Fried dough, anyone?

June 21st, 2013

Bread may be the staff of life, but fried dough is its treat. Fried dough is often associated with summer fairs and carnivals, where it’s made in vats of hot oil. But this seemingly generic food has roots in many cultures. Varieties of fried dough made in local home kitchens are part of the foodways of cooks with African-American, Greek, Italian, Polish, and Portuguese roots.

Fried breads are made with yeast dough or flour, which is shaped and transformed by frying.  Frequently the small, often bite-sized confection is finished off by being rolled in toppings such as honey, sugar, cinnamon, or the sweeteners are sprinkled on top. There’s no such thing as leftovers where fried dough is served!

Come to Foodways Tent this July’s Lowell Folk Festival and you’ll have a chance to see and taste five different versions of fried dough.

COOKING DEMONSTRATIONS:

12:00 p.m.  Eleni Zoldi, Greek loukamathes

1:00 p.m.    Lucia DiDuca, pizza fritta

2:00 p.m.    Natalia Cardosa, Portuguese filhoses & malassadas

3:00 p.m.    Lilly Morales, African American hoe cakes and hush puppies

4:00 p.m.    Mary Matyka with Helen Dubuc, chrusciki

Seamus Connolly named National Heritage Fellow

June 4th, 2013

We are delighted to share the exciting news that Irish-born and longtime Massachusetts resident Séamus Connolly has been named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts. Though he recently moved to Yarmouth, Maine, we still like to claim him as one of our own.

In drafting his nomination letter, Irish music journalist Earle Hitchner writes, “I can think of no Irish traditional musician more qualified and deserving than Séamus Connolly for a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His achievements as an Irish traditional fidder, music school organizer, and music teacher are long and lustrous. . . First and foremost is his fiddling, a combination of virtuosity and vitality that stamps his style of playing as original, unique, and highly influential . . . Every time he picks up the fiddle — whether on stage, in a recording studio, in a class, or in an informal session —  Séamus both preserves and advances the Irish tradition. His zeal and love for this music are as ardent now as they were when he was a boy in Ireland, and the body of art and work he has created is exceptional and formidable.”

Séamus Connolly grew up in a home filled with music in Kilaloe, County Clare, Ireland. He won his first All-Ireland National Fiddle Championship only ten months after initially picking up the fiddle and it wasn’t long before he gained national prominence. He joined the famous Kilfenora Ceili Band, traveling throughout Ireland and Britain playing for dances, concerts, and radio broadcasts and television programs.

Séamus came to the United States in 1972 as a member of the first Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann (CCE) tour, an ensemble of 26 musicians, singers and dancers. He then returned in 1976 and settled in the Boston area. At the request of the Boston branch of CCE, Séamus agreed to teach and pass on to American-born students the various regional styles of Irish fiddling.

Séamus directed the highly acclaimed Gaelic Roots Summer School and Festival at Boston College from 1993 – 2003. In 2004, Boston College named Connolly the “Sullivan Artist in Residence.” He also coordinates a Gaelic Roots Series of free concerts and lectures by visiting artists throughout the academic year. In 1990 and 2004, he was awarded a Fellowship in Traditional Arts by the Massachusetts Cultural Council;  he was also awarded three Master/Apprenticeship Grants for teaching traditional Irish music.

Séamus often performed and recorded with two stellar musicians —  Irish button accordion player  Joe Derrane, who won a National Heritage Fellowship in 2004, and guitarist John McGann, a gifted guitarist and mandolin player, who passed away unexpectedly in 2012.

Indeed, it has been a momentous year for  Séamus — On May 11, 2013, he was awarded another highly prestigious prize: the Ellis Island Medal of  Honor, given by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations to American citizens for their outstanding contributions to the United States. An exhibition titled “the Musical Roots of Seamus Connolly” recently ran at Boston College’s Burns Library.

We are so very proud of you  Séamus.

 

All in the Family: Learning from Master Musicians

May 14th, 2013

It’s that time of year when the MCC’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeships are wrapping up for the year. As part of the grant program, recipients are required to share what they have learned in a public presentation. This coming Sunday, May 19th, two master/apprentice teams will perform musical selections and share some of the joys and challenges of transmitting musical heritage. The free presentation takes place at Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center theater, 246 Market Street and will begin at 2:30 p.m.

Two continents. Two ancient percussive traditions. And two young people with the good fortune to be born into musical familes headed by master musicians. Balla Kouyaté is a virtuoso player of the balafon, the ancient West African ancester of the xylophone and marimba. Above, you see him teaching his son Sekou the balafon.

