“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.
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. Read more
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. Read more
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.
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. Read more
[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. Read more
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. Read more