Geoff's Notes

Tue, 21 Jan 2014

I have two exciting new programs that I want you to know about.

One is a program that Rick Spencer and I have put together relating to the Charles W. Morgan's 38th Voyage from Mystic Seaport this spring and summer. We really want to present our "A Song of Whales and Men" piece as widely as possible before the Morgan sails in May, although it will be a great concert for anytime.

The second program is one I have created through a Placemaking grant from the CT Office of the Arts based on the diary of Benjamin Franklin Palmer from Stonington as a POW during the War of 1812.

Go to the History section of my Educational Progams and check these out!

permanent link

Mon, 24 Mar 2008

Geoff's Notes may have been quiet lately, but that doesn't mean we haven't been working like busy beavers to bring you more music!

Geoff's album Choice Cuts has been re-released with additional tracks for 2008.

A selection of free MP3s from Geoff's albums have been sprinkled throughout the web site for your downloading pleasure.

Even more of Geoff's music can now be streamed from his profile page on (Hint: this is a great place to send your friends so they can hear Geoff's music for themselves...)

permanent link

Sun, 26 Jun 2005

As festivals go, it was an incredible mix of music, but clearly slanted toward the pop/rock end of the spectrum. It was a good thing I was first on, and what I offered was a lovely start to the day, but I'm not sure that many the several hundred folks who were there that early would remember what I did after hearing all the rest. In that regard, I look forward to Sweet Chariot and being back with the "family." Withal, I should say that I am honored to be in this company. In particular, it was important for me to hear Richie Havens again, who is so much like Pete in his quiet, self-effacing manner off stage, but full of a message of the need to work for peace and justice in his music. And what a performance! Not only were his incredible guitar strumming style and voice as powerful as ever, but his rap was magical, including a conversation with the "younger" set who might think they missed something by being born after the 60's. Richie's pitch is that in the 1950's everybody was dumb, gullible and innocent so those in power could do whatever they wanted. Then in the 60's came a moment when "our" generation suddenly became hip, he says in one day, which has got to be a reference to Woodstock. And then we challenged those in power and we actually made changes. But now, he says, the secret is that we're right back in the 50's, and it's another generation's chance to take charge and hopefully make it stick this time around. He delivers all this with a wonderful sense of humor and hope. He ended his set with his incredibly powerful "Freedom" at the end of which he rose from his stool playing his quadruple time strum and the leapt into the air with a split kick four feet off the ground! Everyone was on their feet by then, and he had to do an encore for which he chose his very quiet "No More Turning Away," leaving us with the simple plea that we cannot let ourselves be distracted from the most important task of paying attention when others are in need. I urge everyone to go see Richie if he's around, and get his album *****

So this festival ran from 10:30 a.m. to nearly 10:00 p.m. An amazing event in an amazing place. Let's hope Jeff Salzmann and all the supportive folks around Brooklin can keep it going. It's now 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, and if the wind comes up, I'll get out sailing this afternoon.

permanent link

Sat, 25 Jun 2005

So, here I am at ten minutes to midnight, having started this festival with a set at 10:30 in the morning, having gotten up at 6:45 in Bangor. Lots of days on the road for musicians might be like this, but this one for me was unique for the number of connections it held. First, as I mentioned to the audience in my introduction, was my family connection to Beach Island in the middle of Penobscot Bay. My mother's parents bought the island around 1920, my mother spent many of the summers of her youth there, and a cousin still owns half of the island and summers there. So, I've had the chance to spend some time here even before I was adopted into the Swan's Island family some dozen years or more years ago. That Swan's Island Sweet Chariot festival is the second connection, bringing me just across the water from here for the most intense musical experience of my life for three or four days each year. And then there were links to or influences from some of the other performers. Start with Gordon Bok, whose "Bay of Fundy" may well have enticed me into a singing career, despite needing to find the courage to sing it as a tenor. Then we have Richie Havens, who was one of my early favorites as I got into folk music, and whose "High Flying Bird" was one of my early standards. And then there is Don McLean whose "Vincent" has featured large in my early repertoire (and must again). Finally, though the connection is duo generational, I've known Tao Rodriquez Seeger of The Mammals since he was just hanging around with his grandpa Pete at Clearwater events in the late 70's, and have had occasion to book the band in New London. The only folks I didn't know personally on the bill were Northern Lights, Sara Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion and Jonathan Edwards

Where did all this leave me today? In a curious place. As the least known act on the bill, I got to open at 10:30 with a 45 minute set and then just sit back and listen. And what did I hear? First of all I should say that I was pleased with my set, running from "Come By The Hills" through "Ambletown" to "There'll Come a Day/Golden Thread." I leaned heavily upon a cappella songs with chorus in a traditional vein, asking the crowd to sing along. I should have asked the excellent sound crew to turn down my monitors so I could hear the crowd, but they seemed to join in. All in all, they seemed happy. I was followed by Northern Lights with their dynamite four piece bluegrass sound, which picked up the pace considerably, but then Gordon Bok eased folks back down into his realm of beautifully crafted thoughtful music. From there, the energy and sound level escalated dramatically with the country rock of Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion and the trad rock of the Mammals, on through Jonathan Edwards, Richie Havens and Don McLean, who ended the day (night!) with a fairly rocked out set with his four piece band, finishing, of course, with "American Pie."

