Local Rhythms – Teaching a love of music

Even if you don’t have a child in the school system, I urge anyone who enjoys good music to attend at least one musical performance at Stevens High School.

But Saturday afternoon’s Monadnock Valley Music Festival at Stevens should definitely not to be missed.  It’s a unique gathering of 103 talented musicians, representing 10 New Hampshire schools, conducted by the inspirational guest conductor George Parks.

An 83-member all-star choir led by Hartford High School’s Rob Gattie will also perform.

My son played trumpet in the Stevens Band before he graduated in 2003. This pastime brought my wife and I much happiness.

I have especially fond memories of October weekends, when the Stevens band would pile into a school bus and head south down 91 to Amherst.

They’d gather for University of Massachusetts Band Day, an event conceived by UMass marching band director Parks.

During halftime of a Minutemen football game, perhaps the world’s largest marching band assembled to play for the crowd.

There were units representing schools from all over New England; they covered virtually every square inch of the field.

It was amazing to watch hundreds of kids who’d never met, let alone played together, hit every note.

They’d spent the morning rehearsing with Parks. By day’s end, his call-and-response mantra – “feet together, stomach in, elbows locked, chin up, eyes with pride” – was locked in their brains.

After the game, the high school kids stayed to watch the award-winning UMass band do their thing.

The experience caused more than a few of them to continue music into college.

This is the first time Parks has led the Monadnock Valley Music Festival gathering, which is being held in Claremont after an 8-year run in Keene.

I have no doubt that he will coax the absolute best out of these fine young players.

He’s put together a program that includes Holst’s “First Suite In E Flat,” considered to be among the most important concert band pieces of all time.

They’ll also perform the Spanish-tinged “Agüero (Paso Doble)” and “Dusk.”

The vocal performance will also be a treat, with the traditional spiritual “Ain’t-A That Good News” combined with James Taylor’s “That Lonesome Road,” which sounds hymn-like when sung by a choir.

Go to this show and see what’s right with education, what’s good about our kids.

Parks will spend Friday night before the festival at the new Common Man Inn.

Hopefully, it will give him a positive impression of Claremont equal to the one he’ll leave us with.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, Jan 14: Two-Man Gentleman Band, Main Street Museum – The first time this throwback duo came to town, they appeared at Salt hill Pub.  I think this offbeat museum in downtown White River Junction will suit them even better.  The bric-a-brac on the walls and vintage toys in glass cases are a perfect complement to their Dr. Demento sound.

Friday, Jan. 15: Folk by Association, Moonlight Café – This female duo plays lilting baroque folk reminiscent of Pentangle and Fairport Convention.  One writer called them a “female Simon and Garfunkel.” This little performance space, located in Springfield’s Hartness House Inn, has been booking some very interesting talent lately.  It’s definitely worth a visit.

Saturday, Jan. 16: Comedy with Paul D’Angelo, New London Outing Club – A comedian who began as a lawyer, D’Angelo is part of a new wave of comedians that’s energizing the standup scene from Boston to Portland, Maine.  Joining D’Angelo is funny man Steve Bjork, no relation to the Icelandic singer.  The nonprofit Outing Club is located in Cougar Court in New London – bet one of them riffs on that name.

Sunday, Jan. 17: Harry Manx, Tunbridge Town Hall – The Canadian “East Meets West” bluesman was a hit opening for Richie Havens in Woodstock a few months back.  He’s quite unconventional, melding Indian folk with delta rhythms and playing the sitar-cum-guitar Mohan veena, as well as lap steel, harmonica, guitar and banjo. Manx invites you to visit the musical world he inhabits, a place called “Mysticsippi”.

Tuesday, Jan. 19: Irish Sessions, Salt hill Pub – The Tuohy dynasty is growing, with Hanover set to open in a matter of months if not weeks.  The weekly sessions continue in Lebanon, a mainstay, with a changing cast of musicians sharing a circle in the center of the room, playing whatever feels natural. It’s a perfect after work destination, with an early (6:30) start. Chris Stevens, Roger Burridge and Dave Loney are regulars, with interesting guests often stopping by.

