme of this symposium.

Speakers included:

Alasdair Roberts
Presentation and performance

John R. Gold (Oxford  Brookes University) & George Revill (Open University)
Vernacular culture and Appalachian roots: Sharp, Lomax and the eclecticism of American Folk music
 
Cecelia Conway (Appalachian State University)
African Roots of the Banjo & A Glimpse of Alan Lomax's & Shirley Collins' Southern Journey
 
David Atkinson
Appalachian Connections in the J. M. Carpenter Collection
 
Brian Peters
"Myths of Merrie Olde England"?  A study of Cecil Sharp's collecting practice in the Appalachians
 
Emily Hilliard (West Virginia Humanities Council)
Writing Themselves into Existence: Appalachian Women Songwriters and Self-Documentation in the Margins
 
Maureen McCue
The Hammons family of West Virginia
 
Benjamin Bankhurst (Shepherd University, West Virginia)
Collection, Curation and the Construction of Appalachia in work of Cecil Sharp and Alan Lomax.

Appalachian Music Sharing
A transatlantic skype sharing with local ballad singers, musicians, and storytellers of Madison County, North Carolina, facilitated by Hannah E. Furgiuele (Program Coordinator of Liston B Ramsey Center for Regional Studies), featuring Betty Smith, Joe Penland, Daron Douglas and Donna Ray Norton.

Saturday 16th July, 7:30pm
Kaia Kater

Finally, Kaia Kater performed at Cecil Sharp House to close the event. Kaia Kater is lauded for being one of the youngest performers in the roots scene, and performs Appalachian and Canadian traditional music as well as her own material. Her old-time banjo-picking skills, deft arrangements, and songwriting abilities have landed her in the national spotlight on both Canadian and American soil.