Sixto “Tito” Ayala comes from a legendary music and dance institution in Puerto Rico – the Ayala family. He is pictured here teaching a conga rhythm to his daughter Estefany Navarro.

Come see and hear how West African djeli music and Puerto Rican bomba & plena are being passed on from one generation to the next.

 

 

 

 

Carnival, Dominican style

May 3rd, 2013

For several years now, we’ve been trying to track down the Dominican carnival comparsa rumored to be based in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Having seen photos of these fantasic costumed masqueraders, we thought they would be a perfect fit for leading the parade opening the Lowell Folk Festival. Finally, success! We recently visited with Stelvyn Mirabal, founder of the Asociación Carnavalesca de Massachusetts, in his home in Lawrence.

In the Dominican Republic, Carnival is celebrated during the whole month of February, where groups of elaboratively costumed people parading through the streets.  Some of the most famous of all the masked participants are the Diablos Cojuelos (limping devils). As the story is told, a demon was once banished to Earth because of his clownish pranks and was injured in his fall, hence the limp.  Diablos cojuelos are multi-horned, sharp toothed beings. Many regions of the Dominican Republic have varying versions of this frightening devil.

The Asociación Carnavalesca de Massachusetts brings a bit of Dominican Carnival to the United States. Twelve years ago, Stelyn Mirabal saw the need to preserve Dominican folkloric traditions in Lawrence, where there was (and is) a sizable Dominican population. He formed a comparsa (meaning a group of costumed people who  participate in the carnival parade) to take part in Lawrence’s 2nd Dominican Parade. In 2006, he decided to go bigger and brought back 16 masks at the same time. Currently, there are 75 people in his comparsa.

Stelvyn’s home city of Santiago Los Caballeros is known for its style of masks, which are called lechones (meaning pig). They are considered tradicional costumes and are relatively simple; the masks represent pigs or ducks.  Suits from the city of La Vega are larger and more elaborate and are referred to as fantasía. The lechones play the role of vejigantes, those who protect the people in the carnival, who, at one time, were members of the royalty. Vejigantes carry and swing inflated cow bladders to keep the crowd away from the parading comparsas.  Here in the United States, the cow bladders have been replaced by colorful balloons.

It was Stelvyn’s uncle who taught him and his cousins the carnival traditions of mask making and parading. At age 42, carnival has become a family affair for Stelvyn, “In fact, my mother and my sister, they all dress up. . . My father, a tailor, he used to make the suits.”  Below is a photo of Stelvyn’s son Leonardo dressed in a fancy suit and wearing a lechone mask. Leonardo has also become an expert at cracking the whip.

 

The masks are made from a mold of clay and covered with a paste like papier-mâché. The masks are shined, painted, and decorated. Although Stelvyn knows how to make the molds and papier-mâché masks, he prefers to import them from the Dominican Republic. The more elaborate diablos cojuelos costumes are professionally made using real teeth, horns, and skins, mainly of cows. The Asociación has more diablos cojuelos than lechones because to be a lechone, one has to know how to crack the whip and dance.

One finds Spanish, African and Catholic influences in the tradition. Stelvyn points out a distinguishing feature of the Lechones,  “The way we dance is an African dance. So it’s passed generation to generation. We dance different from the guys from La Vega. They jump,” he says, referring to the Diablos Cojuelos. “. . .  When we move through the crowd, we try to be like the best horse there is, the Paso Fino.”

Carnival in the Dominican Republic has gotten more elaborate, competitive, and commercial. Stelvyn says there is a move to bring back some of its folkloric roots. “The dances and things have been forgotten a little. So some groups are going back to the traditional.”

Today, the Asociación Carnavalesca de Massachusetts is well known throughout New England for their participation in Dominican and Latino cultural festivals and parades as ambassadors of Dominican culture. You will have a chance to see this spectacular entourage by attending this year’s Lowell Folk Festival. The Asociación Carnavalesca de Massachusetts will be leading the parade on by Friday and Saturday evening of the festival.

 

Model Making: Ship Models & Pipe Organs

April 5th, 2013

On Sunday afternoon, April 21st, the Lowell Folklife Series will present an intriguing program featuring three master craftsmen.  Joining us will be National Heritage Fellow and shipwright Harold A. Burnham, noted maritime historian and ship modeler Erik Ronnberg, Jr., and Greg Bover of CB Fisk, Inc.  With hand-crafted models up on stage, they will talk about the role of model-making in the building of world class pipe organs, 60-foot wooden schooners, and historic miniatures of seafaring vessels.