permanent link

Fri, 24 Jun 2005

So, I really should say something about the last two days here in Ft. Worth. Two years ago at the Unitarian Universalist General assembly in Boston, Lillian Anderson asked me if I thought I could ask Pete Seeger to do a concert for a GA in the near future. That idea percolated long enough to make this event in Ft. Worth our target, and I got to work. The first step was getting Pete to agree to the idea, which was not a simple task. Everybody, including Lillian and the GA Planning folks, want to honor Pete, and he wants none of it. He's had enough honors, he says, and wants no more. But he still wants to sing; he does so at the drop of a hat. He also wants to promote the re-publication of his musical autobiography "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," royalties from which he will send to the various writers and source singers from whom he's gotten such songs as "Wimoweh." So I asked, and he agreed, as long as I'd get some other singers to be there because he can't hold notes now and wants the support. I started off with the idea of getting Tom Paxton to join us, but he was busy, and Tao Rodriquez Seeger, Pete's grandson, begged off because of his busy touring schedule with The Mammals. I redirected my efforts toward connections through the Hudson River Sloop Singers to people I knew would suit the situation, and ended up inviting Pat Humphries and her partner Sandy O., known as "emma's revolution," and Kim and Reggie Harris. At Pete's request I also asked Hope Johnson, a UU minister from NYC, who ended up creating a quartet to be part of the event. Once I had these folks on board, back in January, I started working on the set list with them and Pete. Through several e-mails to the others and a couple of trips to Beacon, NY to meet with Pete, that list got refined to my and Pete's satisfaction. Actually, he still worried that he was doing too many songs in relation to the rest of us, but he didn't argue the point. Meanwhile, lots of other details needed to get worked out, but all the hours of coordination and preparation paid off. When we finally convened in Ft. Worth, the mix was magic.

Before I get to the concert itself on Friday morning, I need to talk about the Thursday evening Opening Celebration. Part of the deal from Lillian Anderson was a request that I get Pete to perform on Thursday night. The theme of the conference was ministering to families, so she was hoping to have him do his famous children's story, "Abiyoyo." Actually, she wanted his rewritten version, "Abiyoyo Returns" where the giant isn't banished into oblivion but is accepted into the community (well, outside the town where he sleeps with his stinking teeth out on side of a barn and his stinking feet out the other, but he is helping to plant trees and reverse the ecological destruction that has gone on since his first appearance). I got Pete to agree to this as well, along with singing "Turn, Turn, Turn" to close the evening. Lillian also wanted me to sing something of my own, and I realized that a song I'd written for a Mystic Seaport project ten years ago might fit the bill. So I pulled out "Reach for the Sky," began working on a new verse to suit the occasion, and got Pete to play banjo on it.

Lillian also asked me to handle introducing Pete that evening. It's important to remember that Pete does not want to be fussed over, so when it came to our sound check and rehearsal for the program I carefully did not go through my complete intro which included a few phrases of reverence he might have asked me to leave out. At that juncture Pete let us know that he wasn't comfortable doing the newer version of "Abiyoyo" so we settle on his doing the first with some reference to how and why he did a rewrite.

So came the evening, in front of some three thousand attendees. Our part in the two hour program amounted to about sixteen minutes (my two minute intro, Pete's six minute "Abiyoyo," my four minute song and Pete's "Turn, Turn, Turn"), but it was just right. Pete actually seemed pleased with the language I used to introduce him, saying he is a man who has "sung for all ages, young and old, past, present and future," and that what he is about is "not fame and recognition, but simply singing with and for people of every age, race, creed, color and persuasion to make a better world. His music has always seemed to reflect our (UU) Seven Principles, and has helped shape progressive efforts here and around the world. But even more than that, it draws us in to become part of the solution as he weaves his magic through story and song." He then did that with "Abiyoyo." For our ending I had written a new double verse to "Reach for the Sky" which really got this audience's attention ("We live here on Earth in the Family of Man, but don't take that title to heart/For we're mothers and daughters and fathers and sons, and that is just for a start/With the creatures of earth, air, and water we share this delicate web of existence/Will we care for it or will we tear it apart, we're the ones who will make the difference"). That followed by Pete singing "Turn, Turn, Turn" with the whole audience joining in throughout was a moment I, and I'm sure most of that audience, won't forget.

So then came Friday morning. I don't need to say much more than that it was all I could have hoped for and more. My only regret is that we had to schedule the event when lots of other things were going on, so many folks who would have wanted to be there could not. Still, some fifteen hundred or more did and from Pete's first words about Martin Luther King on, it was a truly religious experience. Pete had insisted that this was not his concert, so the rest of us all did a couple of numbers, but as I had hoped, on many of those, and all of Pete's songs, we all got up to the mics and backed each other up. The power and harmonies of those nine voices, added to simple presence of Pete, his real words of wisdom, and I do not say that lightly and all that his music conveys, made for an experience I will certainly not forget, and I know from numerous comments made to me after, will stay in the memories of many others for a long time.

