Nov 012008

In some respects November conjures up an image of things winding down. At least here in New England, the earth is getting ready for a long winter’s nap, and outside chores that did not get done are mostly going to wait til spring. But though we might wish to slow down a bit, perhaps even hibernate, most of us remain busy.  To balance our work, we find comfort in cozy gatherings of friends, and in the warmth of music and dance.

The activities of the Monadnock Folklore Society represent just a small part of the region’s rich cultural environment, but we are quite proud of the quality of what we do in helping to uncover and present diverse entertaing and enriching events. A recent example was the October 19th  Coffeehouse, which featured The Cold River Ranters. The Ranters have been playing together for just a couple of years, though they convey an ease of performing that might fool you into thinking it had been decades. I was immediately struck by their expressiveness, and over the course of several songs found myself enriched by the energy of their performance and the diversity of their repertoire. Continue reading »

Oct 122008

Roger Treat, bow maker.Many know him as a Cape Breton-style fiddler who plays regularly at the Monday night contra dance in Nelson, as well as many other dance halls throughout the region. It’s not hard to notice, between tunes, his friendly manner and engaging laughter. But less well-known is that Roger Treat is a master violin, viola, and cello bow maker, trained by Lynn Hannings and George Rubino at UNH, and Rodney Mohr and Jerry Pasewicz at Oberlin College.

On a sunny September day recently I met with Roger in his new workshop, which he built himself. He also makes many of his own bow-making tools. Roger was a carpenter and builder of houses and barns. “I like to create with my hands,” he says. Then he discovered bow making, which “gave me a chance to make something not only beautiful but functional–a bow that plays beautifully.” A Roger Treat bow is truly beautiful: a highly-polished round stick with rich color, delicate yet sturdy turnings in silver and ebony, gracefully hand-carved tip and frog ends, and a wide ribbon of top-grade horsehair which Roger embeds himself. Continue reading »

Oct 012008

Imagine that you’re singing with a group of people, and you’re channeling a unique and exquisite harmony. You pause, just to breathe, but you hear your voice continue. You look around and discover the person that will be one of your band mates for the next thirty years. That’s precisely what happened to Kim Wallach when she was spending a year at Wesleyan. It was a case of a Wellesleyan going to Wesleyan.  Kim had gone there in part to study under Jean Redpath who was doing a residency there. The synergistic voice she heard belonged to Kate Seeger.

Back at Wellesley College, Kim met Fay Baird, who produced a linoleum engraving for a broadside in an antique printing class (this later became the logo for Kim’s “Black Socks” music label). Their acquaintance was renewed later when Fay walked into a music store where Kim was working. Fay had taken up the banjo and cultivated an interest in Shape Note singing. Their friendship was renewed and they began exploring common musical interests.

Another customer at the store was Lorraine (then Lee) Hammond. Kim didn’t have enough time off to go home to New Jersey for Thanksgiving, so she ended up at Lorraine’s, which proved to be a sort of musician’s center of the universe. The circle that Kim came into was enriching and influential to her musical journey. Continue reading »

Sep 122008

Five fiddlers, 2 guitarists, an accordionist, and a flute player gathered at J.D. McCliment’s Pub in Putney, Vermont, on a cool September evening recently. In addition to all of us being resident in the Connecticut River valley, we shared a love of Irish traditional music. We were attending the weekly Wednesday night Irish session to play jigs and reels, reacquaint as friends, meet new musicians, and share stories.

The Morning Star/Lady Ann Montgomery
The Long Drop/The Earl’s Chair

Leading our group this night were Lissa Schneckenburger on fiddle and Corey DiMario on tenor guitar. Lissa set the tone with a choice selection of tunes played at a relaxed pace. Irish reels can be very exciting when played at break-neck or dance-tempo speed, but the lovely soul of a tune is best revealed at more moderate tempos when the lift of a phrase and the ornamentation of melody can easily be heard. A pleasure for listener and player alike. Corey’s chording on the 4-string guitar followed the melody very closely, a hallmark of good Irish accompaniment, and each tune was given its due with numerous repetitions. Continue reading »

Sep 012008

The Rhythm Rollers are a west coast band, but with a special attachment to New England contra dance music, and  notably (pun intended) for the “piano playing of Bob McQuillen, the tunes he has written, his relentless encouragement, and his jokes.”

Their new recording, Grand Right and Left, features none other than the man himself on the ivories, Cathie Whitesides on fiddle, Laurie Andres, accordion, and WB Reid on banjo-guitar (that would be a guitar in a banjo body), regular guitar, and fiddle.

