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
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
|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
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
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