Blue Ridge Music
The work of Kenneth Frazelle is very much a music of place.
Frazelle lives near the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Virginia, an area long recognized for its rich musical traditions. He has been particularly drawn to the ballads and fiddle tunes that have remained part of a vernacular musical repertoire for centuries. Both Blue Ridge Airs I, for piano, and Blue Ridge Airs II, for flute and orchestra or flute and piano, incorporate the area’s dance tunes, ballads and hymns into a rich and sophisticated whole that is decidedly Frazelle’s own vision. His Fiddler’s Galaxy, for violin and piano, and String Trio not only include local tunes but make use of a distinctive fiddling style long associated with an area around the town of Galax, Virginia. Even some works not directly based on borrowed materials, such as the lyrical Elegy for Strings and Sonata for Cello and Piano, owe a great debt to the harmonic language and rhythmic flexibility of the region’s folk traditions.
The two volumes of Appalachian Songbook, for voice and piano, are Frazelle’s most straightforward interpretations. “Groundhog,” “The Cuckoo,” and “East Virginia” are long-popular Blue Ridge tunes. “Naomi Wise” is a ballad based on a nineteenth-century murder that took place near Frazelle’s present home. Other songs in the collection, such as “Single Again,” “Billy Boy,” and “Bonnie Blue Eyes,” were taught to him by his grandmother and great uncle, who lived near the coast of North Carolina, where their ancestors were farmers as far back as the 1700s.
Frazelle and his partner, Rick Mashburn, spend much of their time on a mountaintop farm, where they garden and where Frazelle paints watercolors of the long view of rolling hills. Elements of that beloved landscape–its layers of ridges and morning mists–have become conscious or subliminal elements of such works as Blue Ridge Airs I and II and From the Air, for chamber orchestra.
The sounds of local birds have made their way into numerous works, as well. Lullabies and Birdsongs, for piano, includes pieces inspired by the songs of the wood thrush, indigo bunting and mourning dove, among others. The rising call of the field sparrow creates a particularly poignant moment in the cello sonata.
In 2005 Frazelle composed Wildflowers, a set of ten short piano pieces inspired by Souhern Appalachian wildflowers. The work is meant to be played both on its own and as a movement of the larger piano work, Sonata-Fantasy.
For more on music of the Blue Ridge:
Blue Ridge Music Trails: A Traveler’s Guide to Live Traditional Music and Dance Along the Blue Ridge. Comprehensive web guide to performances, recordings, publications and other resources.
Blue Ridge Music Center: The area's traditional music is celebrated in concerts at an outdoor amphitheater and in a facility for exhibits and indoor performances on the Blue Ridge Parkway in southwest Virginia.