The seeds for a gourd orchestra were planted in the mid
1980's after years of listening to African and other world music, and
discovering the varieties of instruments using gourds. Being an avid gardener,
I started growing gourds enthusiastically. The joy of seeing 50 ft. vines
taking over one side of the house and growing up to the second floor roof
line was very exciting. But the gratification of harvesting a few large
bushel basket gourds was even greater. While the years passed and the
gourds piled up I was busy doing research, investigating forgotten books
and records in our public library, then to the college library, then to
museums, private collections, and gourd festivals. With much patience,
trial and error, gourd musical instruments were finally being constructed.
Soon, friends were invited to play the instruments and explore this "new"
world of forgotten sounds. The rich history and folklore surrounding the
gourd resonated in our music.
Pictured from left to right:
Barry Bless, John Moser (top), Esther Benenson, Joan Elliot, Christopher
Walters, Arthur Stephens, Jodi Teitleman, John Ramsey, Keith Elliot
many hours below ground in the Power Cave [my basement] exploring
the exotic sounds of the primitive, but playable instruments.
We finally emerged in 1993, ten members strong, with gourd instruments
in hand and gourd hats on our heads. We were well received and inspired
to continue the musical journey we started. We went back to the power
cave and worked for two years to craft more instruments and create new
music. We surfaced again in late 1995 to play before a standing-room-only
crowd at the Richmond Public Library. We continued playing various public
and private venues including hosting mini-gourd festivals where the orchestra
not only played, but seeds and plants were sold, gourds and crafts were
displayed and slide shows of gourds, gardens and festivals were shown.
In late 1996 after Dave Park joined the group we started recording our
music at Cave d'Ave [Dave's basement], located at the edge of the Chickahominy
Swamp. We released our first CD Refuge
in a Gourd in the spring of '97. And in October we capped off
the year by traveling to the "World's
Largest Gourd Festival" held annually in Mt. Gilead Ohio where we
played for hundreds of friendly gourdheads.
The Gourd Orchestra
recorded a second CD entitled "Enchanted
Evenings" in 1999 which included environmental sounds recorded outside the new location for the Gourd Orchestra
- the Southside Power Cave.
We continued our treks to Ohio every year as 'Gourd Awareness' seemed
to be taking over the country and perhaps the world.
In 2001 the band changed to it's current lineup after Esther moved to
the northwest and Dave left to pursue non gourd music.
In 2002 we gained long time friend and musician Pippin Barnett, who also
brought his carpentry skills to the group. We spent the winter months building new instruments in anticipation to creating new music over the spring
"Gourd Shack" was the
fruit of our weekly rehearsal improvisation sessions. Some tracks on the
CD are straight from the original tapes. We departed slighty by enhancing
a few tracks with computerized growth hormones.
the next two years creating new music in the same fashion as Gourd Shack
and our fourth CD "Backyard Shangri-La"
was released in 2005.
We continue to create new music today and will produce a new CD in 2018.