(First appeared in the August 26th edition of the Vermont Standard)
By Bob Williamson
Special To The Standard
The hills of South Woodstock will be alive with the sound of music and history on Saturday, September 4th. That’s when mezzo-soprano and researcher Linda Radtke and pianist Arthur Zorn perform “Vermont History Through Song” at the Green Mountain Perkins Academy.Â The Academy sits atop a hill about six miles south of Woodstock, just past the Kedron Valley Inn on Route 106.
This free 2 p.m. program is open to the public, immediately follows the Academy’s brief annual meeting, and comes courtesy of the Vermont Humanities Council, which generously sponsors some 200 similar events around our state, celebrating its rich historic past.
The mother lode of material Ms. Radtke draws from comes from the Vermont sheet music collection, a treasure trove of 1800 songs thoughtfully conserved at the Vermont History Center in Barre .Â An early collector of these pieces was Windsor County resident Harold Rugg of Dartmouth, who in his career tracked down more than 1000 of these tunes along with countless other artifacts.
The oldest tune is the 1798 composition “Green Mountain Farmer”, whose lyrics were penned by Thomas Paine, the same patriotic pamphleteer who wrote “Common Sense”.Â The melody comes courtesy of Franz Joseph Haydn, and the piece itself showcases the independent nature of Vermont farmers.Â Clearly that famous character trait had an historic pedigree.
Ms. Radtke’s repertoire spans a fascinating range, unveiling the vibrant narrative arc underpinning our state.Â Before the internet, Facebook and tweets, folks gathered in parlors, at barn dances, on village greens and church basements where they wove their daily lives in the tapestry of song.Â Like ballads of oral tradition, these songs over time resonate with layers and textures of meaning.Â Some melodies allowed ladies to flirt without flouting good manners.
And this program connects music with real people:Â the famous, the infamous and the deliciously obscure.Â Of course, Calvin Coolidge appears, as does Montpelier native son Admiral Thomas Dewey, as well as legendary scoundrels like Jim Fiske (a 19th century money speculator).Â Musical topics also include the Civil War, Lake Champlain, Grange events and private occasions from the home commemorating landmarks in ordinary lives.
One of Ms. Radtke’s personal favorites is our new state song, “These Green Mountains,” which was selected via a televised contest in 1999 at a concert under the Golden Dome.Â Composed by farmer Diane Martin, the song doesn’t mention Vermont by name, but its simplicity and beauty make it a perennial crowd pleaser.
Dressed in a period hoop skirt, Ms. Radtke brings gusto to the show.Â A high school English and drama teacher for 31 years, Ms. Radtke has also served as the principal alto soloist for the Mozart Festival, is a founding member of Robert DeCormier’s professional vocal ensenble, Counterpoint, and she sings with the vocal quartet Ah!Capella, which with its sponsor, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, brings music to schools across our state.Â Fans of “Vermont Notes” (on WCVT 101.7) will recognize Ms. Radtke as host of that radio program.
Treat yourself to some living history on Saturday, September 4th.Â Come to the Academy in South Woodstock.Â You’ll be glad you did.Â Who knows?Â You might even write a song about it.
For more information on the concert or on Green Mountain Perkins Academy, call 802-457-2325
or 802-457-3779 or visit www.greenmountainperkinsacademy.org.