Jan 102011
 

Sarah shows Fallon a fiddleGrins, giggles and excited chatter greeted Sarah Kim, the Nelson Strings teacher on the first day of lessons. Ten eyes looked eagerly at six cases sitting on a table. Minutes later Nelson Elementary School’s first violin students were learning proper standing position, the name and function of parts of the violin and how to care for and hold their instruments. Five students are learning finger positions, pizzicato (also known as plucking the strings) and their first song. Having a strings program for elementary school children is not too unusual these days. But Nelson’s program has a couple of unique twists.

First, with a nod to Nelson’s heritage of traditional music for contra dances, students are learning some of these traditional tunes. They are working with the O’Connor Violin method, an approach to teaching young people that is based on American folk fiddle tunes. This was developed by Mark O’Connor, a child prodigy who had recorded his first album of fiddle music at the age of 10. Forty years later he is known throughout folk, bluegrass, jazz and classical realms for his brilliant playing and compositions that cross all of those genres.

Second, how many towns the size of Nelson have a world-class chamber orchestra? Enter Sarah Kim, who has been a violinist with the Apple Hill Chamber players since 2008, and on the summer faculty since 2003. Since moving to town she has enjoyed going to the local dances, and the opportunity to hear different music from what Apple Hill typically performs. She was familiar with the O’Connor method, and in fact, had toured with Mark O’Connor in 2001 as a member of the orchestra that accompanied him for a performance of his “American Four Seasons”.

The idea of a strings program has been germinating for several months. With financial support from the community, several quarter-size instruments were purchased. A grant from the Country Dance and Song Society (CDSS) allowed for the purchase of the Mark O’Connor curriculum, The New England Fiddler’s Repertoire (by Randy Miller & Jack Perron) and other music. The program is a joint venture of the Nelson School and Apple Hill.

As the students grow (in size as well as musical prowess) the program will need to acquire half- and three-quarter- size instruments. Nelson residents (or anyone else) who would like to support this program should contact Val Van Meier at 847-3371 or val@applehill.org.

Meanwhile, be listening for Nelson’s young violinists to be included in upcoming school programs and who knows – eventually some of them may be heard playing for dances in the Town Hall.

May 082010
 
Old New England: Deanna Stiles, Bob McQuillen, Jane Orzechowski

Old New England: Deanna Stiles, Bob McQuillen, Jane Orzechowski

ONE IV is the newly released recording from Old New England, which is Jane Orzechowski on fiddle, Deanna Stiles on flute, piccolo and fiddle, and Bob McQuillen on piano and accordion.  As one might expect, the arrangements are fairly  straightforward, and the orchestration does not employ the rhythmical gymnastics and melodic pyrotechnics that are increasingly common with recordings of dance music. In the hands of less capable musicians that might make for tedious listening, but not only is this recording a total pleasure to listen to – I personally think it represents the best album yet from this trio.

Some of the appeal is achieved through understatement. An example of that appears in the first set. It starts with “Jack Beard’s Jig”, moves on to “Dr. Becky’s”, and then after a switch to “Martha’s Hornpipe”, I gradually realized the time signature had changed from 6/8 to 4/4. This is a common trick among contra dance musicians, but it is usually rendered with a bit of a flourish. Here it was a like a subtle but refreshing change of scenery on a drive down a winding country road. Continue reading »

Apr 032010
 

mud2In spite of the massive flooding that’s been reported throughout New England recently, there hasn’t been much of a mud season this year. One theory is that the mud has all been shipped down to Washington DC, where it is being slung vigorously across the aisles of Congress. But further research shows that the material being used there is actually another type of organic matter having to do with the male bovine.

Here in Nelson most of our roads are unpaved. I recently complained to the Selectmen: without a few days of don’t-bother-to-steer, up-to-your-axles-in-mud driving, we are deprived of experiences that reinforce our robust rural character. What’s a country boy to do? Continue reading »

Mar 102010
 

treeNovember in New England, dark gray trees silhouetted against stark gray skies – there’s something invigorating in the vision, as if we are storing up energy for the winter ahead. Come March and the image is wearying. We strain to see the tree tips showing a hint of red, and our own energy stores  are depleted. But, like the maple trees, there is within us some sweetness which, properly tapped, will nurture us into the spring.

