The premiere of “From The Mountains: Hazel Dickens in Baltimore” took place on April 12th at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore, as part of Anna & Elizabeth’s Crankie Festival. This amazing event, organized by my collaborators Anna & Elizabeth, focused on pairings of music with scrolling illustrations called crankies. Prior to my piece there were incredible crankies by Katherine Fahey, Alex Fine, Matt Muirhead, McKenzie Ditter, Chris Owen, and Ashley Minner with youth from the Baltimore American Indian Center, all of which bent the little-known medium of the crankie in new directions.
The overarching theme of the evening was travel and migration. My piece focused on an individual who was part of a large migration of people from Appalachia into the large industrial cities after World War II. Hazel Dickens moved from West Virginia to Baltimore in the 1950’s when she was a young girl in search of factory work. In Baltimore she eventually found encouragement of her talents as a musician, through Mike Seeger and others, and she went on to become the first prominent female musician in bluegrass. She spent most of her life in Baltimore and Washington DC, but continued to identify herself with West Virginia and the struggles of its working people.
To illustrate Hazel’s story, Anna and Elizabeth worked together to create a pair of crankies on scrolls of transparency. Projecting the images by shining flashlights behind them, the drawings could then be superimposed, as well as enabling slow zooms, panning, and other cinematic techniques. In performance, the crankies were operated by Anna and Chris Owen, while Elizabeth sang and recited passages of Hazel Dickens’ narrative. I alternated between playing melodica, banjo, and sampler, on top of a pre-recorded audio collage.
Enjoy this video documentation of the performance, recorded and edited by Kevin Gift.