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Book details
  • Genre:MUSIC
  • SubGenre:Genres & Styles / Folk & Traditional
  • Language:English
  • Pages:348
  • Paperback ISBN:9798350961775

An Enduring Voice

A Musical Journey from Italy's "Singing Woods" to the Great Valley of Virginia

by Peter Givens

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"An Enduring Voice" is the story of the builder and the subsequent owners of an early 18th century violin crafted in the Cremona, Italy region where the builders of these fine instruments found the best trees in in an area of the Italian Alps they called "The Singing Woods." This instrument travels from owner to owner across Europe, ending up in the hands of a young girl, Molly McCourtney, from Letterkenny in county Donegal in Northern Ireland who is mesmerized by the ballads of the British Isles taught to her by her Scottish grandmother and, at the same time, captivated by the scant few details she knows about the instrument's builder from a faded label inside. Molly and her fiddle become part of the great migration of Ulster Scots who came to America prior to the Revolution, traveling the Great Wagon Road out of Philadelphia into Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Building a community with her Presbyterian congregation from Letterkenny, her musical heritage intertwines with that of other immigrants, including freed slaves, as the voice of her prized fiddle endures, now playing music of the world that its creator never imagined.

AN ENDURING VOICE – FROM ITALY'S "SINGING WOODS" TO THE GREAT VALLEY OF VIRGINIA Luigi Carusso lives in an early 18th century Italian village outside of Cremona, Italy where he has practiced the craft of building musical instruments for half a century. The opening of the book finds the old man climbing an area of the Italian Alps, known as "the Singing Woods," where the great violin makers found the best material for their creations. Convinced that his current instrument is his best, and troubled by the thought that it may also be his last, Luigi works more meticulously than ever finishing his fine violin. After traveling through several owners in other countries, Luigi's masterpiece lands in the hands of 15-year-old Molly McCourtney from Letterkenny in Northern Ireland. Infatuated by the songs and stories of the British Isles told to her by her Scottish grandmother, Molly, along with her childhood friend Liam Clarke and most of their Presbyterian congregation, become part of the great Ulster Scot migration to America. During the month-long voyage, Molly and Liam's father, also a fiddler, entertain the other passengers each evening, helping to keep up their spirits during the long, difficult days at sea. The Letterkenny immigrants spend a year in Philadelphia, working and pooling resources for the journey down the Great Wagon Road into the heart of Virginia's Blue Ridge. A small group of men has scouted out the proposed settlement, buying a track of land that will be divided among the families. They create the community of Linville Creek near the western slope of Massanutten Mountain north of present-day Harrisonburg. Clinging to their Irish heritage but increasingly aware that the Valley of Virginia is now home, Molly and Liam meet travelers along the Wagon Road who open up a whole new world of cultures and music from across the globe. Most significant of these is Kitch and Jewel Banks, recently freed slaves who are heading to Kentucky. They introduce Molly to the banjo and the rhythms of African music. She realizes more than ever that her fiddle was built for one kind of music, but both she and the Banks are proof that the instrument's voice is an enduring one that can cross cultures. "An Enduring Voice" takes the documented history of the Ulster Scots' tremendous influence on the American story and creates a compelling narrative of music, heritage, risk, faith, and family. The story is filled with lyrics from the ancient ballads that become part of the conversation among the principal characters. Many readers from teens to adults with an interest in the settlement patterns of the earliest American frontier and the roots of many kinds of American music will enjoy this story that reflects significant parts of our region's rich history.
About the author
Peter Givens earned an M.A. in American History from Western Carolina University, writing a thesis on Great Smoky Mountains National Park before beginning a 40-year career with the U.S. National Park Service, most of it on the Blue Ridge Parkway. He designed exhibits, wrote publications, represented the park in a multitude of public settings and played a prominent role for many years in the development of the Blue Ridge Music Center where the stories and exhibits are closely related to the themes throughout "An Enduring Voice." He designed and taught a class in Appalachian History at Virginia Western Community College for twelve years. These experiences and his attempts to play the music depicted here led to the writing of this book. Peter and his wife, Carole, live in Henrico, Virginia.