‘Requiem for John Fahey’ – Learn Gwenifer Raymond’s Unique Take on the American Primitive Tradition

Like Fahey's original elegy to John Hurt, Raymond plays this composition in open C.

Several years ago the multi-instrumentalist and composer Gwenifer Raymond was trying to learn John Fahey’s “Requiem for John Hurt” when she realized she was playing it incorrectly. Raymond then transformed this misinterpretation into a piece of her own, “Requiem for John Fahey,” which she recorded for her debut album, You Never Were Much of a Dancer (Tompkins Square).

Like Fahey’s original elegy to John Hurt, Raymond plays “Requiem for John Fahey” in open C. To get into this tuning from standard, lower string 6 down two whole steps to C; strings 5 and 4 by a whole step each, to G and C; the third string, G, remains the same; raise string 2 by a half step to C; string 1, the high E string, remains the same. When you strum the open strings together, you should hear a rich and resonant open C chord.


There are no chord symbols in this transcription of “Requiem for John Fahey” because the piece is, for all intents and purposes, harmonically static, based on a long I chord (C). “Sonically, I like to shift moods around in my tunes, giving them some sort of emotional evolution as they progress, and usually this is just based on instinct,” Raymond says, explaining her approach to composition. “I try to not overthink the process and let my fingers naturally lead themselves to where they want to be—sometimes letting the most straightforward and harmonious melody play out and then, when the moment seems right, playing some angular sequence at odds with what preceded it.”

Prime examples of those unexpected sequences happen in measures 32–35. In 32 and 33, Raymond plays notes that imply a C7b5 chord, and in 34 and 35, she juxtaposes the major third (E) and the minor third (D#/Eb)—sonorities far more common in jazz than in the folk tradition. Raymond says, “In my abject ignorance of musical theory, I call these dissonances ‘wrong notes’”—a good reminder of the brilliant results that can be had in being guided by the ear rather than by theory.

The text above is from Adam Perlmutter’s analysis of “Requiem for John Fahey,” which originally appeared in Acoustic Guitar’January 2019 issue. For the full text of the article, performance notes, and music notation and tab, head to the Acoustic Guitar Store and pick up a copy

This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Adam Perlmutter
Adam Perlmutter

Adam Perlmutter holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a master's degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory. He is the editor of Acoustic Guitar.

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