A continuing tale of life in the boonies

No. 042

Musical Notations

"There is delight in singing, tho' none hear

Beside the singer" - Landor.

As Zarathustra, on occasion came down from the mountain to walk amidst his disciples, I, too from time to time, pop out of my rat-hole to scuttle among the hoi polloi of Massachusetts. The last perambulation was a couple of weeks ago when, tracing the footsteps of Henry Wilson to Natick, I attended the New England Folk Festival, held annually in the High School of that town.

I had intended to stay two days but was thankful to get back to New Hampshire after one.

Knowing the people of Massachusetts to have long memories, I expected to be somewhat harangued, in the wake of last year's performance when I had nearly sunk a workshop on lullabies by contributing two songs. You'll Get A Belt Frae Yer Da and The Craw Killed The Pussy-o were not well received by the serious crew who ran the show, nor by several of the audience who had covered their children's ears before rushing them out. For that episode, I did anticipate a little criticism - but not the continuous earful of flak from an academic contingent that I had so badly offended back in 1983. I mean, time goes by. How about an amnesty?

*            *            *

Three years ago (1983), my friend Barry Finn had taken me to Tufts University campus, where Greater Boston Folk Song Society was holding Sing into Spring, and I had assumed this would be a festival along British lines, full of ale and merriment. Far from it. On arrival, apart from no beer and scarcely a coffee in sight, the whole affair had been exalted onto a plain that would have astonished and probably depressed the original singers of the music that these academicians had come together to celebrate.

Ever fascinated by the grotesque, though, I hung on until the Tufts’ afternoon session, when good sense should have earlier carried me home while peaceful anonymity still prevailed. But I was drawn after lunch to attend the workshop on Scottish ballads, of which I know a little, having been raised in an region of ruined abbeys, castles and keeps, and battlefields of 650 ago.

The format of a folk-song workshop can take several paths, all of which lead to boredom, for mankind's struggle, as recorded in song, was scarcely intended to be recalled in such a sterile atmosphere. The Sing into Spring "Scottish Ballad" workshop ran thus: 

At the front of the room sat the Presenter who, despite her youth, found no impediment to regaling the audience with a breezy summary of Balladry. Then she up and sang a couple, first giving the Collection Number accorded them by Professor Child, so that the already knowledgeable listeners could follow the words from their text books or record the performance on electronic machinery. All so different from the land of the songs' origin where a pub rabble bawls out the verses over a pint of McEwans or a wee Glenfiddich. After this, the presenter asked for songs within the theme from the audience, and these, between bouts of autopsy and vivisection, filled in the allotted time. I held my fire.

A woman bobbed up and sang The Dowie Dens of Yarrow, a song that had been on the tip of my tongue, being from the Borderland. Grrr. Then a student contributed Hugh the Graeme, and managed to murder the chorus as well as Hughie. I raged silently.

"We do have a Scottish expert with us today," interposed a lady (who had overheard my accent as I grumbled to Barry) and she suggested I adjudicate in a heated debate over the textural meaning of the word "wan".

"Wouldn't you care to give us a rendition?" asked the Presenter, anxious to avoid the show bogging down completely in the gray sludge of semantics.

"Well, there's that many Scottish experts here today, I'm not sure," I said, "but there is one ballad that comes to mind that I haven't heard in years. As you know, many songs originated from the Viking sagas or had Germanic roots and were absorbed, over the centuries into British balladry, cropping up later in the Appalachian Mountains. But this ballad, as far as I am aware, began life in America and went through a reversal process."

There were professorial murmurs of "fascinating", and men in tweed jackets carefully placed microphones on nearby chairs and adjusted needles of tape recorders.

"Another unusual feature of this ballad," I continued, "is the subject matter. It cannot be classified as historical, nor yet as purely romantic. It is, I suppose, supernatural in its content."

Whispers of "riveting," and ladies in wire-rimmed spectacles turned over fresh sheets of notepaper.

"It does have a chorus," I added," and should you be familiar with it, do join in."

I began to sing Catch a Falling Star and Put it in your Pocket by Perry Como to banjo accompaniment, but the uproar was so great that I had to break off. Microphones were snatched back, chairs rattled, and sheets of paper crumpled up and hurled wrathfully into waste-baskets. No one laughed and I shuffled out of the classroom in deep disgrace.

Three years have passed, yet at Natick in 1986, hissed at and poked by those who remembered the Tufts incident, I felt like a war criminal. Vice President Henry Wilson must have been an oddball to forsake the humorous haven of dear old Farmington.

Musical Soiree: Last weekend contained a musical feast that should not go unmentioned. A packed Farmington High School auditorium were entranced by the 30-strong singing ensemble of local ladies best known as the Clementines, who bashed (wrong word - Ed.) out a performance that had the audience applauding thunderously. Worthy of special mention was their conductor, Frank Lynn, whose stylish performance was reminiscent of Cab Calloway leading Minnie the Moocher - see the Blues Brothers.

And one cannot neglect to mention a simultaneous performance of outstanding quality in another part of town. Kristies Bar, on this night of nights, was host to Sounds E-Z, a four piece group given over to country rock and 60s hits, that had the whole joint hopping. It was a little puzzling to be the only person in town to witness both events.

Gold Rush: Information, at this stage, is extremely sketchy, and will be leaked out as it comes available. What is known is that two Middle School employees, Jim Bibbo and Randy Bois, have struck gold - a nugget was undergoing microscopic analysis in the Principal's office last week. This get-rich-quick duo are keeping the exact location under wraps. All they will say is that the precious ore was obtained from a river within New Hampshire. Stay tuned.

Dog News: Disturbing snippets reach my ears regarding the antics of Bud Tozier and Smokey LaPanne. Remember, guys, that the Marshall now has handcuffs, a stick and access to the zapper.

Camp Sebago: Gayle Richards of C.A.P. is looking to raise $2000 in order that 15 Farmington children can once again have a week at the outdoor activity camp in Maine. All funds must come from private sources, with no federal funds available for this deserving cause. If you are interested in contributing, call Gayle for further information on 755-4454.

Top Ten: Not the M.T.V. charts, but Mr. Beaupre's graduation class merit list. 1. Valedictorian/Mark Newman 2. Salutorian/Gina Bailey 3. Scott Harding 4. Betsy Stevens 5. Melissa Peters 6. Anita Hart 7. Tina Webber 8. Matthew Denham 9. Sheri Brown 10. Chris Hooper. The top three, in a recent interview, were all impressed to learn that Sounds E-Z will appear at the Town Hall on Friday, May 16. Admission $2. Memorial Drive News: The new telephone system on-hold tune of the week will be an electronic version of Greensleeves, until further notice. It is only marginally preferable to Yankee Doodle.

Rochester Elks Youth Bowling Tourney results: Sherry Dexter, 7/8 yrs, first place girls, 214 pts; Jamie Dexter, 11/12 yrs, second place boys, 256 pts.

Outdoor Club Seeks Hikers: Outing to Mt. Chocorua, leaving the Community Center at 7:30 a.m. on May 17. Call 755-2405 for details.

May 12, 1986

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