I write this in the Ft. Worth airport, waiting to get on a plane to Boston and then to Bangor, in order to head for the Flye Point festival in Brooklin tomorrow.

permanent link

Wed, 22 Jun 2005

Well, I've done it again, let lots of time pass with no news on this blog. It seems that the only time I can slow down enough to put anything in here is when I'm in airports on the road. Here I am at Logan, waiting to go to Fort Worth for the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly. More of that later, but first let me recap a little.

It's been quite a spring. After finishing the MA leg of the ECHO Storytelling tour in late March, I was home for a couple of weeks, and then off on a ten day tour that took me from North Carolina to Vermont, and from songs of the Civil War through songs of the earth and sea to memorial songs for a socialist professor at UVM. I started at the Living History Weekend in Plymouth, NC where they reenact the battle in which Confederates captured the town in late 1864, opening up the Roanoke River to get supplies to General Lee's army in Virginia, and event that may well have extended the war by a year. I was a bit uncomfortable with some of the lingering Confederate sentiment in evidence, but it is a lesson to bed learned that these feelings do not die and that the healing of deep wounds caused by that war is still not complete. Consider that in terms of all the conflicts in the world today, and we can see what an enormous job we have before us to learn to live in peace.

From NC I headed to Chestertown, MD where I did a concert for the Center for the Environment and Society of Washington College. This event arose from my singing at the installation of Eileen McLellan as the Riverkeeper for the Chester River two year ago with Robert Kennedy Jr. as the keynote speaker. He is President of the Waterkeeper Alliance (, and organization worth checking out. It was great to be back in Chester, singing for a great program under the direction of a great man in his own right, Dr. Wayne Bell.

My next stop was the Harve de Grace Maritime Museum in Havre de Grace, MD for a "Music of the Waters" Earth Day concert. This is a new museum, only a couple of years old, but with a great director in Brenda Guldenzopf, and headed, I think, for great things. There is a great passion in the Chesapeake for the history of the fisheries and the watermen who've plied those waters, and this museum will do them credit.

From there I headed for Burlington, VT where I sang three songs at a memorial service for Will Miller, a professor in the Philosophy Department. Will was well known for his encyclopedic knowledge of modern political affairs, his strong defense of socialist solutions and his untiring work in support of peace, social justice and ecological sanity. It was a great honor to just be with the hundreds who came to pay him tribute, and even more to sing several songs he would have wished to hear.

permanent link

Sun, 20 Mar 2005

Well, here I am in Salem, MA on leg three of the ECHO Storytelling tour. We gathered here on Monday evening, rehearsed on Tuesday and then did programs for schools at the Peabody Essex Museum on Wednesday and Thursday. Here, as in Anchorage and Honolulu, we had the students come to us rather than, as in other years, us going to the schools. There is a trade off here of considerable convenience for us and the organizers of having us in one place, not needing to carry around our props and coordinate transportation, but knowing that we're seeing fewer students because of the myriad difficulties facing schools in sgetting their population out to special events. In any case, the students that did come to us reflected the diversity if immigrants to this area from Asia, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean, and they seemed to get the message of cross cultural communication that is the foundation of our performance piece. Some of the most potent moments came in our post-performance question and answer sessions when we had the chance to expand upon what we have learned by being part of this project. In the case of one particularly diverse high school group, our discussion of "stories," the ones we present on stage and the ones that are the fabric of everyone's life, resulted in the students resolving to go back and collect their own. That, for us, was a thrilling moment, emblematic of what this project can and should do.

On Friday the rest of the gang went off to Marblehead while I stayed here and (thanks to wifi in the room) tried to catch up on a number of projects. Although I got a lot done, I regret not spending the day with this group of incredible people; we have become family and memorable moments come out of every day spent together, particularly when sharing some cultural exposure that is new to someone in the group.

Yesterday we did our public performances, solo and ensemble, as part of the 5th Annual New Trade Winds Storytelling Festival at PEM. This is my third year as I've said before, and I can say that the crowd was far larger than I've seen before and they participated enthusiastically throughout the day to the very last hula workshop. Great fun all around. I actually got to the museum early to go through the Yin Yu Tang Chinese House (200 years old from southeastern China) and a new exhibit called "Island Thresholds: Contemporary Art from the Caribbean." Both are well worth exploring, along with all the other rich resources of the Peabody Essex Museum. I would urge anyone to find time for a day here.

But now it's on to New Bedford and then Martha's Vineyard. More later.

permanent link

Wed, 02 Mar 2005

After I wrote the below on Monday morning, and looking at my day's task of driving to Philmont, NY, it occured to me that I had the time to say hello to my favorite Middlebury College professor, David Littlefield (it's been curious that I should end up singing with another Dave Littlefield in the quartet Forebitter out of Mystic Seaport!). I checked the phone book, made a call and set up plans for a visit. On the way, I stopped off in Burlington to see a graphic art exhibit by David Powell, husband to my niece Liz. David creates digitally manipulated collages from scanned images, focusing in this show on "nostalgic" images, mostly from the 1950's. His written introduction, and the effect of the pieces he's created are to explore the notion of nostalgia, and to make some very pointed comments about the state of the world today. Really a fine exhibit.

