June 21-July 12, 2002
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U.Va., World Wildlife Fund sign agreement

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Notable -- awards and achievements of faculty and staff
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After Hours -- Gayle Noble
Study discovers effects of exercise in women on HRT

After Hours

Farming roots feed passion for bluegrass

By Lee Graves

The simple values of country life run rich in the veins of Gayle Noble.

Sue Maupin, (left) Gayle Noble and Vernon Maupin
Photo by Lee Graves
Sue Maupin, (left) Gayle Noble and Vernon Maupin practicing some of the bluegrass numbers they perform in their band, Willow Branch.

You can hear them when she talks about growing up on the Fluvanna County farm her family has owned since the 1830s. And you can hear it when she belts out bluegrass harmonies with Willow Branch.

“That’s a big part of bluegrass for me, the family and the land and church and home. That’s what I connect with,” she said. “It’s easy for me to sing about losing ‘32 Acres of Bottom Land.’”

Music is as much a part of Noble’s nature as her farming roots. In addition to playing bass and singing with Willow Branch, a five-piece group that has developed a strong following over two decades, Noble performs with her three siblings as The Griffin Sisters.

“I’ve been singing and playing music ever since I was a kid,” said Noble, administrative assistant in the Office of University Architect Samuel “Pete” Anderson. “My mother tried to give us a sense of the classics by insisting we take piano lessons, which I continued for five years.” Noble played clarinet in the Fork Union Elementary School band and, at various times, has played the saxophone, harmonica, guitar, banjo and, most recently, her great-uncle’s fiddle.

Waltzes and two-steps dominated her youth, but when the family attended a festival in Berryville, those styles took a back seat to bluegrass.

“I remember that the Osborne Brothers were playing ‘Rocky Top.’ That’s what set me off on bluegrass, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Willow Branch
Next month, Willow Branch will take the stage in Scottsville for the annual Fourth of July celebration.

Her musical abilities have taken her from places as diverse as the Grand Ole Opry’s Ryman Auditorium (with Willow Branch) to the Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg, Austria (with The Griffin Sisters). The latter, where a sequence of “The Sound of Music” was filmed, was one of several performances on a trip sponsored by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.

Most of the time, Noble plays closer to home.

Next month, Willow Branch will take the stage in Scottsville for the annual Fourth of July celebration.

The current lineup includes her husband, Robert, on banjo; Sue Maupin, lead singer, and husband Vernon Maupin, guitar and vocals; and Doug McDonald, mandolin and guitar.

The group has won 33 honors from the Virginia Folk Music Association, including best bluegrass band in 1990 and 1997.

The band’s material ranges from pop covers to more traditional tunes. At a benefit for the Persimmon Tree Players in April, the group had the crowd bouncing with a toe-tapping version of the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face.”

Lately, they have been focusing more on originals and putting together a CD compilation of songs off “Knee Deep in Grass,” “Many a Mile” and other previous recordings.

One of Noble’s favorite stories is how her banjo-picking led to marriage. When she was a teen-ager and he was about 7, Robert saw her play at a church revival.
“He said he went home that night and told his dad that he wanted to learn to play the banjo like that girl at church,” Gayle said.

Their paths took different routes, but Robert stuck with the instrument. Many years later, he was in town from Jacksonville, Fla., where he had just gotten out of the Navy. A mutual friend invited him and Gayle to a band rehearsal.

“Robert came in to practice and never went back to Florida,” she said with a smile.
They’ve been married 19 years, and she still insists, “He wasn’t smitten with me. It was the banjo.”


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