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Jerusalem Ridge

Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, said he could write a three minute song in thirty seconds.  Repetition is the key to that claim.  The instrumental  Jerusalem Ridge, is one of those songs, written in 1970.  The song has three basic parts, usually labeled A, B and C.  Some people say there are parts D and E, while others say that parts B and C are repeated in the song.  On stage or in campground jam sessions, the parts are played over many times, with different soloists taking the lead and the performance is rarely three minutes or less.

Tony Rice was born in Virginia, but grew up in California, exposed to that state’s multiple branches of bluegrass and folk music.  His first professional gig was with J.D. Crowe and the New South band.  He was quickly recognized due to his great baritone voice and impressive guitar playing.  After several years, he decided to learn more about music.  So he studied music structure and especially jazz theory.  His playing became legendary in its precision, speed, tone and phrasing.  The Tony Rice Unit production of Monroe’s Jerusalem Ridge is my favorite among its many recordings. In it, the fiddle, mandolin and guitar all take turns performing the lead melody, with masterful, inspired improvisations and lots of jazz influenced licks.

Listen on YouTube – https://youtu.be/t0uI2R4nWnU?feature=shared

In the song, the original parts and the repetition tell a story without words.  I think it is the story of an MDS project.  Part A of the song is the arrival of the weekly volunteers, with their excitement and anticipation for a new week.  The volunteers are busy getting settled into the dorms and orientation provides instruction on what they can expect.  The song then moves into Part B, much fuller musically, which represents lots of work being done, lots of energy being expended and an almost chaotic dance of workers, tools, and materials.   Part C is the slowing down at the end of the work day, and the return to the MDS base.  Showers are taken. Tools are put away.  Lunch coolers are cleaned out and a bountiful supper is enjoyed.  The repetition of Parts B and C could be the games or singing being done after the end of supper and finally the entire base settling down for a night of rest.  Then the next day dawns and the whole song is repeated.

The weekly volunteers at the MDS Port Isabel project this week were a group of 11 women, ages 17, 18 and 19, and their driver, Ethel, from Lancaster County, PA.  Their arrival was filled with the music of lots of chatter and much laughter.  Orientation went well and all of the slots for devotions, dish duty and “Hand Sanitizing Sheriff” were quickly filled.

For Part B, The week was filled with mudding, or spackling, as the PA volunteers called it.  At each of our two new-build houses, many hands were playing the melody.  During a visit on Monday, I looked down the hallway in one of the houses and saw three women in colorful dresses applying joint compound and tape into the wall-to-ceiling corner joints.  Others were applying a layer of compound over the straight seams that had been taped last Friday.  After the interior doors and interior trim arrived, there was a chorus of laughter outside and first coats of primer and paint were applied so they’d be ready for installation next week.  The sounds of Part B were expanded.

Each of the five days of this week was another variation of the same song.  Mudding and painting made up the melody that each of the volunteers performed with energy and some improvisation.  Becky G., from the Lititz office arrived on Wednesday, and on Thursday and Friday, listened to and helped make the song with the volunteers.

Although inexperienced on their arrival, by Friday, these young volunteers, guided by the crew leaders and construction supervisor, had completed all of the mudding, sanding and clean-up in each house. Their work was as masterful as the most experienced drywall finishers.  They can grade themselves higher on the skills rating ahead of their next MDS trip. The ceilings and walls were sealed with a coat of primer paint and are ready for next week’s volunteers to continue the song.  Part C of the song on Friday afternoon, played in the key of A minor, reflected the joy of returning home and reluctance to say goodbye.

As Tony Rice and many other artists have performed Jerusalem Ridge over the 50 plus years since it was written, many volunteers have performed the mudding and priming of many homes during the almost 75 years of MDS projects.  The song in all of its variations and the work of MDS in all of its variations will continue to be repeated by newcomers and experts.  It is a pleasure to listen and watch it all happen.


From the MDS Port Isabel project in Cameron County, Texas

Ruthi, Pauline, Laura, Andrew, Jim, Jack, Inko, Jason, and Carl

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