Ralph Stanley: Man of Constant Sorrow

While flying to a convention a few weeks ago, I found Ralph Stanley’s newly released book “Man of Constant Sorrow”  in the airport bookstore.

The cover alone was striking, but maybe that’s because I read my Kindle and like when I have a good old fashioned book in my hands every once and a while.

After reading the first chapter, I wanted this book.  It was a different than much of the reading I regularly do.  And I’d read on  the Lifehack blog that it’s helpful to one’s perspective to read something in a different genre or  different from your regular reading every once in a while.

I am only half way through the book, but enjoying it.  Ralph is in his 80s now but still singing.  I believe he was at the Bean Blossom 08 festival in Bean Blossom, Indiana but I don’t recall seeing him perform.

Early  in the book, and reinforced throughout,  Ralph reminds us of his Primitive Baptist heritage.  An interesting part of their church music, according to Ralph, is Primitive Baptists didn’t believe in using instruments. They sang instrument-less.

It was when he was a young boy that his dad turned and asked him to lead the singing (on account of his dad might have forgot how the song started) at church one day.  He describes his voice as having the strong, sad strain of no other voice. That experience had an impact that changed Ralph’s perception of his own abilities.

I was thinking about how I would have missed the music of my own early church experience if there hadn’t been pianos, organs, guitars and trumpets to help some of the singing.  I may not have grown to love music as I do if I had only heard singing at church.

A final thought about the lack of instruments in the Primitive Baptist church — this means that the photograph  of my dulcimer outside of Primitive Baptist Church in Cades Cove (see the “about” page) is what?

a) heresy
b) an anachronism
c) just wrong
d) revolutionary

And it means that when I sat in the Primitive Baptist Church playing my ukulele and marveling at how the sound was great in the bare walls of the tiny church, I didn’t know at all what it was like to hear music in a Primitive Baptist church.

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