Series closes with high marks

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 3, 2009

To say that the final lecture in the “New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music” series was enlightening would be an understatement.

Richard Metzger, executive director of the sponsoring Troy-Pike Cultural Arts Center along with Troy University, said the lecture series greatly enhanced the New Harmonies exhibition at the Cultural Arts Studio on East Walnut Street in downtown Troy. The exhibition is a Smithsonian traveling exhibit and will close on Nov. 11. The lecture series was held at the Trojan Center Theater and was free and open to the public.

“The lectures were extremely informative and I learned a lot about American roots music, through the three lectures,” Metzger said.

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Dr. Allen Brown’s “Songs of Slavery” closed the series and explained the field calls that are such a part of Alabama folk music.

Brown, a professor at the University of West Alabama, is an authority on Southern folklore and presented a collection of black field calls or work songs that were collected by John Lomax and his son, Allen, in West Alabama around 1937.

“Ruby Pickens Tartt, an internationally known folklorist, discovered and collected black folksongs in Alabama. She gained the confidence and respect of the black people of West Alabama. She attended church with them and visited with them and they trusted her,” Brown said. “With her help, John and Allen Lomax were able to collect about 200 spirituals, field calls and work songs that have become a precious heritage.”

Allen said some of the pre-Civil War yells, hollers or whoops could be heard nearly a mile and were later thought to be rebellion songs. Many of the songs had a bluesy sound that is possibly a root music of today’s blues, which is purely American music.

Allen played some of the most popular black folk songs, many of which had Biblical references.

“That’s the way these people had of spreading the ‘word’ through song,” Allen said.

So much of the folklore of the South was spread through songs and those songs are being preserved today through the work of folklorist like Allen and organizations such as the Troy-Pike Cultural Arts Center that recognize the importance of keeping this music alive.

“Dr. Brown presented our first lecture which was American Roots Music with a slant toward country and western music,” Metzger said. “Daphne Simpkins of Auburn University presented the lecture on Nat King Cole and, of course, we closed the series with the ‘Songs of Slavery.’ The lectures were all tremendously informative and well attended.” The success of the lectures has prompted Metzger, his staff and board to consider having a strong education component with other upcoming exhibits.

“The ‘One Hundred Years through the Lense’ exhibition would lend itself very well to a lecture series,” he said. “The lectures would be different in scope but based on the same general idea and would be for both the university students and the non-university population.” The New Harmonies exhibit at the Cultural Arts Studio will run through Nov. 11.

The exhibition is free and open to the public. Hours are 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.