Thursday, May 29, 2008

Teaching history through music

Julia and I have been working in schools the last couple of weeks. Last week we did assembly programs for the five elementary schools in Bangor. This week we are doing nine classroom sessions at the Great Salt Bay School in Damariscotta.

The way the education system has evolved we seldom work with any students past third grade anymore. There just isn't time in their schedules. Maybe no child is left behind, but certainly childhood has been left behind, along with music, art, and other critical thinking skills. In a strange sort of way it has helped us. There isn't any budget for regular arts in schools but there is support from parents groups for special programs like ours.

We like to believe that we are contributing to the learning experience. It isn't a substitute for a regular music program - we were only the second music event for the students in Bangor this year - but I suppose it's better than nothing.

This program was focused on music at sea and we did our popular shanty demonstration. We have a block and tackle that we use to have the kids haul each other. That way they get to feel in their bodies how the cadence of the music helps coordinate the work. We round out the program with a couple of ballads some dance tunes and talk about how the sailors lived.

It's one of those rare occasions where Julia can leave her harp at home. She is excellent at relating to the kids and leading the event in a way that everybody gets a chance to participate but things don't spiral out of control.

We did five classes today and have four more tomorrow, then it's time to start a recording project.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Blackflies, flowers and food

My previous post seems to have disappeared into the blog-o-sphere! Well, no matter. Whatever profound thoughts I had at midnight a few weeks ago will either recur as bad dreams or good songs.

I have spent the last couple of days making a new set of stairs for our house. The temporary stairs, made from rough hemlock boards, have been in for twenty years now. The replacement is mahogany, recycled from a Deck house. When I got them they were carpeted - why carpet mahogany stairs? Better to carpet rough hemlock.

Working on a big project means "outside" for me. I don't have a barn or garage, so I managed to get a sunburn on the back of my neck. I didn't think it was possible, as much hair as I have. Maybe it's thinner than I think. Working outside also means I have been feeding the blackflies. They were only swarming last week but now they are hungry!

The spring flowers are just about done. We have a few tulips left; the lily-of-the-valley and bleeding hearts are in bloom now. We have quite a few lady slippers at around the edges of the dooryard which are just starting, as well. On the gustatory front we have lots of rhubarb. From the look of the brakes (ferns) we are too late to gather any fiddleheads. These are the curled up shoots of the ostrich fren, a local delicacy.

I sometimes wish we had room for a bigger garden and some fruit trees. Our piece of ground is mostly granite, so it isn't practical. I do believe that decentralizing our food supply and energy supply would do more to enhance "Homeland Security" than almost anything else we could do. It would certainly put a bit of armor on two Achilles heels.

When I was a growing up we had a big garden. We canned about 600 quarts of green beans, corn, beets, carrots, and a few other vegitables, plus jam, jelly, pickles and applesauce. We stored 100 bushels of potatoes, 50-60 bushels of apples, and as many cabbages, pumpkins and squash as we could eat before they spoiled in mid-winter. (What did spoil went to the pig so we ate it second-hand, as it were.) There were five of us kids and, looking back, I can't imagine how our parents could possibly have fed us without the garden!

When I heard Greg Brown's song, Have a Taste of Summer - Grandma's Put It All in Jars, my first thought was of our jar cupboard back home. My mother keeps a more modest larder than she did when there were four teen-age boys at home but she always has something to offer whenever anybody shows up on the doorstep; a Maine/Canadian hospitality tradition.