The Music of Life

the-music-of-lifeSeveral years ago while shelving AV material at the library where I used to work, I came across a CD titled The Goat Rodeo Sessions. What caught my eye, besides the unusual title, was Yo-Yo Ma on the cover. I was familiar with Yo-Yo Ma as a classically trained musician, but here he was featured on a CD devoted to music of a completely different genre. Without hesitation, I checked out the CD and couldn’t wait to listen to it on the drive home. What I heard started a love affair with a type of music I’d previously tiptoed around.

Probably what kept me from exploring this genre earlier was the fact that much of it was labeled Bluegrass. My opinion of Bluegrass included all things twangy and hick-i-fied. Yes, that is a word. What I discovered that day was something called Classical Crossover. Classical Crossover is a genre that hovers between classical and popular music, and is usually targeted at fans of both types of music. In the most common type of crossover, classically trained performers sing or play popular songs, folk music, show tunes, or holiday songs.

Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, and Stuart Duncan also contributed to the CD’s eleven tracks of music based on English and Irish fiddle music that gave birth to what we know as Appalachian fiddle music. The closest I’d ever come to anything like it was the little bits of fiddle I’d heard in songs by Clannad and The Chieftains.

After listening to The Goat Rodeo Sessions, I went in search of other CDs by the same artists or those featuring similar music. I discovered Appalachian Waltz, Short Trip Home, Appalachian Journey, and Heartland: An Appalachian Anthology all of which are now in a playlist that became the soundtrack of my mind as I wrote my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. One song in particular, “Sliding Down” featuring Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer, and Mike Marshall, epitomized John Welles’s experience in the later years of his life.

By the time John lived in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, his life had taken so many downward turns that he believed he’d never dig himself out from under them. Yet through it all, he retained a shred of hope buried deep in his heart. “Sliding Down” is the musical representation of what John felt during those years:  melancholy with a touch of optimism on the horizon that he was too afraid to reach for.

Other tracks from the above-listed CDs also played perfectly to the scenarios I wrote whether it was John as a boy on the family farm, as a student at the University of Maryland, during his relationship with the beautiful, enigmatic Garland, or the months following the D-Day Invasion. I don’t doubt that the music shaped what I wrote as if the songs were indeed a custom-made soundtrack. However, I finished writing over a year ago, so I haven’t accessed my Appalachian playlist in some time.

Last week, I had the opportunity to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird. It had been over thirty years since I had done so as an Honors English student in high school, but thanks to one of my book clubs, we revisited the classic. During one scene, Scout mentioned that Atticus liked listening to fiddle music on the radio. Suddenly my forgotten playlist rushed back to my memory. A quick check on Google confirmed that the Appalachian Mountains extend as far south as northern Alabama. As I read, all my favorite pieces became the background music for Scout, Jem, Dill, and Atticus’s adventures, and I listened to my playlist for two days straight.

By the way, the term goat rodeo refers to a chaotic event where many things must go right for the situation to work, a reference to the unusual and challenging aspects of blending classical and bluegrass music. Yo-Yo Ma described a goat rodeo saying, “If there were forks in the road and each time there was a fork the right decision was made then you get to a goat rodeo.” In the case of The Secrets of Dr. John Welles and To Kill a Mockingbird, the right choices weren’t always made, but somehow life worked out for the majority of those involved. This fact further reinforces my belief that the music of Appalachia is truly the music of real life.

Taking Stock of the Situation

Taking Stock of the Situation 1The summer of 1929 held a world of promise for young John Welles. He was succeeding brilliantly at the University of Maryland, had made two lifelong friends in Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby, and the once competitive relationship he had with Garland Griffin turned into a romantic one unlike anything John ever imagined.

The opportunity to pamper the young woman who was swiftly becoming the love of his life occurred a few days after their visit to Garland’s home. An unexpected cold kept Garland away from John for a few days, and when he could stand it no longer, he took a crock of chicken soup to her.

Lucia, the sassy cook who works for John’s Aunt Prudence and keeps her on her toes, made the recipe for chicken noodle soup Sam’s mother, Gladys Feldman, gave her. Per Mrs. Feldman, Jewish chicken soup cured everything. Unfortunately, neither Lucia nor Gladys could predict how Garland’s secret would crash down upon John’s world, a secret for which there was no remedy.