David Littlefield and his wife Jean live in Cornwall, just south of Middlebury, so en route I drove around the campus of my alma mater, recognising much of the old and startled by some of the new, like the very modern library. After wonderful talk, a tasty lunch and a few songs from me, David brought me back to the campus for a tour of some of the newer facilities, and they are very impressive, particularly the library and the arts center. It almost makes you want to go back to college...almost.

From there, I drove to Philmont to the home of good friends Tom and Joanne Buckner, where I holed up during the storm (over a foot here in the upper Hudson valley) to work on liner notes for the Seaport Sea Music Festival CD. I got a lot of work done, had a lovely visit, and then came this morning to Middleburgh where I've done music for a class and the school chorus, and am sticking around to participate in a school concert tonight.

permanent link

Mon, 28 Feb 2005

Saturday afternoon in Montreal was pretty relaxed. One treat was finding John Kirk, now from Saratoga Springs but formerly from down in the Catskills when I was there in the early '80's, multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire and wonderful guy. He'd played for a clogging group I was part of back then, and we did an hour and a half of catching up.

In the evening I caught some of the formal showcases, including ...... from Australia, now in the D. C. area, who's written some powerful songs out of his experiences as a peacekeeper in Indonesia. One entitled "When She Cries" is in the voice of a rebel soldier about his wife who has been raped by government troops before the rebel movement actually succeeded - a potent condemnation of the ethnic cleansing (what a bizarrely innocuous and deflective term for the brutal reality) that has been part of male perpetrated warfare through the centuries. I have no doubt that many of the ills plaguing this world from ancient times to now, particularly the readiness to resort to violence, lie at the feet of my sex. I see this enough in myself to know that with enough provocation I could become violent, but I wonder how much of that is genetic and how much cultural. And the culture any of us live in is key - without excusing them in any way, the soldiers involved in prisoner abuse in Abu-Graib (I need to ask if any of you really think George W. Bush didn'nt know how to pronouce that) were living in a situation that only succeeds by breeding contempt. The attitude that this administration exudes can only create greater conflict in this world, which by the way is the greatest profit generating engine in existence, so, my friends, follow the money.

Ah, deep breath, and back to my travels. In one of the early late night showcases (10:30) I went to hear Peggy Seeger, who has not lost her edge (now she would make a President!). At the end of her set I said hello and reminded her we'd met at a performance of hers in New London. She was very gracious, and we parted, only to meet again twenty minutes later at the bar. She was ready to wind down from her performance, and we had a chance to talk a bit. The main topic was a song she'd recently written based on interviewing Jimmy Massey, a Marine from Waynesville, NC who'd been a model soldier, but after four months in Iraq had insisted on getting out. His unblemished twelve year record allowed him an honorable discharge, but upon his return he has been compelled to study how we got into this war, and has been travelling around to lecture on the topic. Go to to find out more, including how to get a CD of Peggy's song, proceeds of which go directly to Jimmy Massey to help him weather the financial and psychological storm resulting from his decision.

After the conversation with Peggy, I headed back down to a showcase by Peter Seigel, one of my favorite acquaintances from the Sloop Singers some years ago. He is a masterful performer on a variety of instruments, and one of the most clever writers I know. Half an hour was not nearly enough, but I was glad to be able to catch him. After that I headed for the room, knowing I was getting up early to head for Burlington. Those best laid plans were sabotaged by all the stimulation of hearing so many well made and potent songs, along with my talk with Peggy Seeger. My mind was overflowing, and some thoughts had to spill out on the page before I could sleep. It occurred to me that the concept of home has a strong resonance for many people in the world, and is played upon here and abroad as a powerful element of generating the attitudes that lead to the interminable conflicts that seem to be humankind's legacy. The appropriation of the word "patriotic" by the Bush administration is a particularly disturbing example. Thoughts along these lines kept me cooking for a while - we'll see where they lead.

Sunday morning I drove from Montreal to Burlington in time for the 11:00 service at the 1st UU Church where I also started a conversation about coming back to do a concert. This was home base for Rachel Bissex, a wonderful and much loved singer who died of cancer just a week ago. Her memorial service last Wednesday filled this 500 seat sanctuary. It is a beautiful space visually and acoustically, so I hope something works out. The rest of the day was taken up with visits with family and friends ending up on Grande Isle to spend the night with a high school classmate.

permanent link

Sat, 26 Feb 2005

Quite the scene, this annual gathering of pumped up folkies from here (North America) and abroad. Of course there is a fabulous array of Canadian talent here, covering all the bases from traditional to contemporary singer-songwriter. Also the expected crowd of U. S. singer-songwriters from veterans like Si Kahn and Greg Greenway to the swarm of up-and-comers. Thursday night I checked our a few showcases, including my friend Pauil Kaplan from Amherst, and then found my way to the Local 1000 "Showcase Free" room for a political song circle hosted by Charlie King. Pat Humphries and Sandy O. were there, as was Deb Cowan and Joe Jencks (a new acquaintance from the mid-west who is a fine song writer and very good performer), along with a bunch of folks I didn't know. I heard some great songs, including a re-make from Charlie of "Martin Said To His Men" with a new chorus of "Why, man why?" dealing with a litany of actions by the current administration. My offering was Bill Burnett's "Guantanamo Bay" which was well appreciated by that crowd. I stayed on for a celtic/traditional song circle the next hour and then trundled off to bed around 1:30 (a real piker by conference standards!).