For Burnham, a half-hull ship model is a design tool. Bover’s company, CB Fisk, Inc., creates scale models to ensure that each pipe organ complements the architecture that surrounds it. For Ronnberg, the full-hull ship model is a historical representation, a form of visual storytelling. All three individuals are well-known to each other, and hold each other’s skills and knowledge in high regard. Their discussion will no doubt be full of fascinating details, tricks of the trade, and little-known facts about the importance of model-making.

This event is free and open to the public. It will take place in Lowell National Historical Park’s Visitor Center theater on Sunday April 21, 2013 at 3:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/lowe or call 978-275-1719.

Veronica Robles & her Mariachi

March 11th, 2013

To help celebrate International Women’s Month, the Lowell Folklife Series is pleased to present Veronica Robles with her Mariachi. Known affectionately by fans as La Mera, Mera, Robles is widely recognized as the most authentic representative of Mexican music and culture in New England. 

This free concert takes place on March 23, 2013 at 7:30 pm in the Visitor Center Theater of Lowell National Historical Park  (246 Market Street, Lowell, Massachusetts). 

Veronica Robles has Mexican music in her blood. She first learned to sing corridos and rancheros from her grandmother as she prepared traditional dishes in the family kitchen. It was in Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi, the cradle of mariachi music, where Veronica was introduced to the mariachi group led by El Chiquis.  She began working with his group at age 15, learning hundreds of songs and musical styles from these elder musicians. In 1992, Robles left her home country for New York City to pursue her life as a professional mariachi musician. 

Robles has made Massachusetts home since 2000, where she specializes in performing for young audiences through school assembles, residencies and dance workshops. Her television show, Orale con Verónica has been on the air since 2002. She was named an Artist Fellowship Finalist by the Massachusetts Cultural Council in 2012.

 

 

Latin Music & Dance Night with Alexander & his Quinteto

February 11th, 2013

Bachata, both a genre of music and a type of dance, originated in the Dominican Republic during the early parts of the last century, later spreading to other parts of Latin American and Mediterranean Europe.

In its early days, bachata was unofficially banned from radio play and concert halls by those in power. Eventually, bachata’s popularity could not be denied. Come find out why at the next Lowell Folklife Series event.

Time: Saturday February 23, 2013

7:00 p.m. dance lesson; 8:00 p.m. live music

Place:  The Counting House, 2nd Floor, Boott Cotton Mills Museum

115 John Street, Lowell, MA 01852

Learn the basics of bachata and merengue dance of the Dominican Republic with National Park Ranger Victor Medina. Then listen and dance to the music of Alexander el Cantante and his Quinteto. Born in Venezula, Alexander Faria began singing and performing as a child. He came to Boston in 1995 and has been active in the Latin music scene ever since.

Seating will be provided, however ample space will be left open for dancing.

Return of the Lowell Folklife Series

January 25th, 2013

We’re delighted to announce the 2013 Winter/Spring season of the Lowell Folklife Series. These free public events featuring craft, music, dance, & foodways traditions are presented by Lowell Lowell National Historical Park in partnership with the Massachusetts Cultural Council. See full schedule here.

Noodling: The Art of Chinese Hand-Pulled Noodles with Chef Gene Wu (watch video)
Place: Event Center @ Boott Cotton Mill, 115 John Street, Lowell, MA
Monday January 28, 2013 @ 7:30 p.m.

 

 

 

 

Latin Dance Night with Alexander Faria & el Quinteto: Dance lesson @ 7:00; live music @ 8:00
Counting House @ Boott Cotton Mill, 115 John St., Lowell, MA
Saturday February 23, 2013 @ 7:00 p.m.

 

 

 

Women’s Singing Traditions: Veronica Robles & her Mariachi

Visitor Center Theater, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA
Saturday March 23, 2013 @ 7:30 p.m.

 

 

 

Model Making: Ship Models & Pipe Organs with Harold A. Burnham, Erik Ronnberg, Jr., & Greg Bover

Visitor Center Theater, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA
Sunday April 21, 2013 @ 3:00 p.m.

 

 

All in the Family: Learning from Master Musicians with Balla and Sekou Kouyate on West African Balafons & Sixto “Tito” Ayala and Estefany Navarro on Puerto Rican Congas

Visitor Center Theater, 246 Market Street, Lowell, MA 01852
Sunday, May 19, 2013 @ 2:30 p.m.

For more information click here
Questions? Call Maggie at 978-275-1719

Chinese Hand-Pulled Noodles in the Making

January 22nd, 2013

Gene Wu hand-pulling noodles in his restaurant kitchen

 It’s just a few weeks before Chinese New Year’s, which falls on February 10th this year. In anticipation, the Lowell Folklife Series presents “Noodling: The Art of Chinese Hand-Pulled Noodles.” This cooking demonstration on Monday, January 28th will be presented by Chef Gene Wu, owner of  Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe in Chelmsford, MA.

