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.

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