For me, May is full of feelings of joy and rebirth mixed with the sweet sadness of remembering lost loved ones. This month I share a song that perfectly pairs these two emotions, born from the story of how women kept the (mostly male) dancing tradition alive in England while men served in France during the first world war. Join me in my kitchen. I take honey with my tea. How about you?
Tom at Amazing Things Arts Center. Photo: Dan Tappan
This month, The Kitchen Musician celebrates its fifth anniversary! I started this blog as a way to inspire me to write and sing on a regular basis. With unbroken monthly contributions over the last five years, I think I can declare it a success. Thank you to all of you who read, listen and comment. It is a great pleasure to talk to folks at my shows who mention something that has touched them in one of my blog posts. Let’s see how long we can keep this going!
I have lots of great shows coming up, but would especially like to highlight that I will be opening for one of my folk music heroes, Geoff Muldaur. My love for self-made music was completely solidified the first time I saw Geoff perform with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band in 1968. He has continued to make great music ever since. I would love to share Geoff with you when I open for him at Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham, MA on Friday, May 4th (details below).
This Month’s Music
“Dancing at Whitsun”
Click the image above to play the video.
We school teachers are strongly influenced by the cycles of the moon almost as much as are farmers and sailors. Every September first I can feel my energy level rise and my heart pump that much harder as I anticipate the arrival of students. Come February, we teachers lock arms and do our best to encourage each other to make it through ‘the tunnel’ as we call it â€“ the dark time which seems to have no ending in sight. Then comes May and light pours in from sources long buried behind winter curtains. Like our students, we sense the coming of graduation day and sweet sweet summer. In the words of Ralph W. Emerson, “What potent blood hath modest May.”
With the coming of each season we renew many traditions. I love the traditions in my life, even though as a school technology specialist, I am often viewed by my colleagues as an agent of change. Part of my profession is to replace old systems with modern computer based processes. But I am sympathetic to the basic human instinct to resist change and find myself sometimes favoring ‘homey’ systems in my personal life over those which are obviously more efficient â€“ like my friend Kate Chadbourne who will never type her journal with a computer, preferring her trusty fountain pen instead.
At the school where I work, we have a very long standing tradition to celebrate May Day on the first Friday of the month. For over a century, our school children have sung songs and performed Morris dances. The May Pole Dance is the grand centerpiece of the celebration. Perhaps because it comes at the time of year when we celebrate the reawakening of the earth and all of the optimism that surrounds our children, May Day is my favorite festival.
In modern centuries the May Pole Dance has become part of the Christian tradition in England, though its roots run to pagan times. Whit Sunday, known as Whitsun, corresponds with Pentacost Sunday. Celebrated seven weeks after Easter, it is the traditional time for the May Pole Dance. In the 19th century the May Pole Dance (and all Morris dancing) was danced only by the men of the village.
The beautiful song I share this month was composed in 1967 by Austin John Marshall. The melody is the traditional tune The Week Before Easter. During World War I, English men were marched to fight in France and Germany. Some villages lost more than 50% of their male population. In the place where the May Pole once stood sat the honor roll stone which named those who died in the war. During those dark times, the tradition of Morris dancing nearly vanished.
But tradition is a strong force. The women of the villages took matters into their own hands (and feet) and kept the Morris dances alive. The song, Dancing at Whitsun is a poignant reminder that we keep the memories of lost loved ones alive by keeping the traditions we share alive. Today, Morris dancing is popular throughout the world and is danced by both men and women.
We have numerous traditions in my family. Like the fact that my brother-in-law Rob refuses to make iced tea in anything but a dented aluminum pot, just like his grandmother did. And every summer, we take the kids up the White Dot Trail to the summit of Mount Monadnock, just like generations of our parents and grandparents have accompanied our five and six year old selves on our first major climbs. And for me it would not be spring without taking part in the New England Folk Festival, enjoying Morris and other forms of traditional dance and song. Each of our traditions keeps our loved ones close to us.
When I first heard Dancing at Whitsun I thought about how amazing it was for the women to dance in place of the men during those terrible times. But as I grow older, it doesn’t seem so amazing to me. I have come to understand that we are all, in our own ways, dancers at Whitsun.
(If so inclined, I invite you to leave a comment by scrolling to the end of this page.)
May 3, Thursday, 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm Dedham, MA. April’s ‘First Thursday Dedham’ event at Paradise Cafe was so successful, we will do again in May. This time I have invited the amazing Chris Pahud to swap sets with me. Click for details
May 4, Friday, 8:00 pm Framingham, MA. I am excited to open for one of my musical heroes, Geoff Muldaur at Amazing Things Arts Center. Click for details
May 13, Sunday, 7:00 pm Westford, MA. Featuring at John Ferullo’s open mike at the Parish Center for the Arts. Click for details
May 17, Thursday, 7:00 pm Raynham, MA. Featuring at Rick’s Music World, hosted by Tom Irving and Rick Santos. This is a wonderful open mike community just a short ride south of Boston.Click for details
May 27, Sunday, 3:00 pm Cambridge, MA. Joining my Birch Beer Records family Dan Cloutier, Kim Jennings, Oen Kennedy and Levi Schmidt at Club Passim Campfire Festival. Click for details.
June 3, Sunday, 2:00 pm Concord, MA. Joining my good friends Kate Chadbourne, Pat Kenneally, Bill Kehoe, Linda Abrams, and Robert Phillips in the round at The Olde Manse. Click for details.
Click to view these and all all upcoming shows.
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