“I’ve just been going through all my charts and being like ‘and that one’s by a woman and that one’s by a woman!'”
Swallow Hill instructor Jen Hitt says this with a laugh as she recounts going through her music to build a songlist for her upcoming class, Women of Folk Ensemble. The class is part of our Early Summer Session at our Highlands location, and runs Tuesdays 8-9pm, April 30-June 18.
When asked about the Women of Folk Ensemble title, Jen stresses that everyone is welcome in the class.
“It is open to everyone of all genders, but we are going to focus on female songwriters. So if you love music by Patty Griffin, or Gillian Welch, or Dar Williams…”
“One of the folksingers I absolutely loved in high school was Dar Williams. I think it was partially because she would tell the stories of the songs before she played them so you got to hear a bit about how she thought and how she wrote.”
With that she starts strumming her guitar and soon she is playing Dar’s song “Fishing in the Morning.”
“If you listen to this song on the album, there’s a great banjo part, and then lots of keys you can add in. The progression is just, you’ve got three chords, and then all she does is flip them around.”
Jen created the class so that folks from a wide range of musical experience can join in. This includes “Everybody from someone who’s just gotten through Guitar 1-A, or if you want to learn how to solo with some of these songs, we’ll definitely have jam sections in each song for people to explore with.”
Turning back to the artists whose songs will be covered in the class, Jen plays a bit of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”
“It wouldn’t be a Women of Folk class without something from Dolly Parton. (She’s) a phenomenal songwriter with a huge long career that started when there weren’t very many female songwriters getting big hits on the radio.”
Jen notes that her take on the song is a bit more folky. “If you listen to it on the record it definitely has that kind of, dare I say country-politain back beat to it?” She says. “Which would be hard to do with an acoustic ensemble, but again offers a lot of opportunity for if you want to come and play violin, or if you want to play some banjo on it, guitar of course.”
“And then there’s some great harmony vocal opportunities on that song too. So definitely looking for people who want to come and sing!”
She turns her attention next to Gillian Welch. After playing a verse and chorus of “I Want to Sing That Rock And Roll.”
“I think one thing that drew me to Gillian Welch in particular is that she can take something really simple, but she leaves so much room for harmony lines and different vocal lines on top of her basic lines.”
“I wasn’t singing it exactly like she was singing it,” she continues, “but you don’t need to.”
“You don’t need to be that perfect imitation to appreciate the song. That’s one of the things I love about her and all of these folk singers, that you can take something really basic like a three chord progression and end up moving someone emotionally.”
“Hopefully we’ll do that with everybody in class and get to a really good feel good spot.”
With that Jen launches into another song. It’s not instantly recognizable like some of the others she’s just played, but “Little Boat on a Wave” by Nicolette Good is, just as, well, good.
“She’s a songwriter out of San Antonio, and she wrote this in 2012. And so that opening line, ‘I will not be afraid of a boat that is rocking, for a rocking boat sits upon a wave.'”
“Just the fact that she wrote this in 2012,” she says as a flash of excitement brightens her face, “you don’t have to go back 50 years to get this amazingly direct and inspiring songwriting from women.”
“So we will be having a few songs from current folk singers that maybe you’ve not heard of, but that’s OK because their music is wonderful. We’ll throw in some of the newer stuff too, and maybe stuff you haven’t heard of to give you a good idea of the spectrum of women in folk.”
Jen sets down her guitar and thinks for a moment. “And then, obviously, you’ll get a sense of different types of songwriting through these women that can then be used for your own songwriting.”
“So I encourage you to join me.”