Women Making Music: Playing by Ear – Amy White

Renowned award winning multi-instrumentalist, progressive folk singer-songwriter, Amy White came over to my house a few weeks ago and we spent over two hours getting to know one another. We packed everything into those two hours. We laughed, we contemplated, we listened to music, we compared and validated each other, we looked at and talked about photography and art, and we both even got a little teary at one point.

Amy White. Photo: Al Petteway

Amy White. Photo: Al Petteway

The crux of her musical journey (which started almost immediately but was realized more fully in her pre-teens) includes composing, playing, accompanying and has for the most part, so far, been instrumental. Her newest CD release however, is her second departure into the land of singer- songwriter.

When I compliment the timbre and control of her singing voice and praise her mastery of her human instrument, she humbly thanks me and explains that she’s always wanted a stronger, more powerhouse voice. What I find compelling about her vocal articulation is its authenticity in relation to the music and story content. Each song on this record leads the listener to various emotional places. And because her voice is so compelling and powerful in carrying the personal and universal messages she writes about so vividly, we go there. She is our pitch-perfect pied piper.

Eventually we take our line of conversation cues directly from a few of the 12 tracks on the CD she entitled Didn’t We Waltz, which is of course the catalyst that brought us together that day. Collectively these are song-stories. Individually they provoke deep and spontaneous dialogue that run a gamut of humor, grief, gratitude, love, hope, loss, despair, and reconciliation.

She opens with a feel-good love song she dedicates to her Grammy winning husband, Al Petteway, called You’re My Favorite.“You’re my rainbow treasure trove, my foundation hand to hold, you’re my playful confidante, given all the world, you’re all I want.” This triggers our lively give and take about married life and about our husbands.

Didn’t We Waltz is the second track and it is exquisitely executed, featuring her dear and gifted friend Sally Van Meter on Resophonic Slide Guitar. It’s a song about love’s triumph in the face of fear. And in particular these lines resonate for me especially in this crazy/frightening election year: “fools will heed the call of fear, but our love made us wise, we knew fear would run its course, and love was on our side.”

I mention a particular review I came across that I thought was spot on in describing Didn’t We Waltz and I quote it to Amy: “White guides the listener from the profound to the whimsical and back again with all the ease of a brilliant conversationalist.” She informs me that review is actually for a previously released instrumental piano CD and not about the current singer-songwriter one! I am stumped and surprised! Amy goes onto to say “I have always tried to navigate between those emotions. This has been a new journey for me to do that with words as well.”

King Sized Bed is track #4. The original inspiration came when Amy decided she and her husband needed a new mattress. Their old mattress had taken on a “hammock-effect” so she proclaimed to Al one day that they needed to “put a new groove on their king-sized bed.” The song would not wait to be written! Here’s the chorus for your enjoyment: “it’s time to put a new groove on our king-sized bed, lay it down the middle instead of on the edges, we know how to do it right, like we did it way back when, time to put a new grove on our king-sized bed.” To me it’s a song of beckoning of course, reconnection and a sex therapy must-hear! Our conversation around this song is rated somewhere between PG-13 (Amy!) to R (Me!) so I’ll leave it at that!

Personally, I am partial to track #3, which is a haunting and mysterious minor-key gem called Love Among the Ruins. Another Sally, Sally Sparks, plays to great effect an instrument called a Haken Continuum and Sally Van Meter pulls out the Resophonic Slide Guitar again and together with Al on acoustic guitar and bass and Amy on banjo, this romantic, dark song comes to spooky life. “…the curtains moan, the banister shakes on its own, and the dark corridors beckon, if you dare to venture in the door, the sorrow will follow you home.” An intriguing five minutes and 24 seconds you need to hear.

On her writing process and style, Amy says, “For me it’s like writing a diary entry. It becomes a soundtrack to my life and it’s a painstaking process to compose. Each song asks to be created with a certain sound, to be played on a certain instrument. I‘ll remember a turn of phrase from a conversation and that’s sometimes where I’ll start lyrically and then the melody it wants to be shows up and it develops more fully from there. Conversely, a composition can start with an instrument, sometimes it can start from words. It all just depends on what the song wants. I follow the muse.”

Your opportunity to follow the muse of Amy White, and hear her perform with Al and Sally Sparks is coming up soon!!! Saturday, April 9th 8:30 p.m. at Isis Restaurant and Music Hall. For reservations and directions, visit isisasheville.com. She will be performing most of the tunes from Didn’t We Waltz and Al will be playing songs from his instrumental guitar catalog. It’s a seated show with a limited number of tables available for dinner. Also there will be some theater style and balcony seating on a first come first served basis, so please make your reservations now.

Though White and her husband, Petteway, are steeped in music together, Amy is a multi-disciplinarian who works in several different art forms such as stone carving and block printing, photography, silver casting and stained glass. Samples of all her work can be found on their website: alandamy.com.

“It’s the most satisfying part of life to be in the midst of the writing process and I wouldn’t be sharing it with people if it weren’t for my husband, Al Petteway. In no way have I ever wanted to be a solo performer. Even though the writing process to me is extremely personal and private, I think of the performance aspect of music to be more of a collaboration and conversation. I play by ear. I don’t need to describe what I’m going for when Al plays with me. He can just intuit it. He speaks both languages of music. I feel extremely lucky to be able to perform with Al.

Dare I say I’m certain he feels the same? This Washington D.C. native and youngest of three, who articulates sounds, smells and light that affect and inspire her the most, grew up near the Potomac River, with a nature preserve and forest as her back yard. She credits the river and the forest, her musical parents, Jane and Dick, and her siblings, sister Lisbet and brother Andy, for the wunderkind she became and the grounded sensitive creative she is today.

I cannot express adequately how delightfully awe-inspiring it was for me to meet and speak with Amy. She is kind, affable, empathetic and perceptive. She is warm and easy to talk to. She is a lovely polar star in the Western North Carolina Sky, this woman making music named Amy White.


Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, singer and songwriter. Contact her at www.reverbnation.com/peggyratusz and
peggymarie43@gmail.com

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