Wu will share his knowledge and skill in making and serving hand-pulled noodles. Known as “biang, biang mian,” these broad noodles are made from dough that is cut, rolled out, and stretched.  It’s a dramatic thing to see, as Gene pulls the dough, flings it in the air, slaps it down on the counter several times, and then throws it into a pot of boiling water.

Gene Wu grew up in Xi’an, the capital of central China’s Shaaxi Province, a region noted for its noodle soups and flatbread. Menu items at Gene’s restaurant are mostly derived from his grandfather’s recipes.

In addition to talking about Chinese noodle traditions, Wu will demonstrate how to hand-pull noodles. He will then attempt to teach someone from the audience how to do it.

Date:   Monday January 28, 2013

Time:  7:30 p.m.

Place:  Event Center, Boott Cotton Mills Museum, 115 John Street, Lowell, MA 01852

More information

Questions? Call Maggie at 978-275-1719.
No reservations are necessary.

PS  Thanks to Jen Meyers who attended Wu’s demonstration and posted this  – nice photos of several audience members trying their hands at pulling noodles.

Bowmaking Apprenticeship

January 17th, 2013

Bowmaker David Hawthorne has been making bows for stringed instruments for over 30 years.  This past September, he was awarded an MCC Traditional Arts Apprenticeship  to pass on some of the knowledge he has acquired to Joel Pautz. A woodworker, Joel has studied violin making at the North Bennett Street School. Just before Christmas, I scheduled a visit see how their apprenticeship was progressing.

The 3rd-floor bowmaking workshop is smack in the center of Harvard Square, [just across the hall from Dewey Cheetham & Howe, the Car Talk guys!]. An outer office greets customers; beyond are two workshop spaces full of all sorts of bows in various stages of completion and numerous hand-made tools specific to the trade.

The focus of the apprenticeship is on a French style of bowmaking in the tradition of Dominique Peccatte. “Bowmaking,” David shares, as he gets settled at the workbench, “is a French-influenced pursuit because the French bowmakers were kind of the best.”  David learned from a bowmaker who had studied in France, and then went to France himself to study bowmaking.

The bow Joel is currently working on is based on a model, the original of which is housed in the Powerhouse Museum in Austria. More simple than a modern bow, this baroque bow has a “clip-in” frog. Making a baroque style frog has the advantage of introducing the apprentice to many of the techniques of bowmaking, while modern bows demand skills and techniques beyond woodworking. For example, their screw-adjusted frogs require metalwork, jeweler’s techniques, and inlay.

Clip-in frog

Screw-adjusted frog

David picks up one of two similar sticks from off the workbench.  “We started with a stick. I saw this out at home on my bandsaw. You can see it’s kind of rough looking. And this one I’ve planed a certain amount . . . Joel has done that on a couple of his bows.”

What will follow are the many steps of planing the stick straight, carving the head, heating and bending the stick, and making and fitting the frog of the bow which holds one end of the horse hair.

David decides to demonstrate cutting a mortise, which is basically the hole where the horse hair will go. He speaks slowly, as he is working, “This is the drill we use, the French foret (click to view video) . . . So I’m going to make two holes and then I’m going to carve it out straight. And that’s just my depth stop, that piece of tape. That’s what we were discussing, how deep to make it. Obviously, you can’t make it too deep because it will make a hole through the bow. But you have to make it deep enough to accommodate the amount of hair you want to put in. So you kind of make it as deep as you dare.”

Making a bow demands superb woodworking skills and a keen eye, but how, I wonder, does one learn how to get the sound you want out of a stick of wood? Turns out the most obvious thing affecting the sound is the particular wood out of which each individual bow is made. David adds that the combination of violin and bow will always have to be matched. Being a violin player myself, I’ve noticed how the same instrument can sound so very different when played with a different bow. “Different bows will sound either brighter or darker or warmer or crisper, ” David says, which prompts me to ask, “Is that something you can set out to do?”

His answer is yes, but what he’s really after is great sound. “In general, a very flexible bow has a bigger, warmer sound. I’m interested in the best sound for a bow so I’m looking for a certain kind of flexibility, which can either be a function of the wood — is this wood strong? If it’s strong, did I maximize strength in the way I constructed it?  Which is both a function of the thickness and the taper of the stick, and how you’ve curved it in the end. The camber.

What’s a good tone quality? Well, you don’t want it to sound nasal. You don’t want it to sound strident. You don’t want it to sound tood piercing. But, on the onther hand, you want it to have a certain openess of sound and you want it to have a certain beauty of sound.”

Joel is listening and watching and taking it all in.