December 21, 2013

Rome songwriter fights fading accent of Maine-ahs

Ayuh, Maine’s accent is disappearing, but songwriter Stan Keach, with help from Hallowell musician Larry Morissette, is bringing Maine-grown music to area schools.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

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MAINE SINGS: Hall-Dale High School choral students rehearse songs by Stan Keach, of Rome, during a recent class. The two songs by Keach feature Maine icons Donn Fendler and Bean Boots by LL Bean.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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WICKED GOOD: Larry Morissette, right, directs choral students at Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale as Stan Keach, center, of Rome, records the group singing his songs.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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The loss of a language doesn’t cause the loss of a culture. By the time a language disappears, the culture that supported it is already gone.

As certain ways of speaking in Maine become antiquated, and lose their usefulness, the washing away of local color is inevitable.

“If there are people, and their way of life and their vocabulary is no longer relevant to the world, then it will disappear, despite all efforts to preserve it,” he said.

There’s also an upside.

Ultimately, Perlman said, the homogenization of language results in people being able to understand each other better, not worse.

What’s lost is not functionality — instead, the threat is to a cultural artifact, such as a Native American tepee that must be preserved through museum displays rather than through continued use.

That’s where Keach and Morissette come in.

Their songs function like a kind of museum display case, preserving the culture of Maine’s bygone way of speaking for generations to come.

Buying local food has become the norm in schools in recent years, but Keach doubts buying local music will catch on in the same way.

“It’s shoveling sand against the tide, to a certain extent,” he said.

While his music may not reverse a national trend of lost accents, Keach said, it will help to preserve some amount of familiarity with a fading oral tradition.

Beyond words

If Keach and Morissette are successful, the effect on students could go well beyond merely knowing that their forebears used to talk about shopping at the “sto-ah.”

“They’re real stories about Maine people written by Maine artists,” Morissette said. “There’s a real value to that”

He said teaching local music can bolster the connection between students and their community, particularly the artistic community.

“They get to interact with the musicians that are making that whole thing work. They can ask questions. They can interact, learn how it was conceived and how it developed,” he said.

He also said there is a value in using local music to teach students about history, something he learned to do as a teacher.

“I taught all the subjects through the arts, in effect,” Morissette said. “Any connection I could make to any other subject, I would do that, because that’s what the arts do.”

Making connections between music and other academic subjects isn’t just a nice idea — it’s the law.

“The arts is not the frosting on the cake.”

That’s from Argy Nestor, director of arts education at the Maine Arts Commission. Nestor worked as a specialist for visual and performing arts at the Maine Department of Education for seven years, and was an art teacher for 30 years.

Nestor said the state’s 1,250 arts teachers, most of whom are visual arts or music teachers, are expected to teach more than the arts in their classes.

State education standards, which Nestor helped write, require arts students to make connections to other disciplines, including history and world culture.

Nestor said music education can introduce a student to a professional skill that otherwise might seem intimidating or boring.

“I think perhaps the songs that are being written that connect directly with Maine culture and Maine history touch on that component,” she said.

A student who learns a song about woodworking, for example, is more likely to take up a later career in Maine’s wood industry.

For instance, one of Keach’s songs, “Logger’s Son,” provides an introduction to logging terms.

“I can sharpen a saw on a truck tailgate; I’m a wizard with a file, I get it done first rate; When the saw breaks down, I can get it to run — use a peavey, drive a skidder — I’m a logger’s son.”

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Additional Photos

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SONG TRIBUTE: Musicians Julie Churchill, left, and Stan and Liz Keach before singing Stan’s song about Maine icon Donn Fendler, who was famously lost on Mount Katahdin as a child.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

CONNECTED TO CULTURE: Larry Morissette directs choral students at Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale. The singers were rehearsing two songs that were composed by Stan Keach, of Rome, and feature two Maine icons, Donn Fendler and Bean Boots by LL Bean.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy


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