— Todd Kimm, Legion Arts
Tim Eriksen will bring his modern interpretations of America’s musical traditions to CSPS this weekend in a triad of ways. On Saturday at 3:27 p.m. folk singer and musician Eriksen will give a short performance at CSPS as part of the Low Live Festival, a two-day networked festival with performances all over the country (see more about the festival below). Before his Low Lives performance, Eriksen — whose musical resume includes teaching Nicole Kidman, Elvis Costello and Sting to sing 19th-century American “shape-note” music for the Oscar-winning “Cold Mountain” — will hold a Sacred Harp shape-note “singing school” Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. Following lunch (a “dinner on the ground” potluck), he will convene a traditional shape-note “singing” workshop from 1 to 3 p.m. Shape-note singing originated in the American Colonial period and is making a resurgence across the country. The style of singing is named for the system of printed shapes that allow singers to sight-read music from “The Sacred Harp” songbook, first published in 1844. The repertory includes psalm tunes, odes and anthems by the first American composers (1770 to 1810), and also settings of folk songs and revival hymns (1810 to 1860). The current edition contains many songs in these styles by living composers. All are sung a cappella. The basics of shape-note singing will be taught at the “singing school” workshop, though everyone is welcome, from experts to first-time singers. During the “singing,” participants take a turns leading: standing in the center, selecting a song and beating time with the hand. Four-part harmony singing is performed without musical accompaniment. The event is free. A limited number of songbooks will be available, but those with “Sacred Harp” songbooks should bring them. Saturday evening, Eriksen will showcase his distinctive hard-core Americana interpretation of old ballads, love songs, shape-note gospel and dance tunes from New England and Southern Appalachia sung with his hair-raising vocals and accompanied by banjo, fiddle, guitar and bajo sexto — a 12-string Mexican acoustic bass. Eriksen is founding member of the groundbreaking underground bands Cordelia’s Dad (“folk-noise”), Northampton Harmony (shape-note quartet) and Zabe i Babe (Bosnian folk and pop). The only musician to have shared the stage with both Kurt Cobain and Doc Watson (not to mention Jack White and Ralph Stanley), he is known to many for his extensive contributions to films, including the Billy Bob Thornton vehicle “Chrystal” and Anthony Minghella’s “Cold Mountain.” In addition to teaching actors how to perform the timeworn style of singing, he led a group of 40 people in an Academy Awards performance of his own arrangement of Costello’s Oscar-nominated song “The Scarlet Tide.” In 2004, Eriksen was featured on the six-week Great High Mountain Tour with Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley and a cast of Americana luminaries.