Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fellowship Presentation Follow-up

Our fellowship presentation went very well!  And while the campus was fairly deserted for the holidays and the weather was pretty yucky, about 20+ people attended the set of research presentations, including Timi's sister and her boyfriend and other close friends. The refreshments were much appreciated, and the media classroom was a cozy and mostly effective location.  As promised, I'm following up to share some of the presentation materials that we developed for our fellowship finale.  I'll also be preparing another formal report for the conclusion of our funded research, so that will be available soon as well.

After a nice introduction by Harry Rice, we briefly introduced ourselves and why we were there.  But we decided to save the bulk of our commentary until Frances had already spoken for herself.  So we then shared the following 10-minute oral history video, which was edited from a 20-minute interview about her musical background that was originally conducted by Timi and shot by Mark Spencer for Appalachia--Science in the Public Interest (ASPI).  This abbreviated version also includes historical photographs wherever possible to illustrate what Frances is talking about.  There is also an excerpt from the first commercial recording by John Reedy and the Stone Mountain Hillbillies.

Needless to say, Frances charmed everyone in the room with her open hospitality, colorful storytelling, idiosyncracies, and accomplishments.  It was especially powerful to watch the video projected on a large screen with a sound system; it felt like we were sitting in the same room with her as she rocked in her chair and talked about her amazing musical history.  The additional images also added a whole new dimension as she described particular people and experiences.

We had planned to show an additional video excerpt from Frances and John Reedy's last recorded performance on Christmas in 1980, but there simply wasn't enough time to say everything and show everything we had hoped.  However, both videos were on the DVD that I prepared and gave to Harry to include in the Reedy collection in the Sound Archives.

We then shared a few presentation slides to summarize and illustrate our overall activities throughout the three-month fellowship.  Some of the images have previously been posted on the blog, but several are new photos or different versions.  The first introductory slide includes some images from the video oral history as well as an additional photo of Frances as a very young mother with her sons Harold and Tim.  She truly glows with love, contentment, and unmeasurable beauty.

Near the end of our presentation, we discussed the interesting twist that Frances and John's relationship took when they briefly divorced in the early 1960's.  We showed the newspaper reference to the writing of "Tiny Bitty Pieces," mentioned that John wrote his own entreaty "Knockin' on Your Door," and showed the photograph that Frances cut in half and never put back together.  Then I played part of a very rough "mash-up" that I made in which Frances and John's pair of love-lost lyrics were in conversation with one another, aptly dubbed "Tiny Bitty Pieces Knockin' on Your Door."  The story of the image with the two songs bantering back and forth tickled all our funny bones.

The presentation was extremely well-received and left everyone longing for more.  Even if we'd had a full half hour, time seemed too short to do justice to our research and the Reedys' story.  However, we're encouraged that we have ample material for our 70-minute multi-media presentation at the Appalachian Studies Conference.  Part of the challenge of a shorter timeframe was our desire to share more of their music on its own terms.  Other than teasers and excerpts, it's impossible to condense real-time audio and video the way that commentary can be sped up or abbreviated.  

We also experienced some inevitable technical difficulties that we overcame as best we could.  The DVD program that we used to show the video inadvertently changed settings and truncated the image on the top and bottom.  Also, the Dogpatch photo was somehow missing from the slide for the mash-up, so I had to manually locate it.  The media set-up was a little cramped with the laptop connection and podium by the door, so people entering and leaving seemed to feel a little more conspicuous.  Overall, the media room provided appropriate and effective means to share the multiple formats of material for our presentation.  

A final challenge that we noticed was that a couple of folks had difficulty locating it!  Fellowship presentations typically take place in the main lobby area of the library, so it's easily discernible when people enter the building and also invites curious onlookers who might not otherwise attend.  One of our friends came to the library, thought he was in the wrong place, and walked all the way across campus to the Appalachian Center to look for it.  He ended up having to go back to his office to read the email to discover that the presentation was on the ground floor of the library!  It would have been helpful to post some signage in the library lobby where the presentations typically occur in order to direct people to the alternate location.

It was clear that the audience thoroughly enjoyed the content and mode of our presentation and project.  Several people lingered to ask questions and exclaim about the Reedys' accomplishments and the origin of the well-loved gospel song, "Somebody Touched Me."  The response was certainly encouraging, and the experience for us was very moving as well.  It was an emotional journey for Timi and her sister to see their grandmother projected larger-than-life and appreciated for her true gifts.  It was apparent that we are on the right path to help tell the Reedys' story and preserve their many contributions to regional history and music.

Afterward, we shared a celebration sushi dinner with Timi's sister and her boyfriend!  In spite of the gloomy weather, we all felt inspired and uplifted by a successful and enjoyable presentation in honor of Frances and John Reedy. We are incredibly grateful to Harry Rice, John Bondourant, Jaime Bradley, and all of the other folks in the Berea College Special Collections and Archives for the opportunity to work with them on our fellowship project.

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