The recipe I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene actually starts with the post Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner. This recipe provides the carcass you’ll need for the stock that is the base of the soup. I highly recommend using this particular carcass as the seasoning from that recipe tastes amazing in the soup.

Chicken Stock:

1 roasted chicken carcass

2 T olive oil

12 c water

1 medium carrot

1 medium celery stalk

1/2 medium Vidalia onion

1 t thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

1 t quad-colored whole peppercorns

Remove the meat from the chicken carcass and reserve it for the soup. Break up the carcass into several pieces using a large knife or kitchen scissors. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or stock pot to medium heat and brown the carcass pieces on all sides. Be sure to scrape any browned tidbits from the bottom of the pot and occasionally turn the pieces.

Peel the vegetables and coarsely chop them. Add the water, vegetables, and seasonings to the pot, and bring to a simmer. Do not let the stock boil. Reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer, occasionally skimming any scum off the surface of the stock using a large spoon. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the stock at a simmer until the flavors have melded, about 1 – 1 ½ hours.

Remove and discard the pieces of chicken carcass. Pour the stock through a wire mesh strainer placed over a large crock or bowl. Do not save the vegetables for the soup as the flavor has gone into the stock. The stock can be cooled to room temperature and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three days or frozen for one month.

Or you can pour the stock into a six quart pot and proceed with making soup.

Chicken Noodle Soup:

Reserved chicken meat

2 medium carrots

2 medium celery stalks

1/2 medium Vidalia onion

1 t sea salt

1 t thyme leaves

Freshly ground quad-colored peppercorns to taste

2 c dried egg noodles

Bring the stock to a simmer over medium-high heat. Peel and dice the vegetables to a medium dice. Add them and the seasonings to the pot and stir thoroughly. Return to a simmer then reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about twenty minutes.

In a separate pot, bring water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until al dente. Drain them in a colander. Do not cook the noodles in the stock or they will become mushy and your stock pasty.

Shred the reserved chicken meat into small pieces. You’ll need about 2 c for the soup. Save any extra for another use.

Once the vegetables are tender, add the shredded chicken and drained noodles to the stock. Stir thoroughly and return to a simmer. Cook about five minutes to meld the flavors. Season with salt and pepper as needed.


Taking Stock of the Situation 2

The Secret in the Sauce

The Secret in the SauceGarland Griffin is an intelligent, beautiful young woman with a secret that’s going to change the course of John Welles’s life. When Garland and John first meet at the University of Maryland, where both are pursuing studies to become doctors, the pair develops an instant rivalry over grades. A chance encounter at a speakeasy leaves the duo unsure of where they stand with each other, but it is the unwelcome growing attraction they feel that catches both off their guard.

Over a tulip sundae at the soda shop, Garland observes John and his two best friends, Sam and Claude, and comes to the decision that although she’s experiencing feelings for her fellow student, what she needs is John’s presence in her life as cover for her dark secret.

The following recipe for hot fudge sauce is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene. There are other delicious toppings I could have chosen for Garland, but she needed a selection as dark and sultry as herself.

Hot Fudge Sauce

⅔ c heavy cream

½ c light corn syrup

⅓ c dark brown sugar

¼ c Dutch-processed cocoa powder

¼ t sea salt

¾ c bittersweet chocolate (chopped and divided in half if using blocks. I used Ghirardelli chips.)

2 T unsalted butter

2 t vanilla

Bring the heavy cream, light corn syrup, dark brown sugar, cocoa, salt, and half the bittersweet chocolate to a boil in a saucepan over a medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low to maintain a simmer. Bubbles should rise slowly to the surface. Stir occasionally to keep from scorching the sauce. Cook for five minutes.

Remove from the heat and add the remaining chocolate, butter, and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Cool in the saucepan or a shallow dish for 20 to 30 minutes before transferring to an airtight container for storage in the refrigerator. The sauce will last for two weeks. Reheat in a saucepan on the stove over low heat or in the microwave for 30 second increments until it is pourable but thick.


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