Apply for an Artist Fellowship

Guidelines and application forms for our next upcoming Artist Fellowships in the traditional arts have just been posted!

Recent recipients include craft artists, dancers, and musicians:

Yary holding brown bowl
Yary Livan, Artist Fellow 2012
Elizabeth James Perry with Wampanoag weavings
Elizabeth James Perry, Artist Fellow, 2014
Jimmy Noonan at Boston College Jan 23 2014. Photo: Paul Wells
Jimmy Noonan, Artist Fellow, 2014
Kieran Jordan Irish sean nos dancer
Keiren Jordan, Artist Fellow, 2008

To see a complete list of past fellows in the Traditional Arts category, see here.

Musical worlds

One of the gratifying things about being a folklorist is being able to connect tradition bearers with potentially influential people, resources, and opportunities. When done well, the folklorist plays the role of being what Malcolm Gladwell called a ” connector” in his book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

Soon after meeting Sushil Gautam, a local Nepalese sarangi player who helped establish the Music Museum of Nepal, I had the good fortune to meet Darcy Kuronen, Curator of the Musical Instruments at the Museum of Fine Arts. It turns out that in this collection of over 1,100 musical instruments, there is no Nepalese sarangi. So it was with pleasure that I was able to introduce Sushil and Darcy to one another. Time will tell if something comes of their acquaintance.

The MFA’s Musical Instruments Gallery is a little gem. The intimate sized gallery is filled with musical instruments and sound samples from around the world. For the past dozen years, Darcy has programmed regular gallery talks and demonstrations, engaging in conversation with visiting musicians who bow, pluck, finger, or breathe life into the featured instruments.


On Monday, October 6th, that musician was Joey Abarta, who, coincidentally, was one of the six master artists who was recently awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant. Joey had brought two of his own Irish uilleann pipes to perform on, since the museum’s set is not in working order. And uilleann pipes are finicky instruments.

The gathered audience was treated to some beautiful playing — an air, a set of jigs, a set of reels — plus some really interesting conversation about the history of the uilleann pipes, renowned makers both historical and living, and the technical challenges of playing, which include manipulating a chanter, drones, and regulators, in addition to the bellows, which are filled by pumping one’s elbow. (Uilleann is the Irish Gaelic word for elbow.)

Darcy asked Joey to let the audience know where they might be able to hear him playing locally. Every Thursday evening, at 7:15, Joey leads an Irish music session at the Canadian American Club in Watertown. Everyone is welcome.

Italian American Strega Lori Bruno

Lori Bruno portraitSign outside Magika store

Continue reading “Italian American Strega Lori Bruno”

Veronica Robles & her Mariachi

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.



Native American Woodlands Folklife Talk by Dana Benner

Curious about the Native peoples who once lived along the banks of the Merrimack River? The Lowell Folklife Series invites you to a talk by Dana Benner on Saturday, November 5 at the Event Center of the Boott Mills MuseumWhen most people think of Native peoples at or around the time of contact with Europeans, they think either of Thanksgiving or fierce warfare. Many people are unaware of the extensive social traditions, trade relations, and industrious nature of the Native nations. The area along the Merrimack River that we define as Lowell was home to the Pennacook people.  Just to the south were the Massachusett, who were direct trading partners with the Pennacook.  Mr. Dana Benner will explore the rich traditions of the Pennacook nation, leaving the audience with a greater appreciation of the people who once called this area home.

Dana Benner is of Micmac/Penobscot/Piqwacket descent and is a member of the Inter-Tribal Council of New Hampshire.  He has been studying Native history and culture his entire life and has been writing about it for over 25 years.  He holds a BA in Liberal Arts with a concentration in U.S. History and Native Culture from Granite State College and he is working on his M.Ed in Heritage Studies with a concentration in Native History and Culture from Plymouth State University.

This talk is free and open to the public.

2:00 p.m @ 2nd Floor Event Center, Boott Mills Museum

110 John Street, Lowell, MA

For more information: 978-275-1719

Event sponsored by the Lowell National Historical Park and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.





Women’s Singing Traditions: African Praise Songs to Irish Ballads


Join us this Saturday evening for a free concert of Irish and African music featuring two remarkable female vocalists — Aoife Clancy and Adjaratou Tapani Demba. This concert will take place on Saturday March 19, 2011 in the sanctuary of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in downtown Lowell.

Aoife Clancy brings a refreshing new voice to traditional Irish songs, ballads, and recitations. Originally from County Tipperary, Ireland, Aoife was brought up in a family steeped in music and poetry, which her father Bobby Clancy passed down to her.  She is a former member of the popular “Cherish the Ladies,” one of the most sought-after Irish American groups in history.  Now with seven recordings under her belt in the last decade, Aoife has clearly established herself as one of the divas of Irish folk music. Accompanying herself on the Irish bodhran (drum), Aoife will be joined by Shannon Heaton on flute and  All-Ireland champion stepdancer Jaclyn O’Riley.

