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This boundary-crossing programme features early and traditional musicians exploring some of the roots of the United States’ folk and popular music. “Old-time” songs are some of America’s own early music. But where did the tunes played by today’s “old-time” musicians come from? Why are so many baroque players drawn to these traditional folk styles and instruments? What were these instruments that people were playing in the 19th century? Why is Stephen Foster considered the father of American popular music? The mid to late 1800′s America witnessed a surge in publications of “popular” music: Civil War songs, slave songs, cowboy songs, minstrel plays and parlor songs, along with hymns and revival tunes. For a time Foster himself made a living composing minstrel shows, but in later life turned back to his earlier “art song” tradition of parlor music.
An American Tune spans this half-century, tracing particularly the path of old world British Isles folk music to the isolated rural areas of the United States. Catherine Webster (soprano) and Stephen Stubbs (lute, guitar and conductor) have spent careers based on the exploration of 17th and 18th century European music traditions and are now turning their interest to some of the first popular music of their own country. They’ve come together now with other musicians with feet in both the early music and traditional folk world – Brandon Vance, baroque violinist and champion Scottish fiddler, Tom Berghan, historical banjo player, and the brilliant Vancouver-based mandolinist John Reischman to create a gorgeous program of Foster songs, 19th-century hymns and reels, and exquisite arrangements of Appalachian early folk tunes and ballads. Webster and Stubbs find themselves perfectly at home in the sometimes lively, often plaintive and haunting melodies of 19th-century America – Webster’s phrasing and emotional understanding and Stubbs’ utter mastery of any instrument in his hands (this time a beautiful 19th-century parlor guitar) give this program life beyond any classification, all complimented by the string players who take virtuosic turns themselves.