Yesterday during the day I spent a good deal of time in the exhibiton hall just seeking out people I knew, and making a few good connections. I also went to a couple of workshops, one on performance technique that was particularly interesting. The panel was Ronny Cox (film and theater actor [Total Recall] turned singer-songwriter), Reggie Harris and Greg Greenway, all of whom had valuable things to say about how they approach performance, and left me with some good things to think about.

I had dinner with Deborah Winograd and Clyde Tyndale from Wood's Hole/Falmouth, MA, long time friends I haven't had a chance to sit down with in years, then listened to some bit of showcases before getting ready for my own 11:30 Balladry session with Enoch Kent, Joe Hickerson, John Roberts and Finest Kind. I actually went to the showcase room an hour early to hear the Old-Time session with John Lilly, Ginny Hawker and Tracy Schwarz, Paul Arnold and Margaret MacArthur. The room held about 60 - 70 people and was packed for both sessions. We had a great time with ours, how could we not with that line-up? I did "Constitution and the Java" as a military booster song in honor of President Bush's talks with Vladimir Putin, and the point was not lost on that audience. I also did "The Knockerbocker Line," having great fun getting the crowd to sing that chorus. A great time all around.

That ended at 12:30, and I listened to a bit more music before crashing. I have no other offical involvement here, so it's off to afternoon workshops, cruising the exhibit hall, and another night of dropping in on showcases.

permanent link

Fri, 25 Feb 2005

O.K. Alright. I know it's been a week and a half since I've put anything on the blog, but I came home with bronchitis and then had to jump into production of last June's Sea Music Festival CD. I'm writing now from Montreal, having just arrived for the Strictly Mundial Folk Alliance Conference. More on this fandango later.

To recap a bit, Sunday the 13th in Honolulu was devoted to the Bishop Museum's monthly Family Day which included a noontime performance of our ECHO piece, and a number of other performances, by us individually and by local music and dance groups. A fine day all in all, although I was really beginning to feel some effects from Friday's drenching. Monday I spent all day at Hanahau'oli School where my mother first taught music when she came out of Radcliffe in 1936. I did an assembly at 8:30, and spent the rest of the day with Chris Mullen in the music room with every level from K - 6. I did silly songs with 2 & 3, whaling songs with 4 & 5 and basically acted as a consultant on the 6th grades plans for their graduation musical. I barely got through the day with a voice, but it was very gratifying. In particular, Chris and the kids have been picking favorite songs from my appearances and incorporating them into their own performances. The whole school sings "John Kanaka" from the first time I was there two years ago. For the past two years, Chris has gotten the older students to perform an involved arrangement of "Last Leviathan" that is really amazing. They start with ocean drums, the ones that use rollong bb's to replicate the sound of ocean waves, then add in low timbre tongue drums for the whales heartbeat, guitar, small high pitched xylophones, triangles and pipe chimes, finally bringing in singers for the chorus verse, and soloists for the rest - WOW. It amazed me for the second year running that these grade school kids would chose to perform such a difficult (emotionally) song, and then that they should do it so powerfully. That was enough to keep me flying all the way home, which I did overnight into Tuesday.

So then I spent two days in bed, except for getting to the doctor for medication, and have been going full bore on the Seaport CD ever since. So now for the Folk Alliance Conference. Just said hello to Margaret Macarthur, who will be in the series of traditional showcases I'm part of tomorrow night. I'll sign off for now, so I can eat and hear and play some music!

permanent link

Sun, 13 Feb 2005

Slept in a bit yesterday, and then got some laundry done before heading to the Bishop Museum for another field trip, this time to the Hakipu'u Learning Center, a Hawaiian studies Charter School in Kane'ohe on the windward side. In 1999, the state of Hawai'i passed a bill mandating the creation of 23 charter schools, and within a year all 23 were actively being developed. Of those, thirteen focus particularly on Hawaiian studies, like Hakipu'u, and seven are Hawaiian emersion programs using the Hawaiian language as their center.

The Haikipu'u Learning Center is a multi-age, multi-level institution started three years ago with a 7th grade level class, adding a class level each year until the school is 7-12. One of the core principles is that students become teachers, as we all should pass on our knowledge, so older students instruct the younger. Immediately evident in any conversation with either students or teachers is a profound respect for the natural world that emerges from traditional Hawaiian culture. In fact they center their teaching around the Hawaiian word "kuleana" which translates as "privledge and responsibility," honoring the natural environment while trying to protect it within the context of modern culture. One of their projects is to replicate traditional methods of growing taro, a starch staple of the islands, and of harvesting fish in ponds built along the shore.

