Jan 212009

It‘s unusual to have an opportunity to use the words “young” and “veteran” to describe the same people, but in this case it fits.  Lynn Mahoney of Marlboro , Vermont, and Will Thomas of Rindge are twenty-something scions of families deeply involved in the music and dance communities of their respective states, and veteran performers of vocal music: both having begun touring with the acclaimed Village Harmony chorus as young teens.

Unlike many “graduates” of youth musical companies who turn to other pursuits as they enter their college years, Mahoney and Thomas delved more deeply into traditional song. Both studied music at Marlboro College—Mahoney as a performer, Thomas as a composer, and continue to tour, both as singers and collectors. Continue reading »

Dec 312008

Perley Swett, known as “the Hermit of Taylor Pond,” was born in 1888, in an old farmhouse located in Stoddard, near both the Sullivan and Munsonville town lines. He spent his childhood learning to work hard, with little time for frivolity. When he came of age, he bought his own place a couple of miles away in Sullivan. He soon married and had several children, and achieved what might be considered rural prosperity (lots of land, and an adequate cash flow) before events unfolded that resulted in three years of imprisonment at the County Farm in Westmoreland. After his release he eventually returned to the original homestead. Alienated from family and friends, he began a more reclusive existence, taking comfort in his herd of goats (which numbered over 100 at one point). Eventually he became a local, and then a national legend – his “simple” life style (most of us can at least now imagine living without electricity) and his astute and candid observations about life conveying wisdom which, unknown to many, had come at a very high cost. Except for one day trip to Boston, he never left the Monadnock region, and seldom left his little tri-town corner. When he died in 1973, his life had intersected and influenced a remarkable number of people in ways that could never have been imagined. Continue reading »

Dec 032008

In the fall of 1978 I was helping out with the logistics of a folk festival that the Folkway was putting on at Crotched Mountain ski area in Greenfield, New Hampshire. One of my assignments was to go to the Jack Daniels Motel in Peterborough and pick up one of the weekend’s headliners, Odetta.  I knocked nervously on the door, As I expected, her presence was instantly intimidating (though she was perfectly polite), and I also realized that her ample physical presence would be somewhat intimating to the front seat of my little Datsun sedan.  I took my place behind the wheel  and by way of making conversation asked her how she was doing this day. She was silent for a short time and then said sternly, “My father died yesterday.” “I’m sorry,” I said, and then – “will you be able to sing today?” She practically glared at me (though I later learned Odetta’s glare could have a certain warmth to it) and said, “I have to sing today!”

Odetta fell in love with Peterborough, and I don’t recall if it was that year or the following, but she rented a house one winter and just hung out. She soon became a fixture at the Folkway, visiting often and performing occasionally. Others will remember better than I whether she engaged in many return visits, but I will never forget my initial encounter. Continue reading »

Nov 272008
Annaliva (missing Liz in this photo)

Annaliva (missing Liz in this photo)

I missed Annalivia when MFS put them on about a year ago, so I was really looking forward to seeing them last night. Though Arlo Guthrie was playing the Colonial, and the Monadnock region was rich in other offerings,  no one in Nelson had any thought of being elsewhere once the music began. Annalivia took the stage at eight to a full house, played two sets and then two encores. The crowd would not let them leave.

Opening with an uplifting guitar duet, Liz Simmons and Flynn Cohen strummed rhythmic and sweet. Soon, Liz’s clear voice joined in, followed by Brendan Carey Block and Emerald Rae on fiddle and Stuart Kenney on upright bass. The fluttering beat had a welcoming effect, readying the audience for a full night of music, emotion, and adventure.

The five-person group had an eclectic look: Brendan’s round face and untucked shirt, Emerald’s red lips and chic urban top, Liz’s earthy jewelry and dark risque dress, Flynn’s worn winter hat, and Stuart’s unassuming black shirt and bald bobbing head. Music brought these elements together blended and unified.

True to their appearance, Annalivia was at its best when juxtaposing different sounds and feelings together: the soft with the strong; the quick with the smooth. Their performance of Hang Man, an Appalachian song about a man sentenced to death after stealing a silver cup, was the perfect example of this. The two voices of Flynn’s guitar opened the number, followed by the two voices of Flynn and Liz. Flynn’s singing voice was high and heady while Liz’s was soft and throaty. Stuart snuck in with his supporting bass, adding a steady beat before anyone was aware, and Brendan and Emerald embellished the melody with their twin fiddles.

Brendan, a Cape Breton style fiddler, was featured toward the end of the first half. Throwing in the grace notes and flourishes the region is known for, he sounded like a fiddling legend. I imagined him descending the hills of Antrim playing an instrument of gold. Yump bada ba diddle, diddle yadum badum buuum. Stuart, head bobbing rhythmically as always, joined in with his bass. Starting slow and building up steam, Brendan switched tunes, sending out a mighty jolt. Emerald stood up and step danced, showing with her feet how dancing is a part of the music tradition. Flynn joined in on guitar, and by the end the music was so hot, he had to take off his overshirt and hat.

The cathartic moment of the concert came for me in the second half. In life, we are presented with moments of profound aloneness and undeniable connectedness. Watching this ensemble perform together, I could feel a wave of musical good feeling washing over the room. It seemed to connect us all, and pass beyond the walls of the Nelson Town Hall, through the air, out to surrounding towns, mountains, rivers, oceans… the whole world. The floor began to shake as audience members stomped their feet. With a flash in my head and a tingle in my chest, the phrase “I love the music we play together” formed in my mind. I thought of why I write, why I dance, why I listen to music, why I get up in the morning, and it was happening all around me.

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 »