Apollo's Fire/Jeannette Sorrell Christmas on Sugarloaf Mountain (Avie)
"The music is very earthy. I think it helps all of us connect with our shared roots as Americans. The children's voices in particular: It brings you back down to what is most important in life for all of us, the values that matter the most."
Jeannette Sorrell and Apollo's Fire have performed a program live in concert several times called Christmas on Sugarloaf Mountain. It's been received so well, they've now recorded this delightful music so that you can enjoy it this holiday season, as well. What's more, their previous release, Songs of Orpheus with tenor Karim Sulayman, was recently nominated for a Grammy award.
Your latest recording celebrates an area of the country where you lived for a while as a teenager, where you had a wonderful view of Sugarloaf Mountain. You released two earlier recordings featuring this Irish-Appalachian music. This time you and Apollo's Fire are celebrating Christmas on Sugarloaf Mountain. Does this bring back memories of that little southern Baptist church where you played when you were just 14?
"Yes. It does. I couldn't yet drive when I had that job. I was 14. So, my parents had to take me there on Sunday mornings and they would drop me off and then they would go down the road to the Tastee Freez and sit there and read the New York Times while I was doing my church job.
"Reflecting back on it, I realize that that was where I encountered a type of music that really speaks to me and I think it speaks to a lot of us. It helps us tap into our shared roots as American immigrants.
The people who brought this music with them, they were coming to America, they were living in desperate times and that impacted the music that they wrote, and that was celebrating the holiday of Christmas that we sometimes think of as being joyful. But for them, it wasn't just joyful there are a lot of different emotions that go into this music.
"Yeah. That is one of the messages of the recording. There's an old English Carol called 'Joseph and Mary' which is about Joseph and Mary wandering door to door in Bethlehem and being turned away. And in a sense they were migrants. It is also the story of the Appalachian immigrants, the Celtic and Irish and Scottish immigrants who came and settled in Appalachia. And in the bigger picture it's the story of all of us as Americans.
"The approach that we've taken here is that this is a multi-generational gathering. So, several of the tracks have children's voices on them, including even a child soloist, the very talented Michael Temesi. Part of what this recording does is trace the immigrant journey across the Atlantic. The program begins with memories of Christmas Eve and old Ireland. So, we have some older Celtic carols in that opening.
"The ninth track is a medley of the 'Yorkshire Carol,' the 'Somerset Wassail' and the 'Kentucky Wassail.' So, in that medley, we are really crossing the Atlantic. At the end of the second carol, you hear this rather tipsy baritone say, 'Next year in America!' and then the music changes and the hammered dulcimer comes in and the banjo comes in and suddenly we're in the 'Kentucky Wassail,' which has the same text, the same lyrics as the 'Somerset Wassail,' but it's a very different musical style.
"There is some very haunting music in this recording that evokes, I think, the sense of loneliness and wandering, including the very famous Appalachian Carol, 'I Wonder as I Wander,' which is so beautifully sung by Amanda Powell and Ross Hauck.
"But then there's plenty of lively and joyful music which is what you get when you put families and neighbors together who are all helping each other. You know, maybe they're raising a roof together, building a barn, sharing meals together and setting aside their differences."
Earthy music of our American roots as we celebrate Christmas on Sugarloaf Mountain with Jeannette Sorrell and Apollo's Fire.
To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
Christmas on Sugarloaf Mountain (Amazon)
Apollo's Fire (official site)
Songs of Orpheus, Apollo Fire's Grammy-nominated recording with Karim Sulayman
Major Themes: Our top picks in classical music, from 'The Messiah' to 'Christmas on Sugarloaf Mountain'