After getting a good feel for how the school operates, using a building on the campus of the Windward Community College, we headed for the beach (we were scheduled to go to their taro patches up higher in the hills, but the rains had been heavy enough to make that unwise), where we met a group of students from Minnesota, here on an sister school exchange. The Learning Center has begun a camp program following an Iñupiat model out of Barrow, AK in which these kids learn about Hawaiian traditions. In the late afternoon we all got to share in their equivalent of a clambake in which they create an imu or oven by digging a pit, heating a bed of rocks with plenty of fire, and then layering taro leaves above and below the edibles of pua'a (pig), kalo (taro root), breadfruit and chicken. Before eating, we had to fashion our own plates woven out of palm leaves, a very neat experience in itself, and then, what a feast! I will have to admit that both the taro and breadfruit were rather bland to my palette, but also very distinct in flavor, and I was struck by how well all these foods complimented each other. I found the pua'a very delicious, and some local sea salt did wonders for the starches. In any case, I was well satisfied when we packed up and headed back for Honolulu late in the evening.

permanent link

Sat, 12 Feb 2005

Yesterday turned out to be quite an adventure. The day was organized so that we could do something which for native Hawaiians is sacred, to touch the water of the ocean and the water of the clouds on the mountain in the same day. When we gathered in the morning at the Bishop Museum, Noel Kahanu pointed toward the mountain tops that were obscured by cloud, saying that was where the earthly communicated with the gods. By day's end we would be in those clouds.

We began by driving to a beautiful beach nestled around a lagoon inside a reef at Ewa in Koilina. The lagoon water was delightful, just cool enough to refresh after walking on the reef and lying in the 80 degree + sun. We spent a very peaceful two hours there, ate our boxed lunch of breaded ahi (tuna), spam, chicken and rice. We gathered up our things around 2:00 p.m. and headed for the Makakilo Community Center to meet Mahi La Pierre who took us for a hike in Waienae last year. On this trip we were headed for Palikea in the Honouliuli Forest Preserve, Nature Conservancy land open only by special arrangement. Mahi worked for the Conservancy a few years ago, and still has access to the key for the two gates of entry. I should mention that at this point, nearing 3:00 p.m., the weather was still lovely and warm. I had come somewhat prepared with decent boots, jeans and even a flannel shirt, but I had foolishly left my windbreaker at the hotel. I was to rue that oversight.

We carpooled our party of fourteen into three vehicles, and headed up the mountain. A twenty minute drive brought us to the last communication tower (primarily for all the military services on the island), and we prepared for our ascent. In that somewhat ironic setting, in the shadow of the tower, but looking beyond to the mountain, our Hawaiians (Noel, Mahi, Nohea, Hi'ilani and Kealoha) sang oli (chants) requesting permission to enter that special ground. As always when I hear these chants, I was deeply moved. Then we began our trek. Mahi had warned us that some portions of the trail were along steep escarpments, and that we needed to take care with our footing. Two of the group had expressed some fear of heights, but were game. The round trip hike was only 3 1/2 miles, so even starting at 3:30, it seemed we would be in fine time to get back for dinner by 6:30.

By 4:15 we had only made it about half way to the top, and the weather was closing in. Mahi asked if we wanted to go on, and we all agreed to stick it out although we were already getting rained on and most of the party was ill-equiped. We had, however, a shared sense of the significance of the venture, particularly for the Hawaiians who don't get this opportunity very often because this is now protected land, and not many natives have an in with the Nature Conservancy. So on we went, getting wetter and colder by the minute. Before all visibility disappeared we did get several spectacular views of the leeward side of Oahu from Pearl Harbor over Honolulu to Diamond Head, and of the rugged terrain of the windward side. Then the clouds decended, or rather swept across the valley and engulfed us, and the rest was a determined, wet slog. We did reach the top, a bare spot of about 10' x 15' and visibility of about ten yards in any direction. We did not linger long before beginning our decent, which was for some more frightening and difficult than coming up. Even though I heard some native bird songs, my focus was on getting down out of the wind and rain. We all made it safely back to our point of departure where we gathered again while our Hawaiians sang once more to honor the spirits of that land we had just traversed. Despite the cold and wet, it all was a remarkable experience, and that last fairly wild remnant of Oahu is a place I should like to linger in and appreciate better sometime in the future. For this day, it was good to get into a hot shower an hour later in hopes of fending off a cold or worse.

permanent link

Thu, 10 Feb 2005

We left Barrow on Saturday morning, stayed in Anchorage that night, and then I made my way to Seattle on Sunday afternoon. The others all took an early Monday morning (2:00 a.m.) flight so they could watch the Superbowl. I opted for a night's sleep, and ended up on the same plane with Tobias from Seattle to Honolulu Monday at 8:40 a.m. We arrived in Hawai'i around noon, got settled in the hotel in Waikiki, and then headed first to the Bishop Museum and then across island to the Paliku Theatre at Windward Community College for rehearsal. Upon gathering there, we found that Charlie for some reason was not going to be with us, so we spent that evening incorporating Norma, an employee of the Iñupiat Heritage Center with no acting experience, into the show. That meant some reworking of our approach, but at least it kept a representative from Barrow in the program.

Tuesday morning and this morning we did 9:00 & 10:30 shows at the Paliku Theatre to groups of from 150 to 250 students. Despite Norma's inexperience, she has managed to deliver her lines quite well, and the shows have been well received. At the end of our second performance today, after we had introduced ourselves and answered a few questions one of the high school boys began a beautifully sung solo chant, and then was joined by many of the Hawaiian emersion students in the audience in a group chant. If you have not heard traditional Hawaiian chant, it is difficult to describe its power, delivered primarily in a monotone, but with a full richness of vocalization that is simply thrilling. That is a moment I won't forget.

