Betty’s Creek

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Betty's Creek (2003) was written under the spell of the music and the countryside of the Southern Appalachian mountains, at the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences in Rabun Gap, Ga.  The piece grew out of my admiration for several gospel songs recorded by Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys.  I  was impressed with the way these songs used the most basic of musical elements to create a powerful and haunting effect.  And the more you listen, the more complexity this music reveals – for example the subtle irregularity of the  "country" phrasing.   Formally, these gospel songs were strophic, with many verses.   I wanted to see if I could grow my tune into a longer, more complex form, without resorting to such classical techniques as sequence or development, and without straying harmonically from six basic chords most guitarists know.  "Betty's Creek" is one long melody, a tune that wanders to many places, only to return over and over again to the same comforting final phrase. David Fore, a local storyteller, suggested "Betty's Creek" as the title – it's the creek that meanders through the heart of the valley where this tune was born.   I knew I was on the right track when Carlton Walker, the maintenance supervisor at Hambidge, overheard me working on the piece and expressed his admiration for it.  Carlton is, among many other things, a guitarist and songwriter and assistant pastor at the Calvary Baptist Church in Rabun Gap.  At his invitation, I played "Betty's Creek" for communion at his church.  It was the perfect baptism for this piece.

Score available for purchase (PDF includes a separate violin part):

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