My driving force as a composer, songwriter and ethnomusicologist is to build bridges across cultural divides through music. The study of history and language is enmeshed with my creative impulse, and my work of the past ten years has been in dialogue with folk music communities in North and South America. Whether in subtle or transformative ways, my goal is to communicate a sense of musical diversity and an understanding of social, political, and economic ties–both beautiful and problematic–that bind the Americas.
One of my ensembles, The Early Mays, recently debuted at #2 on the National Folk DJ Charts, remaining in top ten rotation for three months. We were selected as WYEP’s top artist of 2014, described by DJ Cindy Howes as a “group that brings traditional and original material to spectacular life…a rare combination of knowledge and talent.” This trio is an outlet for twenty years of informal training as an old-time fiddler, guitarist and banjo player, inspired by master musicians like Brad Leftwich, Lester McCumbers, Chirps Smith, Thomas Maupin and others.
In another dimension of my musical life, I write songs that blend North American and Latin American traditions. My trio, Ends of the Earth, toured regionally and nationally between 2010 and 2014 as part of the PennPAT (Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour) roster. As a soloist, performance highlights include concerts at the Panama Jazz Festival and the Sala América in Santiago, Chile. This work has been fueled by studies with legendary folk musicians Alfonso Rubio, Chosto Ulloa, and Patricia Chavarría, sponsored by grants from the Fulbright Commission and the Organization of American States. South American songwriters like Violeta Parra and Atahualpa Yupanqui are also my role models for their poignant songs that spring from traditional roots–and most importantly–paint a vivid picture of the injustices faced by marginalized, rural populations.
While most of my compositions take the form of folk songs, I’ve revisited my classical roots in recent years, bringing traditional sensibilities to chamber ensemble pieces. As I do this, I carry with me the figure of Ruth Crawford Seeger—composer and long time collaborator with the Lomax family—whose transcriptions and song collections introduced mainstream audiences to the sonic detail and multi-ethnic origins of traditional styles. Currently, I’m finishing the last movement of “Rounder Songs,” a song cycle for voice, banjo and NOW Ensemble in collaboration with Patrick Burke, and working on a suite for piano, guitar, violin, vibraphone and bass for the South American music collective, Chirihue.
An interview with live performance clips made by filmmaker Lauren Knapp.
Emily Pinkerton with NOW Ensemble at the Andy Warhol Museum.
Arrangement by Emily Pinkerton.