“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.
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.
Cape Breton fiddler and composer Jerry Holland has died after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 54. Holland died Thursday night.
Holland was originally from Boston. As a boy, he travelled to Cape Breton in the summer with his family. He moved to the island permanently in 1975. He performed publicly for the first time at age six — a year after he started to learn the fiddle. He performed on the John Allan Cameron Show from 1974-1977, and played stages around the world. Over the years, Holland earned a reputation as one of the finest composers and players of Cape Breton-style music.
Jerry was a great friend to the Monadnock Folklore Society, and performed in the Nelson Town Hall on several occassions, most recently in April of 2008. His presence reinforced the Nelson – Cape Breton connection that has been nourished by Harvey Tolman and Roger Treat, both regular fiddler’s at the Nelson Monday Night contra dance.
Farewell Jerry – thanks for the tunes, and for your great spirit – may it soar freely now.
Thunderous applause hoots and hollers of contra dancers echoed in the vaulted ceiling of this gracious space, known as the Stone Church at the Brattleboro, Vermont contra dance on Sunday June 14th
Dancers were showing their appreciation for fiddler Perin Ellsworth-Heller and pianist Arthur Davis, two extraordinary young musicians (ages 14 and 16 respectively), and their mentor, Mary Lea.
Adding to the excitement of the evening was the fact that Perin had just been selected as the recipient of the 2009 Johnny Trombly Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship, sponsored by the Monadnock Folklore Society, provides funding for an individual under the age of 18 to study traditional music. Continue reading »
Back in the mid 1970’s when I first began playing the piano for contra dances, it was an unwritten rule that the dance would go until midnight. When the Monadnock Folklore Society sponsored its first Saturday night dance series in Nelson, and later in Greenfield, this was not even something that was discussed – of course it would go until midnight. A while later as I began playing further afield I was surprised to find that some dances ended earlier, and of course we would scoff at the softness of those dance communities who did not have the stamina to hold out until the bewitching hour. These days around here it’s rare to see a dance go this late, and even a well-attended high-energy evening scheduled to go until 11:00 or 11:30 tends to fade in the last hour. What has become of us!
I recently attended a lecture by Alan Rumrill, director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, about the Power of Water – specifically the influence of Granite Lake on the settlement and development of Munsonville (which is a suburb of Nelson). The talk took place in the Chapel-by-the-Lake in Munsonville, and a summary and pictures that Alan provided can be seen on the Town of Nelson website.
In his lecture Alan included some discussion of the building we were in, which was originally built to serve as a church. Continue reading »
Washington, D.C. – Dudley Laufman, a musician and barn dance caller from Canterbury, N.H., has been awarded the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts, the National Heritage Fellowship. The National Endowment for the Arts, which bestows the fellowships, announced this year’s 11 winners today.
Laufman is the third New Hampshire resident to receive the award. Contra dance musician and composer Bob McQuillen of Peterborough earned a National Heritage Fellowship in 2002, and Littleton basketmaker Newt Washburn was selected in 1987.
“I really didn’t believe it at first,” Laufman says of the honor, which comes with a $25,000 honorarium and will be celebrated with ceremonies and performances in Washington, D.C., September 21-24, with the public performance on Thursday, September 24.Continue reading »
The question arises: why do people Morris Dance? The reasons for the tradition are well documented – welcome in the spring and facilitate fertility of the earth and the creatures living here. The history of Morris dancing becomes somewhat obscure prior to the time of Shakespeare, though there are certainly indications of much earlier activity. In more agrarian times, fertility rites might have had greater urgency and relevance to survival, but one can speculate that Morris dancers of old were also inspired by those things which move the modern Morris men and women to engage in activity that seems at once ridiculous and exhausting.
I ask several Morris dancers this question – why do they Morris dance – what’s in it for them? Curiously, the word “tradition” didn’t even factor into an answer until my sixth or seventh victim (though I happen to know that all Morris dancers are knowledgeable and respectful of the tradition). Camaraderie was a frequent word – describing not only the relationships of the team, but of fellow Morris dancers around the country, and indeed around the world. “I love to dance” was a common answer, and appreciation of the music ranked high as well. Several referenced the importance of the figures – the patterns and repetition . And of course, it’s just plain fun to dress up and be silly, then go to pubs for a few rounds of brew and song.
I’m not sure if anyone has ever measured the caloric expenditure of Morris Dancers, but I doubt there’s any machine at a fitness center that is more effective. Then there is the precision of the figures – the sound from those sticks hitting each other tells you that they are not kidding around. You need to have a lot of confidence not only in your own movement, but that of your teammates as well. This is a lot of work, and of course it takes a lot of practice, which in turn represents considerable dedication.