Wednesday, Jan. 20: Billy Rosen, Canoe Club – One of my favorite “soft touch” guitarists goes solo in Hanover, playing selections from the Great American Songbook, and channeling players like Wes Montgomery, George Benson and Kenny Burrell.  There’s always great music to accompany a tasty meal at CC – 363 days a year.

This week’s Compass


Worth driving out of town

What: Little Feat

Where: Colonial Theatre, 95 Main Street, Keene

When: Friday, Jan. 15, 8 p.m.

Tickets: $45/$41/$29

More: 357-1233

Distance: 40 Miles

Frank Zappa fired Lowell George from the Mothers of Invention in 1969 and told him to form a band. Well, perhaps “fired” is too strong a word, but the end result was Little Feat, formed with former Mothers Roy Estrada and Richie Hayward, and George’s pal Bill Payne.

Their first album contained “Willin’,” a song Zappa could have probably used if he’d given it a chance. The band made some great records and earned a reputation as one of the most energetic live bands around until George’s untimely death in 1979.

Bill Payne reformed Little Feat nine years later and they haven’t let up since, adding a few more standards like “Let it Roll” to a repertoire that includes “Dixie Chicken,” “Sailin’ Shoes” and many others. One of the most rhythmic live bands around, seats become superfluous by about the fourth of fifth song, as everybody gets up to dance – even in a staid place like the Colonial.

Donna the Buffalo will open the show with a set of their quirky Americana, which gained recognition with 2008’s “Silverlined.”


Mark your calendar

What: Connecticut River Valley Orchestra: Stories in Music

Where: Claremont Opera House, Opera House Square, Claremont

When: Sunday, February 7 at 1 p.m.

Tickets: $35/$25/$20(Seniors)/$10 (Students)

More: 542-4433 or go to www.claremontoperahouse.com

Rescheduled to accommodate the Super Bowl later in the evening, the latest installment of the wonderful community orchestra’s 2009-2010 series is geared to the younger set – both in age and heart. Max Culpepper again conducts, with guest tuba player Harry Critchley assuming the musical role of Tubby the Tuba for one of the pieces.

The orchestra also performs “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” well-known from Disney’s Fantasia, and Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” the latter popular a half-century ago with fans of the Lone Ranger radio program.

Stephen Langley, well known for his work with the Dartmouth Wind Symphony, narrates each piece’s accompanying story – Tubby searching for his own song, William Tell meeting the challenge of shooting an arrow through an apple on his son’s head in order to save them from a wicked emperor, and the sorcerer’s apprentice’s battle with a magic broom.

The final performance of the both educational and entertaining program is the timeless “Peter and the Wolf,” the story of a clever child enlisting the help of an animal friend to overcome a wolf in the forest.


Local Music Spotlight

Who:  Higher Ground Band

What:  Top-notch country band

Sounds Like: Sugarland, Trisha Yearwood, Eagles

More: www.highgroundband.com

Led by former Rattlesnake Ridge singer/guitarist Mike Olivier and NH Country Music Association award winner Corina Ouellette on vocals and keyboards, High Ground emphasizes the harmony in country music.  They’re popular for playing covers in places like Shenanigans and Imperial Lounge, but the five piece band, which also includes Ed Leavitt on guitar and vocals, drummer Rick Leavitt and Ken Mello (Dog Days, NH Rock Bottom Band) on bass, also has an impressive catalog of original songs.

High Ground is working on an album for release later this year, and samples of the songs in progress can be heard on their web site.  The band is also very civic minded, working tirelessly for Dartmouth charity David’s House – they even wrote a song about it, along with the tear-jerker “Praying for an Angel,” penned by Ed Leavitt.

For a taste of High Ground’s energetic side, check out the video of “Another Notch” from a television appearance in Burlington last year.

Upcoming gigs:

Friday, Jan. 22 – Imperial Lounge in Claremont

Friday, Feb. 5 – Shenanigans in White River Junction “KIXX and Chicks Night”

Saturday, Feb. 13 – Lake Morey Inn, Fairlee, Vermont