West County life in song
A Howe Bros. photograph of the Townsley Farm of Ashfield, in 1898. Ralph Townsley was very active in Ashfield's music and dances in the first half of the 20th century.
Banjo player Jack Barry of Ashfield
Photo/ Jacqueline Cooper
Musician Deena Chappell
Musical mentor Daniel Plane
Photo: Jacqueline Cooper
Cameron Clark of Ashfield, the grandson of long-ago dance caller Malcom Clark.
ASHFIELD — Ashfield photographer Jaqueline Cooper has a real talent for breathing new life into old histories, whether she’s re-telling the stories of West County’s World War II veterans or the tales of immigrant textile workers in turn-of-the-century mills.
This weekend, Cooper is presenting a musical concert and storytelling event, called “A Legacy of Rural Music, People, Place: 1800s-1940s.”
The program is about people who lived in Ashfield, Buckland, Hawley and Plainfield during those years and about the musical culture that pervaded the rural region back then.
The concert is Sunday at 4 p.m. in St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ashfield. Those who can’t come on Sunday are welcome to attend an open rehearsal on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Hawley Meeting House, off East Hawley Road. Both performances are free, although donations are appreciated, to help offset costs. It’s sponsored by Country Dance & Song Society and funded in part by Mass Humanities and private contributions.
Last year, Cooper offered her first musical mentoring/concert program called “Silvery Moon and Golden Slippers: A Legacy of Vintage Country Music in the Hilltowns,” in which seasoned musicians work with aspiring musicians in a weeklong workshop in Cooper’s home. At week’s end, the group presented a concert of mostly “pre-radio” vintage music that was popular here from the mid-1800s until about 1940.
Cooper now calls the musical mentoring program the Silvery Moon and Golden Slippers workshop, and wants each to culminate in a different performance each year.
This year’s focus is on music that was part of — or inspired by — the stories of local people, along with a narrative by storyteller/performer Rochelle Wildfong.
Cooper said people sang and played their own music more in those eras than they do now, and that music played a bigger role in people’s lives before there was electronic media.
“Every single piece of music came out of a little anecdote, between 1805 to about 1940,” said Cooper. “Some of them are stories remembered by people who are now in their 90s. ... It takes the audience on a journey, starting in 1805 in Hawley, with a stage coach tavern song. It’s about music, people and places. It’s like taking a cross-section of the music cultures that came out of everyday life,” said Cooper. “It’s like a journey of what might have been happening behind the doors of homes if you walked down the streets in that time.”
About 15 musicians are involved in this year’s project, ranging in age from 11 years old to 50.
To prepare for this year’s event, Cooper says she’s spent about four months researching stories “that are not in the mainstream.”
“These stories give you a feeling of what it was like here, in general,” she said.
For instance, Cooper found a 1915 program for a literary meeting that was put on by the Buckland and Plainfield Granges. One song was listed on that program, and it will be among the selections performed this weekend.
Ruth Craft of Ashfield, who is now 95, remembered a tune her father, an Irish immigrant, used to play for his kids on a harmonica when he came home from work in the fields. That tune is part of the performance.
“Harmonicas were really the portable music of the day,” said Cooper. “The woodsmen and the farmers kept them in their pockets all the time.”
Around 1940, dances were a regular part of town life, and in Ashfield, Ralf Townsley and dance-caller Malcom Clark played a big role in them. Malcom Clark’s grandson, Cameron Clark, is among the musicians in this program.
Past programs created by Cooper include an oral history and photo exhibit of World War II veterans and a subsequent musical, called “I’ll Be Seeing You,” that was performed by Mohawk Trail Regional School students. Cooper also created “Follow the Thread: America’s Jewish Immigrants and the Birth of the Garment Industry,” which was recently exhibited in Deerfield’s Memorial Hall Museum.
For more information about this concert, call Cooper at 628-0262.
You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277