CD Release: Take Home the Music of "The Yankee Peddler"

Songs from The Yankee Peddler
New Album by Chris Monti & Brad Shur

Now you can take your favorite folk songs from the show home with you! This 12 track album features full length recordings of "The Fox", "Cluck Old Hen" and "Jenny Jenkins," just to name a few.

Musician, Chris Monti's guitar playing paired with Puppet Showplace artist in residence, Brad Shur's amazing character voices creates an exciting adventure through New England history, folklore and rich musical traditions.

CD's are available for $14.99 at the puppet store.  

Call the Box office for more info: 617-731-6400 x 101

Folk Music at Puppet Showplace: Interview with musician, Chris Monti
by Guest Blogger: Brenda Huggins, Puppet Showplace Communications Director

As the center for puppetry arts in New England, Puppet Showplace Theatre is the home of many artists as they develop new works. In January of 2013, we presented the first “New Year, New Shows” series which included the world premiere performance of “The Yankee Peddler: Stories and Songs of Old New England." The show is by New England performing artists Brad Shur (puppeteer and Puppet Showplace artist in residence) from Boston, MA and Chris Monti, a folk musician from Providence, RI.

Chris Monti and shadow puppets performed by Brad Shur during the song, "The Fox."
“The Yankee Peddler” is a 45min puppet show performed with live music and shadow puppets that take the audience on an adventure through New England history, folktales and traditional folk music.  For the past year, audiences from all over New England and beyond have flocked to experience this unique and beautiful storytelling on stage at Puppet Showplace.

Who is the real STAR of the show? Is it the intricate shadow puppets made by Brad? (Over 100 puppets make an appearance through out the show.) Brad even built a wooden contraption with a crank that scrolls a New England landscape across the bed of an overhead projector behind the puppet screen. This modern overhead projector method used for shadow puppetry is Brad’s signature style.

Is the MUSIC the main event of the performance? “The Yankee Peddler” features about a dozen traditional tunes curated by the artists from a rich history of American Folk Songs from the late 19th century.  Chris expertly performs songs including “Cluck Old Hen”, “The Fox”, “Jenny Jenkins” and others on his acoustic guitar with occasional harmonica licks or response for a kazoo. The reality is that these two important elements of the production, the shadow puppets and the folk music, work together to create a live performance of sounds and images that aptly capture the culture and community of old New England.

Chris Monti and Henrietta the Hen (performed by Brad Shur, puppeteer) in "Cluck Old Hen"
With that being said, I had the opportunity to interview folk musician, Chris Monti, specifically about the music of “The Yankee Peddler”, and the brand new CD just released featuring all of the songs from the show.  Audiences can now take home all of their favorite songs from the show and cluck along with Henrietta the Hen, sing a sea shanty with Storm Along (New England’s Paul Bunyan character) and even write a letter to a rat!

Here’s what Chris Monti had to say:

What are the songs that make up “The Yankee Peddler?”

Half of the show is music: great old traditional songs, specifically. These songs have been passed on through an oral tradition, and it wasn’t until the late 19th century that musicians were able to put them on wax cylinders to document them. This was the first time that people recorded themselves and could hear what their music sounded like played back to them.

These songs are about emotion, and about people’s lives and work. The music is very different from commercial 1950 blue glass made specifically in the studio for the radio.  The songs in “The Yankee Peddler” are from the pre-recording era or right on the edge. They are all old, old songs.

What do you like about performing folk music?

I very much like the idea of playing songs that are 100’s of years old, and playing them in 2013 in a way where I’m not pretending to be anything that I'm not. I play them from the heart in an honest way, even though I am playing a character during the show.  Folk music is a big part of my music identity, and I try to learn music from other people to keep old music alive.  This is an important thing to me.  My personal folk music revolution happened when I was 19. I loved the grittiness of folk songs, the literal crackly sounds of the first recordings from the late 1800’s. 

At 19, I heard live old time string music (fiddles, banjo, mandolin, guitar) in the form of social dance music in providence, RI.  I made friends with musicians who would play this music at home and at dance parties.  From the first listen, I was inspired to take out old records from the public library.  Some of my favorite recordings are the Doc Watson Family album and folk musician Bruce Molskey.

How does the CD capture the music from “The Yankee Peddler?”

It is nice to document the show so people can listen to it, and take it home with them. The 12 tracks that make up the album are in the running order of the show, and it is a stand-alone piece of music to listen to. The main difference from the show is that the tracks on the CD are all fleshed out to full-length songs.   In the show, some of the songs are shortened to be part of the storytelling with the shadow puppets. Cluck old hen is about 1min long in the show, but on the CD, it is a fully fleshed out piece of music that tells its own story.

