Off the porch strong

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 12, 2009

The sounds are as sweet as mountain air: The lonesome drift of a fiddle, the easy pluck of banjo strings, the wailing notes from a harmonica, a romping guitar chord, the thump of a homemade drum, a vocal moan. On the surface, they seem so simple, even fleeting as if created to celebrate only the moment or to capture a particular emotion, like love or loss. Yet almost always, they’re drawn from a deeper place, and, when bound together, become a part of a powerful tradition. These sounds, in all their variety and beauty, are America.

Those words capsule the New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music Smithsonian traveling exhibition that was featured at the Cultural Arts Studio in Troy in October.

The exhibition also inspired an effort by the Brundidge Historical Society to record the roots music that is so much a part of everything that the organization does to preserve and promote the cultural heritage of rural Alabama.

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In 1990, the Brundidge Historical Society sponsored the Bass House Quilt Show, which showcased heirloom quilts of local residents.

The quilt show was an overwhelming success and put $46 in the organization’s empty coffer.

From that meager beginning, the BHS began ambitious projects that include the annual Peanut Butter Festival, which will celebrate 20 years in 2010, Alabama’s Official Folklife Play, “Come Home, It’s Suppertime,” the Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival and other seasonal storytelling concerts.

Lenny Trawick wrote the original score for the folklife play and is the music director for “Come Home.”

Not only did Trawick support the idea of producing a CD of Alabama rural “roots” music, he also agreed to be one of the featured artists.

The idea for “Off the Porch Strong” was an ambitious one but one with promise, Trawick said.

The CD would feature the music that has been played and sung off Alabama’s porches “strong” for generations.

“‘Off the Porch Strong’ is the music that the people of rural Alabama have been playing and singing all their lives,” Trawick said.

“It’s who we are. Our roots.

“From the very beginning the idea was neat. Variety is the spic of life and the CD was designed so that each person or group would bring their own style of roots music to the recording.”

“Off the Porch Strong” features 13 sacred songs and two ballads by singers and musicians who have been a part of the events of the Brundidge Historical Society for nearly 20 years.

Wiley White, development director of the Troy-Pike Cultural Arts Center, previewed the CD and described the music as “real, honest, straight forward, soulful and deeply emotional.”

“It’s the music that I grew up with,” she said.

“The music that I love. It brings back so many memories. The piano piece reminds me of my grandmother and the way she played. It’s just a wonderful collection of the music of the rural South and all the songs remind me of people and places. Everyone will find something in these great old songs to treasure.”

“Off the Porch Strong” is a fundraising project and all profits from the CD will support the Brundidge Historical Society’s scholarship fund.

The organization awards scholarships to high school seniors who have been a part of the cast of “Come Home It’s Suppertime.”

“The folklife play is an opportunity for young people to be on stage as actors, musicians and singers,” Trawick said.

“There aren’t many opportunities for young people to display their talents in our area and even fewer opportunities to participate in community theater. “We are proud to be able to offer these opportunities to young people and we have had – and continue to have — some of the most dedicated and remarkable young people share their talents with us.”

Fifteen high school seniors have been awarded BHS scholarships to date and Trawick said all of them have continued to participate in some form of the arts. Some are members of collegiate choral groups and others are members of bands and church choirs.

All of them continue to sing “Off the Porch Strong,” and are, therefore carrying on the tradition of Alabama’s roots music.