There’s a bit of folklore that once upon a time maple trees provided thick maple syrup year round. The People became complacent, neglecting their crops and community, and indulged themselves by lying beneath dripping maples with opened mouths. Glooskap (variously the son of Mother earth, or the first man, or the man from nothing) came across this situation and decided to force a modification of behavior. He diluted the syrup with water from the river, and made it so the sap would flow only once a year, forcing the People resuming a more structured existence of hunting, fishing, and growing crops. Continue reading »

Feb 142010
 

Generations

It’s encouraging to see a new generation of musicians taking hold. I suppose the term “new” is only relevant to those of us who are coming to represent the “older” generation, but not much we can do about that.

annalivia3Annalivia did a fantastic performance in the Nelson Town Hall on February 5th.  Their eclectic mix of Scottish tunes and American ballads, technically brilliant musicianship, entertaining stage presence – all around good time. Looking up on the stage there’s Brendan Carey-Block, fiddler extraordinaire, who was a pre-school classmate of my daughter. The band’s singer, Liz Simmons, is the daughter of Leslie Vogel (an accomplished musician in her own right, who’s recent new recording was reviewed here). Leslie was a classmate of mine at High Mowing School back in the late 1960’s. Stuart Kenney, the bass and banjo player (it takes a lot of courage to play two such teased instruments), was just outgrowing teenager-hood when I first met him some decades ago, and now his son Matthew is getting his own reputation (at the age of 12) as an incredible percussionist.  Annalivia’s other fiddler, Emerald Rae (who is about the same age as Brendan) noted that she went to Berklee with all of the members of Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers, who are performing in Nelson on March 19th. Continue reading »

Jan 062010
 

Looking Back

It is customary for the January column of any publication or blog to offer some retrospective on the year gone by. We will forego that exercise, but will point out that the structure of this web site allows you to scroll down to previous month’s articles, and when you get to the bottom of those displayed, there is a “previous entries” tab which will take you back to the beginning. Explore.

MFSNL1What we will do this month is go further back in time. The very first MFS “newsletter” was published in November/December of 1981. It included a calendar listing for those two months, and a couple of things are worth noting. One is that Nowell (spelled incorrectly in the calendar) Sing We Clear was produced in the Dublin Church, and this past December (this time with the correct spelling) this same event appeared on the MFS calendar (if memory serves, Nowell in 1981 was produced by Steve Avery, who was the proprietor of Deacon Brodie’s Tavern in Dublin). The other is that the same evening Stan Rogers was finishing a three-night stand at the Folkway in Peterborough, Gordon Bok was playing in Nelson. These two musicians had some things in common, including deep resonate voices, and many songs having to do with the sea. The two giants met for the first timeMFSNL2 at a house party in Nelson following their respective concerts, and we were fortunate to be there and witness a hearty embrace. Continue reading »

Dec 042009
 

The Ghost of Music Past

Dudley Laufman at Newport (photo by Murry Lerner, courtesy of David Millstone)

Dudley at Newport (from footage by Murray Lerner, courtesy of David Millstone)

People have fond memories of their cultural past. Those of us who are old enough to remember the 1960’s and 70’s can recall a musical era that was very rich and formative. And there’s a fair amount of good documentation so that the spirit of those times can be appreciated: my children (at 25 and 22) have a working knowledge of musicians and songs from then: indeed my son was just effusing about the song-writing genius of Bob Dylan (we’re both particular fans of Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, considering it to be among the top ten songs ever written).

As folk music threatened to become mainstream (which didn’t quite happen, see Folknotes  September 2009 ), the Newport Folk Festival became an important event in the northeast. The festival was started in 1959 by George Wein, Pete Seeger, Theodore Bikel, and Oscar Brand. Wein had already established the Newport Jazz Festival, and and both soon become an annual barometer of the state of their respective arts. In this pre-Internet area the festivals provided a networking environment for musicians, and a forum for presenting new material and the thrill for audiences of hearing live performances from a wide range of musicians all in one place.

It is practically superfluous to mention the Newport Folk Festival of 1965, when Bob Dylan introduced the electrified sound that ushered in the Folk-Rock era, but it is worth noting that was also the year that  Dudley Laufman brought a group of  contra dancers and musicians (including our own Harvey Tolman) to the festival. This event is nicely documented in David Millstone’s excellent film, The Other Way Back. It is not known (and not noticeable in the footage) whether Dylan might have been one of the dancers, but if he was paying attention he would certainly have appreciated the charismatic Tamborine Man of the contra dance scene. Continue reading »

Nov 042009
 

terry landisBarefoot Through The Music is a new recording from Terry Landis, who has been gracing the Monadnock Region with her singing for many years. Terry’s voice is at once urgent and soothing, providing a sort of audio massage.  I’ve been listening to her perform live for many years, almost always in various configurations with other musicians, and indeed one of her gifts is her ability to engage with both vocal and instrumental collaborators, bringing out their best, and setting a strong foundation for the song she is singing. This is really fun to watch in a live performance, but it’s also well-conveyed in this recording. This album features vocal support from Carol Raynsford and Nadine Laughlin, keyboard, bass and  production from Danny Solomon, and Terry’s sons Ezra Landis on guitar and Owen Landis on percussion. Continue reading »

