Lorraine Hammond: Bringing the Song Back to the Source

>Lorraine Hammond – a well-known folksinger and songwriter with decades of experience performing and teaching Americana roots and folk music – came to the IMA program to study traditional music in her homeland, the Northern Appalachian region. “I grew up in a community where we sang the old songs, and I was the child of a farm family.” She not only sang, but learned to play the Celtic harp and 5-string banjo, and also became the foremost exponent of the Appalachian dulcimer.

Hammond’s career teaching and performing takes her to festivals and folk schools around the country, including the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, the John C. Campbell Folk School (NC ), the Mountain Collegium of Early Music (NC), the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop (WA), the Augusta Heritage Program (WV), and Summer Acoustic Music Week (NH). Yet over years of performing, she became increasingly concerned about the disconnect between this music’s scholars, founders, performers and audiences. “There was a huge disconnect. Folk music is interesting to the upper class as something to be studied; it’s interesting to academics as a form of literature; and it’s interesting to the people who play and sing it because it’s their vital expression of their lives and community. As I wrote the thesis, I was actively examining my own place in these three levels,” she says.

Having grown up learning folksongs from the likes of Oscar Degreenia, one of the original old time singers of this music, Hammond was in the unique position of coming from the very tradition she was studying. By employing an ethnographic approach, Hammond was able to combine a scholarly unfolding of the history of this music’s origins with a discussion of the class issues, ethical dimensions, sense of place, and her own experience. She also bridged class issues that have historically denied early performers of folk music access to archival materials. Degreenia’s daughter, Dolly, who is now in her mid-70s, hadn’t heard her father’s singing since his death because Middlebury College denied the family access to the songs collected by Helen Flanders on the grounds that they were now the property of Middlebury College. After negotiations, Hammond secured copies of Degreenia’s singing, and she brought the tapes to Dolly, who heard her father’s voice for the first time in 50 years.

In bringing the music back to its source, Hammond also found her own gifts as a scholar. “I have acquired a sense of competence that is the very reason I came in the first place. I really know my literature now. I know my sources. I understand how the important pieces of history fit together and have led up to the situation I find myself in,” Hammond adds.

Photos: Hammond with a rental mustang; Indian Neck Folk Festival, 2007. Dave Kiputh and Phil Zimmerman standing, Lorraine and husband Bennett seated; Folksongs with pre-schoolers, Soule Rec. Center, Brookline, MA 2007

This entry was posted in Community Building, Ethnomusicology, Folk Studies, Music, Singing & Songwriting and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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