In 2020, when I was initially commissioned by Bill Ryan and the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble to write a piece inspired by Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, it was unclear how or when I would be able to visit the park to gather inspiration during COVID, but the cave spirits were smiling: in early May 2021 they routed me past Bill Monroe’s home place in rural Kentucky on the way to the cave, and past the most amazing cemetery in full bloom on the way from the cave. I found an early (1936) Monroe Brothers recording of the gospel standard “This World Is Not My Home” and I made a ghostly abstraction of that piece combined with a piece that showed up in my playlist on the road trip: Monteverdi’s “Il ballo delle ingrate” — described as a dance of women who are in the underworld having rejected love — which is deeply strange subject matter for the 1608 wedding celebration at which it was originally performed. Perhaps more appropriately, I began writing Not My Home while staying at the famously celibate Shaker village, Pleasant Hill, a couple of hours east of Mammoth Cave NP. I think the Monteverdi blends in an uncanny way with the high lonesome feeling of Bill Monroe and his brother, which captures something of the feeling of the cave and its effect on the landscape above and below ground for many miles around. Not My Home, which alternatively could have been called The Chimeric Habitation, is dedicated with love to David Cholcher.
To the musicians:
Please be sure to listen to the 1936 Monroe Brothers recording of This World Is Not My Home and the 2007 René Jacobs recording of the Ballo delle ingrate. You want to channel the peculiar combination of stability and strangeness found in both these recordings — the rubato and the pitchiness — at a super slowed down and therefore heightened pace and depth. You can be relaxed in your relationship to the pre-recorded track: the click is just a rough guide, much less important than feeling your own way behind and ahead of the beat. Similarly, you can be flexible in your alignment with the other players: it’s always a conversation. The boundary between land and underland in central Kentucky is always in flux.
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