Sep 032009
 

freesias“Here, smell these” said my wife, handing me a bouquet of freshly picked Freesias. I inhaled deeply, but experienced no olfactory sensation. Just a couple of weeks earlier I was savoring the Summersweet that graces my front steps, and earlier in the season my daily walk brought me past purple lilacs that had a most seductive impact. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with my overall smelling mechanism, but the Freesias somehow did not engage me.  This suggests that such things are more than just a matter of taste or conditioning.  Perhaps it’s a brain chemistry thing.

I recall a situation (decades ago) when my day job involved a large room and lots of cubes. The employees had something of a free hand in how things worked, so we decided at one point to allow people to play recorded music in the room. There was a cassette player, and folks would bring in mostly Top 40 compilations. As it turned out, this was in the 1980’s, so the experience was not that nourishing. One day I decided to put in a tape of The Chieftains. I knew that most people in the room were probably not aware of  their music, but I was so enamored of it myself that I was sure once they actually heard it, they would share my enthusiasm. I don’t recall that there were any direct complaints, but I could tell that it was a lead balloon, and not a Led Zeppelin , situation.

Clearly a large part of appreciating is cultural familiarity. But perhaps on some level each of us has (or does not have) biological or neurological components that affect our ability to experience certain kinds of music positively.  It’s a curious concept which is best debated by scientists, or over a few brews in the local pub, probably with the same conclusions.

Continue reading »

Aug 052009
 

In many respects, August is a month without a holiday, or at least a day of generally recognized significance, in our culture. Some months the holidays are global: the solstices in December and June, with the former being linked with the more high-profile Christmas. Others are specific to our country, such as Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July. But once that first week of July is over there is not much noteworthy until we (or at least some folks) get to have a day off from work on, of all things, Labor Day.

Of course, people do seek causes for celebration and acknowledgement of more targeted interests. For what it’s worth, August is National Catfish Month, which might be particularly exciting to traditional musicians who are playing Nail That Catfish to a Tree. This is clearly a Southern tune, but we New Englanders like to indulge ourselves once in a while.

The first Saturday of August bears the distinction of being National Mustard Day. This event is officially sponsored by Mt. Horeb (Wisconsin) Mustard Museum which we highly recommend, even though it is only remotely connected to folk traditions in the Monadnock Region.

If either the ingestion of mustard, or listening to the Catfish tune inspires some podiatric activity, August 6th is Wiggle Your Toes Day.

August happens to be the birth month of two national folk heroes, Annie Oakley, and Davy Crockett. But as far as we know, not too many people in these parts get too excited about this. What we do get excited about is community, and throughout the summer (July and August) towns throughout New Hampshire have their Old Home Weeks and Old Home Days. The tradition is to some degree unique to New Hampshire. The story begins with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. As word spread about the option of farming without rocks in the fertile midwest, folks began packing up and leaving New Hampshire towns. This emigration continued through the century. The Civil War saw many young men leave, and while many lost their lives in this conflict, others were enticed by places they had seen, and did not return.

Also during this time the railroad facilitated the temptation to escape the harsh New England lifestyle for the Midwest, and eventually sunny California. By the end of the century many small New Hampshire towns had practically disappeared, and Governor Frank Rollins asked the New Hampshire Board of Agriculture to support the concept of “reunions,” where those who had left would be encouraged to return and visit.

Today towns throughout New Hampshire and New England pull out all the stops to provide a week of special activities and celebrations.

Nelson (global headquarters for the Monadnock Folklore Society) will have its Old Home Week starting Sunday, August 9th. Visit the Town of Nelson web site for more details, but we do want to highlight the Nelson Folks Coffeehouse on Saturday, August 15th, at 7:00 PM at the Town Hall. This will feature a wide variety of Nelson-based performers, and of course it’s free. If you are interested in performing, please send us an email and we’ll connect with you on the details.

Just before Old Home Week officially launches, we are pleased to have Dudley and Jacqueline Laufman for the Nelson Second Saturday contra dance on August 8th. Dudley’s name is historically synonymous with contra dancing in Nelson. Older dancers will welcome the opportunity to hear him again, and younger dancers are encouraged to come and get introduced to this legendary figure. Dancing starts at 8:00, and thanks to a local benefactor, admission is only $2.