"Songs from the Yankee Peddler" is available for purchase at the Puppet Showplace puppet store, Brookline MA.
Another difference is that Brad over dubs many vocal parts on the CD, where in the live show, there is only his one voice.  He uses many over dubbed characters voices on “The Fox”, and “Cape Cod Girls” as examples.  There was only two of us in the studio making the album, so anytime you hear another voice, it is one of Brad’s character voices.

One of my favorite tracks on the CD is “100 Years” because I wrote a guitar arrangement specifically for the album.  When the song is performed live in the show, we sing it a cappella over a percussive beat.  I was inspired by middle eastern music when I made the guitar part for the CD, and you can hear a drone in the background as an example of that.

What advice would you give parents about encouraging their children to get into folk music?

Nothing takes the place of seeing live music. It is a completely visceral experience to watch someone play, or to sing along with someone who is playing.  I heard my dad play the guitar when I was 4 years old, and it was in that moment that I knew that I wanted to do that too.

"The Yankee Peddler: Stories and Songs
 from Old New England"
By Brad Shur and Chris Monti

Friday-Sunday, October 25-27/ PURCHASE TICKETS

This Week in Puppet Playtime!

Puppet Playtime: Opening circle with Phil Berman and Brenda Huggins

Wednesdays at 10:30am through March

Bella Monster and the very hungry Caterpillar!

We are two weeks into our brand new interactive program for young children (ages 0-3) and it has been a blast!  So far we have adventured with our fabulous furry friend Bella Monster to outer space, marched with ants in the garden (hurrah, hurrah!), dined with a very hungry caterpillar, and sang our favorite songs and new original tunes composed by our very own Puppet Playtime performer, Phil Berman.  

One of the participants with a 2 year old child said:

 "My daughter was singing the songs from Puppet Playtime all day long, the experience has definitely stuck with her.  We will be back next week!"

Guest Blogger: Phil Berman


Wake up and smell the corn husks, this Wednesday morning Puppet Playtime is off to the farm! 

Brenda, Bella Monster and I have been blessed with Puppet Showplace's rich and eclectic stock of puppets from past productions that are (literally) hanging around every corner of the theater. When developing new shows every week we try to take our cue from the wealth of materials already available to us. Bella Monster discovered a box of chicken puppets created by my dear friend from Free Hands, Allie Herryman, and we knew they were too good not to use in a show.

It turns out there's a lot of great children's music featuring these fearless flightless fowl. There's something hilariously satisfying about these birds to folks of all ages: is it the noise? the movement? the prideful attitude? We humans may never truly understand why we love chickens so much. What I can tell you is that we have a fun-filled interactive show ready for our littlest chicks: 

We'll crow and squawk and bark and whinny with the rest of the animals in the farm; plant wheat with a well-known avian baker; shake eggs while we cluck with the hens; and recount the stresses and joys of poultry puppet parenthood.

Don't stay cooped up all winter - we'll see you at the theater on Wednesday morning -- don't forget your overalls!

See you at the Theatre!


Showplace fun at the Eugene O'Neill National Puppetry Conference!

Hi everyone!

I hope you’re getting psyched for Summer at Puppet Showplace! We’ll be changing up our schedule with the start of July (more on that soon!) This week we welcome to the Showplace Lionheart Puppets with The Reluctant Dragon, followed by Nappy’s Puppets with Father Goose Tales. Get your tickets today!

I had the great fortune of seeing Nappy perform last night in an outdoor amphitheatre under the stars at the (regional Tony award-winning!) Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center where I’m currently attending the National Puppetry Conference (it just so happens that the conference is also where I met Matt Leonard of Lionheart Puppets for the first time!).

This year, PST Artist in Residence Brad Shur, PuppetSLAM Emcee Jon Little, and I are all here learning from master puppeteers drawn from all over the world. We’re also hard at work on new projects that will be presented at the end of the week (if you happen to be in Waterford, CT come check them out!). While we’re here, we’re also promoting the Showplace to puppet artists from all across America—thanks to all of our current family (Nappy, Michael Graham) and SLAM performers (Z. Briggs, Jones, Carole D'Augustino) for talking up the theatre as a great place to perform!

Stay tuned for announcements of our upcoming SLAM season, and more news from Jon and Brad about their experiences at the O’Neill!

Roxie (artistic@puppetshowplace.org)