The Harrisville Morris Women
I believe that’s where the magic comes in. Hard work, focus, and perseverance – the good earth can appreciate that – add a shot of pure joy (music) and you indeed have the ingredients for fertile ground.
Locally, our Morris folk (some of whom have been dancing for 30 years) have dared to deviate somewhat from the exact traditional practices that were handed down to them as being correct, and I found no dancer who was particularly doctrinaire in their thinking about it. This is a good thing. There is a delicate balance between preserving the technical details of a tradition and preserving the spirit. Of course, a little spirited debate on this subject is welcome, and you can make your comments here!
The Town of Nelson has a strong connection with Cape Breton music, largely due to the influence of Nelson fiddler Harvey
Tolman. On Monday nights at the contra dance Harvey’s repertoire is rich with Cape Breton tunes rendered in the traditional style. Roger Treat, another Monday night regular, also focuses on Cape Breton music; both fiddlers have spent quite a bit of time in Cape Breton, drinking straight from the well. Over the years the legendary fiddler Jerry Holland has become a good friend of Nelson audiences, and it might be safe to say that Nelson enjoys something of a reputation among Cape Breton players, who recognize and appreciate an educated audience.
We are very excited to be presenting Kimberley Fraser, one of the foremost of the new generation of Cape Breton fiddlers. Like the Morris Dancers, Kimberley is solid in her traditional roots, but she is not afraid to take it to new places. News Flash: Kimberly will be joined by the fabulous Mark Simos! You can hear some of Kimberley’s playing from her website, and you can order tickets to her May 16th concert in the Nelson Town Hall right here.
May 1st: 5:30AM – Pack Monadnock
May 2nd: Keene, NH – Local Tour
10:00AM – Agway
11:15AM – Colony Mill
1:00PM – Railroad Square
2:15PM – Langdon Place
May 3rd: 10:45AM – Nelson, NH May Pole
May 9th: 4:00PM – Tracie’s Farm – Fitzwilliam, NH
May 10th: 10:00AM – Lilac Sunday – Boston, MA
May 16th: Dublin & Peterborough, NH – Local Tour
9:30AM – Dublin General Store
1:00PM – Children Of The Arts Festival
2:15PM – NH Nursing Home
3:30PM – Summerhill Assisted Living
Last weekend I had the pleasure of playing the piano for a Square Dance in Arlington, MA. The caller was Woody Lane, from the Portland, OR area. It’s always great to meet folks from far away, and to see what is unique about their styles. Woody presents a cheerful and casual demeanor which allows him to teach incredibly complicated figures with an air of simplicity. I thought of a master post and beam builder, who painstakingly creates well-thought-out joinery behind the scenes for a house or barn which is then flawlessly raised.
I don’t believe that complexity is Woody’s goal for most of his dances, but he was working with some interesting material on this evening: not only were most of the attendees experienced dancers , but there was also definitely a high geek factor (engineering and computer types). Having sat at the contra piano bench for over 30 years now, I can’t help but have noticed that certain dancers relate to contra choreography as an engineering problem, and they get a sort of gleam in their eye as they work their way through the solution. The proximity to MIT and other bastions of intellect must have something to do with this. There is something amusing about seeing a flirtation executed with algorithmic glee.
Up here in Nelson the dancing tends to be more primitive, more down to earth (or this time of year, mud). Sure there are some dancers who think a bit too much about what they are doing, but the primary MO still seems to be about fun. The satisfied smiles of completing a challenging figure are replaced by broad grins and laughter. The figures are executed with varying degrees of finesse, but ultimately the dance seems more about the social value. Continue reading »
My maternal grandparents lived their entire lives within a mile of where they both were born, in West Wareham, Massachusetts, just before you get to Cape Cod. My grandfather was a cranberry farmer, so he had a professional as well as general interest in the weather. From early childhood visits, to my teenage years when I lived with them during the summer, I remember every morning the presence of Don Kent, WBZ’s weatherman, penetrating the living room. Don was the first radio and television meteorologist in Boston, with a career that began in the mid nineteen thirties, until his official retirement in the mid eighties. Concepts like warm front, cold front, and even the jet stream had not been discovered when he started out. His own skills were based less on education and more on intuition and powers of observation. While serving in the Coast Guard in WWII, he had a lucky break when he foresaw the possibility of freezing rain occurring when practice flights were being made in preparation for the invasion of Normandy. He wasn’t influential enough to persuade the Navy to cancel their flight plans, but his own Coast Guard folks trusted his judgment and kept their planes on the ground. As it turned out, several of the Navy planes iced up and went into the ocean off of Cape Cod. His forecast, and the credibility he had earned, saved several lives that day. The war facilitated a significant advancement in the science of weather, and it’s been growing in leaps and bounds ever since.