Yesterday was a day off, which I spent mostly rehearsing for my programs at Hanahau'oli School next Monday. Tomorrow we head off for a hike at Palikea, one of the more remote parts of Oahu, and Saturday we'll be off on another excursion to learn about the traditional Lo'i (taro farms) and fishponds. I'll report back in a few days.

permanent link

Fri, 04 Feb 2005

This morning we went to the Iñupiat (that word is spelled variously ending in "q" or "t" with no logic that I have been able to discern) Heritage Center for the Grand Opening of their People of Whaling exhibit. This is something that's been in the planning for years, and a great matter of pride for people of the North Slope. It has become clear to me that this, and experiencing Kivgiq, are why the ECHO partners from Barrow wanted us here now, and for me, what I heard this morning was very important. This is an indigenous culture that could easily have disappeared as so many have, but for the fierce pride these people have in their way of life. They have certainly been greatly affected by the incursions of outsiders, starting with Russian fur traders and on through Christian missionaries and commercial whalers, and while they have thoroughly embraced Christianity, they have held on to their language along with their central culture defining tradition of whaling.

This new exhibit has been partnered by the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks, and that museum's Director, Aldona Jonaitis, had some interesting words to say about the erroneous role museums have most often played regarding native cultures, taking their "artifacts" and interpreting them with native input. This exhibit, she said, used "community curation" and has been driven by what people here said they wanted to say about their culture.

Two items of particular interest to me were fishing lines and nets made of thin enough strips of baleen to knot together, and a box drum, or Kalukaq, said to replicate the heartbeat of the bald eagle, who in tradition taught the Iñpiat to sing and dance. The whole exhibit is in one fairly large room. divided by various standing panels, not large , but packed with old and new gear related to the indigenous whaling here, and tells with power that part of this proud peoples story. Let me end with the words State Representative Reggie Joule whose son has grown up to be a whaler. Though he himself never whaled, when his son called from Point Hope after his first hunt and kill, Reggie was able to describe every moment ("..and as you paddled out, were your arms on fire?" "Yes." "And when you saw the blow of the whale, did the leaden tired feeling leave your arms?" "Yes.") as he had heard them from older generations. He concluded his speech with this:

It is said that we dance in the shadow of our elders. Let that be in the shadow of the dawn and not the shadow of evening.

permanent link

Thu, 03 Feb 2005

Our tour on Wednesday morning was good fun, mostly because our driver had a great sense of humor ("We have three seasons here, last winter, this winter and next winter".) We went as far out north on the point as we could, about four miles, but saw no polar bears in the most likely spot. The wall of buckled ice along the western shore was impressive, and we were told that a recent storm ate away about three feet of that shoreline, presumably because of thawing permafrost as an result of global warming. The only wildlife we saw was lots of caribou all around the town, digging down through the snow cover to eat tundra grass and lichens. The day was clear, and we watched a gorgeous sunrise beginning at 11:25. Clouds came in later, so I couldn't determine when the sun went down, but it stayed light until around 5:00.

That afternoon we performed for 400+ Elementary School students, which was a bit of a challenge, but they were well behaved and seemed receptive. We were then treated to a performance by two native Russian dance groups. The first were Siberian Yu'pik, and their style closely resembled some of the more retrained native Alaskan dance I've been seeing. The second group, also from far eastern Russia, were much more flamboyant reflecting many influences (or that their dance had influenced others, including the energetic men's Russian folk dances I first became aware of when I was in high school). The most unusual aspect of their performance was the high keening vocalizations of the women, very intense and percussive. In this case they were clearly imitating bird cries, at least part of the time. Throughout the dance and song of all these native peoples runs the current of imitating nature in sound and movement, as a part of honoring it and the close relationship all these people have had, and still do, with the natural world.

Thursday morning we attended to opening celebration of Kivgiq, a tri-ennial drumming and dancing festival that brings together people from all the villages of the North Slope. It began with a procession of twenty Iñupiat dance groups (and two troups from away, the Alaska Native Heritage Center Dancers from Anchorage and Hawaiian dancers representing the Bishop Museum in Honolulu). These groups ranged from eight to nearly one hundred in number, usually comprised of about half drummers (all men, most of whom dance as well) and half women and child dancers. They use frame drums of about two feet in diameter afixed to a short handle commonly made of caribou horn and beaten with a long flexible stick that can be used quite gently for the first half of a dance, and then forcefully for the energetic repeat of the same figures in exaggerated form. The processional ended with all the drummers joining together is a celebratory song which certainly filled that gymnasium to the brim with sound!

The processional was followed by representative runners from each group being taken about three quarters of a mile away to race back for the honor of lighting the Seal Oil Lamp. Keep in mind that these young men were running in -10 degrees. The runner from Nunamuit won, and brought up his elderly aunt to light the lamp for the official opening of the event. Really an impressive affair all around.