Joy Abounds! Of course it’s impossible to hear McQuillen playing the piano without cracking a smile that invokes awareness of some higher power. But two additional components stand out on this recording. Laurie’s accordion playing gets right to the point. Continue reading »

Aug 112008

[Note: clicking on hyperlinked tune titles will activate pdf download of the music]

You Married My Daughter But Yet You Didn’t.” The title of this old New England reel is an enigma. Is it a mis-print? Or is it a deliberate play on words, meant to be instructive or simply playfully puzzling? Andrew Kuntz, in his The Fiddler’s Companion website, includes the rather ominous interpretation that “you had relations with my daughter, but never married her.” On a lighter note, if the “you” is either a minister or priest then the riddle is solved.

Other tune titles evoke the actual sound of the tune. There is “The Growling Old Man and Grumbling Old Woman” with the first half of this French-Canadian tune (played on the fiddle in the low register) sounding the man’s part and the second half (high register) bidding the part of the lady. A haunting Irish jig goes by the curious name, “I Buried My Wife and Danced on Her Grave.” Whether this is a caustic comment related to a doomed marriage or a way for the fellow to fondly recall his departed dancing partner will be left to the reader to decide. The title, when spoken in the cadence of a jig, does perfectly fit the opening two bars of the tune. Continue reading »

Aug 012008

Nelson Town Hall, Sunday July 27, 2008

From the moment I saw the instruments set up on stage, I could tell Troy MacGillivray was going to be aMylene Ouellette, Troy MacGillivray, Brent Chaisson phenomenal concert. The Nelson piano was joined by a key board and drums. A keyboard and a piano? My mind flashed to the scene from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? where Donald and Daffy each play a piano.

Troy took the stage with Brent Chaisson. Neither took a seat at any of the instruments that had been set up. Troy held a fiddle, and Brent a guitar. The simple arrangement exploded with rhythm. Troy and Brent hail from and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island where a strong music and dance tradition have produced generations of talented musicians. They tapped their legs in unison. Continue reading »

Jul 212008

I have warm, if somewhat faded, memories of my first wading into the pool of folk music in the mid 1970s; American ballads, their Scottish cousins, and of course the fiddle music: gradually learning to hear the differences between the Scottish, Irish, Cape Breton, French Canadian, and New England styles. And of course the “contemporary” songs – those attributed to a living composer. The pool became an ocean, and it comes pleasantly washing back over me now when I listen to the debut recording from Annalivia.

Titled, simply Annalivia, this album has a bit of everything, from the opening southern ballad “A Sailor Being Tired”, followed by a stately medley of newly composed fiddle tunes: Goon Castle and The Groton Session Jig, contemporary songs composed by Richard Thompson and Mark Simos, a powerful “Cape Breton Set”, and so on – a wonderful variety of styles and genres reflecting influences which include Pentangle, The Bothy Band, Anne Briggs, Fairport Convention, Altan, Jimmy Page, XTC, Steeleye Span, Bill Monroe, Jean Ritchie, Alison Krauss and Union Station, and Emmylou Harris. From such fertile ground Annalivia has build a sound that stands on its own for originality, on a foundation of stellar musicianship. Continue reading »

Jul 092008

It’s 1967, I’m 7 years old, dancing Money Musk with my father at the Nelson Town Hall. Newt Tolman plays the tune on his flute. The air is filled with music and dust. I’m in a whirl of confusion as the lines churn around me, I’m not sure where to go, but everyone is smiling and happy so I keep moving. When we finish, my god-mother, Bonnie Allen (now known in these parts as Bonnie Riley), tells me that Money Musk is her favorite dance. It’s a refrain I will hear from her often over the next 40 years. Continue reading »

Jul 052008

July 2, Nelson Town Hall

They sang blues, they sang a capella, they sang Leonard Cohen, they sang Fiona Apple, they sang shape note songs, they sang folk songs, and at one point in the evening, there was a trombone and ukulele duet. Anyone who wants to hear a spectrum of eclectic music and enjoy every bit of it has got to go see Coleman’s Well.

Each member of the group is a staple in the contra dance community. Nils Fredland a caller, Brendan Taaffe, a musician, and Rachel Gordon is a dancer. It’s fitting that they each represent a different, necessary aspect of a contra dance, because when they sang, the blending of their voices produced the same sense of wonder as a great dance where music, calls, and steps come together. Continue reading »