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AAAW: Week One - Kitchen Girl



The Kitchen Girl
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The Kickoff! I picked this first tune after an afternoon playing music with my mom. She took up the fiddle later in life, and she had a lead sheet with a version of this tune on her ipad. I thought it was neat so I took a copy. The more I played with it the more I liked it. The shifting modes really spoke to me.


Before I go into my notes on the arrangement, I just want to say that not all my weekly arrangements will be this long, nor will all my notes or blog posts be this detailed. Some might be 8 bars. Some might be several pages. It really depends on the piece, how much time I have to devote to the project in a given week, and what my chosen piece that week calls for. So, with that disclaimer out of the way…


Kitchen Girl is attributed to Henry Reed (1884-1968), an Appalachian fiddle and banjo player from Virginia. Remarkably, he was not a professional musician - he spent much of his life working at a power plant, and raising his 12 children with his wife Nettie. But he had an incredible knack for music and learned many traditional tunes of the region by ear. It’s unclear whether he wrote this tune or picked it up somewhere, but music historians have not been able to find any duplicates out there. Reed’s bluegrass style became very influential among fiddle players after the recording and transcription of many of his tunes when he was in his eighties by folklorist Alan Jabbour in 1966-67. They can now be heard and read at the Library of Congress collection: Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection.


In arranging this piece, I wanted to convey a few things: 1) the tune shifts from mixolydian mode in the A part to dorian mode in the B part, so I wanted to give each of those parts its own treatment. 2) I wanted to honor Reed’s trademark style on the fiddle, and 3) I wanted to convey the spirit of the tune. I used dynamics and brought the left hand up an octave in the transition to the dorian B part, which I think worked well. One of the trademarks of Reed’s style is his slides, which you can hear prominently in his recording of Kitchen Girl. I mimicked those with ornaments in the first two notes of the A part in the beginning of the piece. While it’s not quite a slide, it stays true to the harp’s voice while still offering the fun, casual feeling of the fiddle slide.


As for the spirit of the tune, there were two things I considered. “Kitchen Dances” were popular in Reed’s time. Kitchens in private homes were often the largest room in the house, so tables and chairs would be cleared out and musicians and dancers would gather in a person’s home and contra dances would be performed, tunes would be played well into the night, songs would be sung. I suspect the “Kitchen Girl”, which was often a term used for a slave or servant who worked in the kitchen, was present at these affairs, since she was in charge of the venue. So the tune could have been a nod to the servant girl whose room they were taking over for the sake of their revelry. Therefore, it should be lively and celebratory, and also a little apologetic (hence the minor, thoughtful dorian mode in the B Part).

On the other hand, I also considered that the tune might simply be about the Kitchen Girl herself, as the title suggests. She works hard. She is busy and moves from task to task quickly and efficiently. Yet her days are monotonous. I tried to represent this with the busy right hand and the repetitive left hand.

I wrote this arrangement to be played at quarter note = 125 bpm, though the fiddle tune often goes much faster when played by Applachian traditionalists. My arrangement can be played faster too, but I think it might lose some of its nuance. There are a lot of notes and very little space, so I think keeping it at a nice steady pace is preferable. This piece can be played on a 26 string harp - the lowest string is E4 and the highest is F1. Set the high C to natural before you begin - there are no lever changes in this arrangement despite the shifting modes!


The sheet music is downloadable for free until 5/22/22, then it will be available for a small fee. I'd appreciate any feedback or proofreading notes you have on sheet music, so please drop me a line!


Video stock photo and footage credits: Historic American Buildings Survey, C., Boucher, J. E., photographer. (1933) Memorial House and Colonial Kitchen Complex, Off of State Route 3, Warsaw, Richmond, VA. Richmond Virginia Warsaw, 1933. Price, V. B., trans Documentation Compiled After. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/va2063/.

Pexels stock videos by: Mikhail Nilov, Roman Odinstov, Cottonbro, Engin Akyurt, Taryn Elliot, Free Videos, and Pavel Danilyuk; Vecteezy Video by dpmediagroup