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Liner Notes

Soldier's Joy banjo

This collection of tunes is selected from the nineteenth century American hymns in the 1982 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church, which I arranged for frailing banjo.  I picked these tunes because learning them on the pre-eminent American folk instrument of that time seemed an interesting challenge, and because (for most of them) they were already among my favorite hymns.

This collection is dedicated to my late father-in-law, John Worrell.  He and I had our last serious conversation this summer sitting up late at night, going through the hymnal, with me trying to sight read these hymns on the banjo.  We talked about the "shape note" tradition, the influence of slavery and the African-American spirituals, and how the other cultural changes of that tumultuous century shaped the sacred music we still sing.

These tunes are recorded on a hand-made banjo, whose resonating surface is (alleged to be) a Civil War-era mess dish.  I built the banjo at least partly during the big snowstorms we had in December and January of 2009 - 2010, with more than a little thought for the Union and Confederate troops encamped in the area in the winter of 1862 - 1863.  The Rappahannock River, which divided them at times, was frozen over for much of that winter:  I shivered often in my unheated garage workshop in sympathy with them.

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