Jazimina MacNeil

Jazimina MacNeil

 An opera singer might seem an unlikely collaborator for a contra dance piano player. Gordon and Jazimina met in 2015 and they are in a perpetual state of exploring new and interesting ideas. An exploration of folk songs indigenous to New Hampshire has led to an ongoing research project Heart and Home - see below), but meanwhile provided material for a concert for the Summer Concert Series at the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music. This concert featured some songs from the Civil War discovered in the memoir of E. W. Locke, who had resided in Stoddard, New Hampshire. Most of the songs provided in Locke’s book did not have notation - just the lyrics. There is nothing particularly distinct in Locke’s music that would provide an incentive to write new melodies in his style. So Jazimina commissioned Miriam Sharrock, a local composer, to set two of Locke’s lyrics to original contemporary music. These songs feature Dan Sedgwick on piano and Marji Gere, violin. The concert also included an arrangement Gordon made of a tune by Bob McQuillen which had been given lyrics by Dick Nevell. Woodland Dream has been recorded by several musicians over the years; Gordon's arrangement includes some ornate fiddle accompaniment and a breakout from 3/4 tempo into a short jig, using the same melody. This concert ends with Hills of Nelson, a song that is treasured by folks in Nelson, written originally for Nelson's schoolchildren, and later provided for the closing song of a musical play (The Hotel Nelson) about the history of Nelson.

More recently, Jazimina participated in a concert with the band High Drive, which featured violinist Bonnie Bewick and bassist Larry Wolfe, both of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Gordon on piano.

Heart and Home

It began with a question from Jazimina: what songs were people singing, around the house, at work, at parties and other social gatherings, from the earliest days of European settlement, which might have been unique to the Monadnock region, or perhaps central New England? She was not the first to ask this question, and indeed there has been significant research already done - at least at the New England level, notably by Jeff Warner, and his sometimes colleague, Jeff Davis. But with just some cursory research, new material was discovered: The Memoir of E.W. Locke, Three Years in Camp, and Hospital is a remarkable journal of Elbridge Lockes time spent during the Civil War, bringing songs (including many of his own) to the troops. Locke’s writing is charged with passion and detail. The book contains the actual music to just a few of his many songs.

Locke would have remained an unknown, but for a visit with Alan Rumrill, Executive Director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County. It turns out that Locke was an ancestor of Rumrills, and like Rumrill, he was, at least for a time, a resident of Stoddard, New Hampshire.

And a visit to the Monadnock Center for History and Culture resulted in learning about the Blind Dunbar Brothers - three sons of the Unitarian Minister, all blind, who composed and sang songs in the region. Again, only a modest number of their songs have extant musical notation.

At this stage the project has wide parameters, allowing for the exploration and presentation of more recently composed songs, either about New England, or whose authors are from the here, with an emphasis on the greater Monadnock region. Jazimina and Gordon are looking forward to various opportunities to present new discoveries, either as stand-alone programs, or integrated into other concerts.

And of course suggestions for additional resources are very welcome - please contact Gordon (see below).

There were three songs by E.W. Locke used in this program for which the music as well as the lyrics were available. Each one was preceded by a reading from Locke’s book which was deemed to be an appropriate preface. The selections were narrated by Henry Walters. Joining Jazimina in the chorus of each song were students who were in attendance at Apple Hill for their summer program.

The Bereaved Mother is from the Hutchinson Family, of Milford, New Hampshire, who made quite a name for themselves touring extensively and singing songs of social awareness - they were strong abolitionists.