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Sunday February 26, 2017
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Preston Woodward

 

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Woodward is a student of folklore and English and Scottish traditional music and has developed a repertoire of old songs that tell stories of squires and ladies, gypsies on horseback, merry weddings, damsels in distress, and love tragically lost. These are the tales that inspired Grateful Dead songwriter Robert Hunter to write about "rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes" and infuse the rock world with images of flaxen-haired maidens by the riverside.

But Woodward is not a rock 'n' roller; he is a traditionalist, interested in preserving this music and introducing it to modern ears. To do so, he has had to trim most pieces from their original dozens of verses to songs that can be performed in three to five minutes, while still retaining the characters and plot of their narratives. He also uses instruments and an occasional drum to add sound to songs that traditionally would have been sung unaccompanied.

While he occasionally plays guitar, Woodward usually accompanies himself on an old instrument rarely seen in use today — the English concertina. This six-sided squeezebox was invented around 1830 by Charles Wheatstone. Much smaller than an accordion, it is held between the palms and has tiny buttons on one end rather than keyboard-like keys. Woodward plays a concertina built in the 1920s by the Wheatstone Company. Although his hands and fingers look too large for the buttons, he plays with delicate movements. The sounds produced are unfamiliar and a little squeaky and seem to suit the antiquated melodies and minor-key dirges.

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