Adjaratou Tapani Demba brings us the West African traditional art of praise singing. In her native Mali, she is known as a djeli – a kind of oral historian, peacemaker, and performer who is born into the responsibility of keeping alive and celebrating the history of the Mandé people of Mali, Guinea, and other West African countries. In addition to concerts, Tapani performs at weddings, baptisms, and other domestic ceremonies within the West African immigrant communities of Boston, New York City, and beyond. She will be accompanied by Balla Kouyaté on balaphon (forerunner of the xylophone) and Moussa Diabaté on ngoni (forerunner of the banjo).

The evening’s singing, music, and dance pay tribute to the rich musical heritage of Lowell’s Irish and African communities. The program is part of the recently launched Lowell Folklife Series sponsored by   Lowell National Historical Park.

Calling Track and Military Cadence Calls: How an African American Tradition Influenced Military Basic Training

Ever since the industrialization and mechanization of labor, there has been less need for the singing of work chants. But back in the day, a special kind of singing helped work get done, whether it was sea chanties used to raise sails, Scottish waulking songs used to work wool, or agricultural work chants to hoe cotton or cut timber. In the deep south, such work chants were common among African Americans who labored under extremely harsh conditions. A good song was like a labor saving device. Singing work chants helped coordinate movements and build on collective strength. They also ensured safety for railroad gangs working in small crews with heavyand sharp tools. And, perhaps more importantly, these chants uplifted the men’s spirits.

One man, known as the caller, would stand aside from the crew and sing verbal instructions. His commands were answered by the men’s lining bars wrapping in rhythm against the railroad track– in a call and response manner. I came to know this tradition (or what remained of it in the minds of retired railroad workers) first hand while doing field research for the Alabama State Council on the Arts in the late 1980s. We interviewed half a dozen former track laborers and eventually produced the film Gandy Dancers, which tells the story of African American railroad workers who made their living building and maintaining the railroad lines that crisscross the American South.

I recently uncovered a connection between the southern African American tradition of call-and-response works songs and  military cadence calls used in drill training, popularly known as “Jody calls.” Anyone who has gone through basic training is familiar with these military cadence calls. A drill instructor, whose job it is to keep recruits in step while training, calls out marching orders. Cadence calls motivate, while ensuring unit cohesion and promoting military discipline. Safety is a factor as well, especially while marching or running in close formation. Similar to the railroad workers’ calls, military cadence calls are also a way to take one’s mind off strenuous tasks, vent dissatisfaction, mock one’s superiors, or build morale by boasting, poking  fun, or talking dirty. As verbal art forms, both have a rich tradition.

Popular legend holds that that Private Willie Lee Duckworth Sr. (1924-2004) made up “Sound Off”, a.k.a., the “Duckworth Chant,” which is used to this day in the U.S.Army and other branches of the military.  The year was 1944 and Duckworth was stationed at Fort Slocum, New York as one of eight “Colored Infantrymen.”

Duckworth, who was born in 1924 in Washington County, Georgia, would have been familiar with the use of work chants sung for all kinds of agricultural work. He was also the same generation of the gandy dancers who used chants to line track. At the time he was drafted to serve in WW II, Duckworth was working in a sawmill. He was sent to a provisional training center in Fort Slocum, N.Y., in March 1944. As the story goes, Duckwork, on orders from a non-commissioned officer, improvised his own drill for the soldiers in his unit. Soon after, all the ranks were buzzing and keeping rhythm. Col. Bernard Lentz, who was the base commander at the Fort, approached Duckworth and asked where he developed his unique chant. “I told him it came from calling hogs back home,” Duckworth said. “I was scared, and that was the only thing I could think of to say.”

Colonel Bernard Lentz was so convinced of the cadence calls’ effectiveness that he made them standard at Fort Slocum and went on to write a drill instruction manual.  The “Duckworth Chant” was popularized in 1945 when the US government included it with other popular music of the day on a  V-disc (12 inch vinyl 78 recording) for distribution to US military personnel overseas. The chant later gained fame as “Sound Off” and remains one of the most popular marching cadences in Army history.

Join us at a free public program on February 27 at Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center. In addition to screening the documentary Gandy Dancers, we will play the original recording of the “Duckworth Chant,” screen contemporary examples of cadence calls, and present a live demonstration by a military drill sergeant.

Fishermen and Farmers Find Common Ground at Working Waterfront Festival

Great weather and great programming! We suggest heading down to New Bedford this weekend for the Working Waterfront Festival. If you haven’t guessed, this year’s theme is surf and turf. In promoting the festival, organizers point out that “Fishermen and farmers share a deep knowledge of, reverence for and dependence upon the natural world. Both groups pass traditional skills and knowledge from one generation to the next, often incorporating new technologies alongside traditional practices. And both communities face many of the same economic, environmental and political challenges.”

In addition to live maritime and ethnic music, there will be an open air market featuring local produce and fresh seafood and cooking demonstrations, occupational demonstrations of fishing and farming skills, tours of fishing boats, author readings, and kid’s activities.

Romancing the Item: The Auctioneer’s chant

Roy Burdick started auctioneering over 30 years ago and has been bid chanting ever since. Listen to him reveal some of the auctioneer’s tricks of the trade (4 MB). Here he is in action at “Old Home Days” in Rowe, Massachusetts.

Roy Burdick, auctioneer. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg.

Roy Burdick will be one of the performing artists at our upcoming concert, Keepers of Tradition: In Performance, at the National Heritage Museum, Saturday October 4th.