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The Hunt for Brush Arbor

A story behind the song:

During work on Pluck--especially with respect to the years between 1953 and 2006--I would glimpse here and there disparate facts across time and space that repeated themselves. That experience is very intriguing when it happens, and raises questions like, What's going on here? What's the connection? Why is the Universe telling me to pay attention to this? It happened several times over the course of the research. A perfect example has to do with David's song, "Brush Arbor".

I knew the song before starting because it's one of the standards in our dulcimer club's playlist. I never bothered to look up the title's meaning until I started work on the bio. The first time the song popped up on my radar occurred during an interview with Bob King about his friendship with David. Bob told me how he grew to feel a spiritual connection with David due to experiences they shared, like the first time that he heard David perform at a festival "Brush Arbor" at a festival; he told his son that he and his wife fell in love with the song and the way David sang it. After the performance, Bob approached David to ask him a favor: I remembered every word to the first two verses, but couldn’t remember the rest. After his performance, he sat down with us both by reciting each verse slowly so your mom could write them down. So Bob's story prompted me to look up the meaning.

Several different sites popped up in a Google search of "brush arbor", and I learned that a "brush arbor" is a type of frame shelter people used to build in churchyards or in cemeteries to shelter people from the sun or rain. A builder would secure vertical poles in the ground to hold horizontal tree branches or poles above them; once the framework was built, the builder would place smaller limbs, brush and/or hay on the horizontal limbs to provide temporary shelter for worshippers. (Click here to see a nice Mauzey lithograph that depicts the building of a brush arbor in the Smithsonian American Art Museum collection.) I was puzzled; why would David write a song about something associated with a church since he was not a religious person?

When David made Dulcimer Sessions with John Lomax III, he included a dedication to someone named "Bea Jordan" in this last CD he made with John. That got me wondering: Who was Bea Jordan? John wasn't sure. Later, over the course of several interviews with Jan Pulsford, she explained how she and David wanted also wanted "Brush Arbor" on the Delcimore CD. And later, when David produced his Uncle Dulcimer CD on his own, he included the song again.

More months pass. While searching for David's friends from his youth, one person advised me to find a "Norman Jordan", a buddy from their teenage years. The search for Norman was epic, and merits a story in itself which I will tell in another blog post. (It's the quintessential "Good-spooky" story.) Suffice to say, when this informant told me, Look for Norman Jordan, I remembered the dedication to Bea Jordan on Delcimore. They had to be connected.

Many months later, when I watched Dave Haas's phenomenal video of David performing, David Schnaufer in Concert, I heard David mention "Bea" in connection with "Brush Arbor". Suddenly the mental light bulb flashed. I learned a long time ago: when the Universe keeps sending you signs or clues, you best sit up and take them seriously. All of these references related to "Brush Arbor" became the fuel that drove the engine up the mountain to find Norman Jordan. What prompted David to write a song by the name of "Brush Arbor", and why, some thirty years later, did he still mentioned Bea Jordan in a performance? I had to find out.

I did find finally find Norman, and here is what he told me about the origins of David's fondness for the brush arbor. It relates to Norman's mother Bea. Bea Jordan took David under her wing after his mother died. Bea had a large garden where she used to spend a lot of time with Norman and David. They helped her weed and pick vegetables for her. Norman's dad had built a smaller brush arbor in the garden for the vines to climb. Bea cooked for the teenagers, and spent a lot of time telling stories to David during that phase of his life. He never forgot her kindness. Being from the South, David knew the connotation of a brush arbor in the religious sense; Bea Jordan's brush arbor became symbolic of the shelter that the Jordans provided him when he was most vulnerable.

If you would like to listen to the song "Brush Arbor" and learn more about it, visit Tull Glazener's website page about the song; Tull is one of David's friends and a great dulcimer performer and teacher in his own right. On this page you'll hear David sing and play the banjo-mer, a instrument made for him by Doug Thomson that is a cross between a banjo and a dulcimer. Every September, Tull publishes a page with the music to one of David's songs as a tribute to his old friend. After reading Tull's "Brush Arbor" page, take a peek at the rest of his site; he offers many books, sheet music, videos and tab for both aspiring and experienced dulcimer players that you'll enjoy.

If you would like to order a copy of Dave Haas's video, visit Dave's site here. Take my word for it, it's the best video of David Schnaufer in performance I've ever seen. And it's for a good cause to boot. Read about it on Dave's site.

As for me, even though I gave up several times trying to find David's teenage friend Norman, the fact that the song and the Jordan name kept popping up over two years of research compelled me to follow through until the day I finally told myself, Enough already! Let it go! and gave up. That is the very day Norman found me. More on that in the next post.

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