The Internet is a marvelous thing.
A few months ago, someone found me, and a song I wrote, because I had featured the song on my blog. Lisa Ferguson, a musician and newly crowned National Hammer Dulcimer Champion at last month’s prestigious Walnut Valley Music Festival in Winfield Kansas, wrote me an email after reading and listening to my song Spirit Of The Mountains- the Ballad of Emma Bell Miles.
She and some of her friends were putting on a special celebration of Emma’s life October 19th up on Signal Mountain, near Chattanooga. She asked me if I would like to be part of it. She also asked me how I ever found out about Emma Bell Miles in the first place.
A number of years ago, I received a grant from the Tennessee Humanities Council to research some Tennessee women’s writings, and write songs from their words. The program Through A Woman’s Voice was later made into a 4 part series for public radio.
Now it is a 4 CD set: Disks 1 & 2 are the radio programs, with humanities scholar interviews, radio theatre and the ballads, Disk 3 is the ballads only, and Disk 4 is a set of curriculum guides written for grades 4- 12 by Dr. Carole Bucy. I have recently made it a priority to get a copy of this 4 CD set into every school library in Tennessee.
Emma Bell Miles was one of the women that I chose for this project, much due to the kind insistence of Dr. Anita Goodstein, one of my advisors for Through A Woman’s Voice. She was well aware of the available diaries in the Tennessee Archives, and did not consider herself a sentimental historian. She recalled reading the 1914-1915 diary in the archives one dreary winter afternoon, and was amazed to find herself in tears reading Emma’s words.
After reading them myself, I was not surprised. Emma Bell Miles was quite a writer, and as she was confiding in her diary, she illuminated her difficult life in such a way that you wanted to turn back the years and help her if you could. The song resulting from her words is haunting, and yes, beautiful.
So I agreed to come to Signal Mountain this last weekend. Lisa Ferguson even had a dinner on Saturday night, where I met so many fine musicians, as well as the artist who conceived of this celebration, Anne Davis. Everyone was so kind and welcoming, I felt as though I were meeting old friends.
The celebration took place on Sunday afternoon, on Signal Mountain next to where Emma bell once lived. Emma is known as a naturalist, and an eco-feminist. She would have been proud to see the booths of lovely art, music, national parks, and ecology. There were quilters and spinners, and girl scouts selling hot cider. And one of the event organizers took my husband and I to see a rock bridge behind her house where Emma once gave art lessons and where she carved a small bird and her initials in a rock.
Stone bridge and waterfall where Emma taught art
Late in the brisk afternoon, I presented the song with local musicians who were perfect. Kay Gaston, a biographer of Emma bell Miles spoke directly after the song, and gave us a lovely synopsis of why we should be celebrating Emma and her life.
I was struck by the sweetness of the event and the legacy of care. Emma once had patrons who bought her paintings and postcards. Here, once again, 90 years after her death, people who care about the mountain she held so dear, gather to celebrate life.
Note: Please feel free to contact me about performances of Through A Woman’s Voice. I will do performances in trade for the purchase of copies of the 4 CD set to be placed in the schools of your choice.