The afternoon was filled with half hour performances by some of the groups. At 7:00 we did our final performance in the auditorium to a very appreciative audience, and then relaxed by watching the groups from Anchorage and Hawai'i. By that time we were pretty famished, and went out (almost next door) to the Teriaki House for dinner.

permanent link

Tue, 01 Feb 2005

We arrived in Barrow last night, a day late after missing the plane in Anchorage on Sunday as we were misinformed that it was delayed when, in fact, it left on time. As a result, we've missed one set of school programs, but today we were able to present to the high school, and were very well received. Tonight we do a public show at the Heritage Center.

We arrived last night in the dark at 7:30 PM to a temperature of -21 degrees. This morning at 8:00 AM it was a balmy -7. At 10:10 AM we arrived at the High School in darkness, but emerged to daylight at 11:30. Our hosts say they have about four hours of light now, and gain about 15 minutes a day. It's now 2:20 and should be getting dark soon. We're getting a tour tomorrow during which we hope to see polar bears and perhaps some caribou.

permanent link

What a weekend! It started on Long Island with two daytime programs and an evening concert at Hewitt Elementary School in Rockville Centre. Great kids, great teachers and an especially great Principal, Joanne Spencer. The 4th grade got a musical perspective on American history (1699-1880) from a mostly nautical point of view, and the 5th grade heard about the Civil War through song. The evening show included some songs about and from the Erie Canal in honor of an exciting project, headed up by two very bright and poised young ladies, Leah and Kathleen, to raise money for the restoration of a lock in Cohoes.
Then it was on to Woodstock, NY to be part of a Saturday concert of Catskill Folk Songs with Rich Bala, Joanna Cazden, John Herald, Joe Hickerson, Pete Seeger, Happy Traum, Jay Ungar & Molly Mason, Mickey Vandow, and Eric Weissberg. This show came out of a CD we (most of the above along with Bob and Louise DeCormier, Abby Newton and Ronnie Gilbert) produced in the Spring of 2000 to celebrate the songs collected from Camp Woodland outside of Phoenicia, NY in the 1940s and 50s. It was a wonderful night of great songs and great playing, but Id say the highlight was Pete talking about learning Guantanamera(adapted from a poem by José Marti) from Jose Fernandez Dias at Camp Woodland. He said that the campers insisted he listen to the song, and he quickly understood its power, a song he has now sung in forty different countries. The spirit of Camp Woodland infused all of us on Saturday night, even those like myself who didnt experience it directly. I hope to find a way to help keep that spirit alive, and will, undoubtedly, talk more about here on other occasions.
Now, its off tomorrow to Alaska with the Trade Winds storytelling tour sponsored by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. Once Ive caught my breath, Ill report on the doings there!

permanent link

Home again, home again, and too busy to finish the story! Well, after a thirteen hour trip from Honolulu on 5/5-6 (we left at 5:30 P and arrived at 7:30 A in Boston), we coordinated with Merry Glosband from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, and headed for Martha's Vineyard. We got out there in time for an evening meal and a much needed sleep! Next day we rallied for a school program, a tour of native lands and an evening performance for the Wampanoag tribe in Aquinna, part of an evening "social." The next morning we did another school, and then headed off island to New Bedford for their AHA (Arts, History and Architecture) Festival. Next morning we were off to a dedication on Boston Common of traditional Wampanoag fish weir dug up during the 1940's & 50's. Both Vineyard and mainland tribal members conducted the ceremony in regalia, and it was a memorable event. We then proceeded to Salem for the final leg of our episodic three week tour.
Our Salem experience for me was also episodic. I was so near home (after two weeks away) that I could almost taste the New London salt air, so after a performance at the Phillips Library on Saturday afternoon, I headed back for a church event and a night in my own bed with my very tolerant wife. I went back up on Sunday night to be ready for two school programs on Monday and for the final dinner. We've had three of those, in Alaska, in Hawai'i and here, but I must say that this goodbye had me tied up in knots. I had traveled with some of these folks, Tobias, Tom, Nohea, Natalia and Lella for three weeks. Others I had met before in Alaska, or had just met for the last week during which some close relationships had evolved. I would mention here Riley, one of the Inupiaq dancers from Barrow, Alaska who had lost a family member since he headed out on this trip. His sincerity to his tradition did not allow him to dance on the day of that relative's funeral. Before I knew of his relative's he'd talked about his four-year old daughter's missing him, and I'd sung to him a snatch of "Riley, Riley, where are you." I sang that to him just about every time we met, and definitely at our parting. I hope that I may see his home, and that of all the Barrow Dancers we met, sometime.
I would add here that the inspired efforts of those at the Peabody Essex Museum to pursue this project must be applauded. I know that many were involved in creating the New Tradewinds project, but I have to give my thanks to Merry Glosband who administered this particular evolution of the project. As busy as she was with many other things, she, with the able assistance of Margaret Sweet, managed an enormous task.
I may have more to say on various particulars at a later date.

permanent link

Sun, 30 Jan 2005

Yesterday we did one public performance and we all did short solo performances as part of a Multicultural Drum and Dance Festival at ANHC that included several Alaskan native cultures, along with Hawaiian hula, Japanese Taiko drumming (incredible!) and a Latin rhythm band! What an amazing array of music and dance! I might apologize for all the exclamation points, but there's really other way to get across the dynamic nature of this experience. Now it's off to Barrow for an immersion in the Inupiaq culture.

permanent link

17 Older Entries