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Monday, July 1, 2013

Work, de Koven, and Barrett

I have spent the better part of the last year researching the lives, careers, and songs of Henry Clay Work (1832-1884), Reginald de Koven (1859-1920), and Edward Barrett (1817-1914).  The first two were born, as was I, in Middletown, Connecticut.  Barrett was born in Ireland and emigrated to Middletown in the 1850s, as did my great, great grandfather.  Work was known as a composer of Civil War songs ("Marching Through Georgia") but also contributed to the minstrel show and parlor song repertory. De Koven was the  composer of comic opera in America at the turn of the last century.  Between 1885 and 1914, Barrett wrote over 250 poems that were published in The Penny Press, the local paper of the day, many of them meant to be sung to traditional Irish airs. The Middletown Commission on the Arts and the Connecticut Department of Culture and Tourism have each awarded me a grant to continue my research and develop a performance piece based on the three men, their lives and times, and their relevance to our own.  On July 5th, 2013, I will be previewing some of the work I have done so far with a group of stellar local musicians: world renowned bassist Joe Fonda; drummer extraordinaire and author of "Connecticut's Fife and Drum Tradition" (the definitive book on the subject), Jim Clark; master of the accordion, concertina, and fife, John Kalinowski; and local rhythm and bluesman Fred Moses. The project has been and continues to be an exciting exploration of America's musical history as well as that of Middletown's and my own personal history.  I hope to see many friends old and new at the Buttonwood Tree on the 5th, and many more when we mount the final production in the months to come.