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Meeting House Pilgrimage to feature history through song

ROCKINGHAM—The annual program and 112th pilgrimage to the Old Rockingham Meeting House takes place Sunday, Aug. 5, at 1 p.m., with a barbeque and refreshments at noon.

The program, presented by David Deacon, is titled “I’ll Sing to You of the Good Old Days: History and Memory in Vermont Folk Songs.”

Deacon will perform a selection of songs, with a few tunes that have, if not local, then at least regional relevance. The songs come from the collection made by Helen Hartness Flanders of Springfield between the 1930s and the 1950s.

Flanders and her collaborators Marguerite Olney, George Brown, and Phillips Barry, assembled an influential collection of about 4,000 songs, mostly from Vermont but also from other areas in New England.

“I’m especially interested in songs that tell us something about social attitudes, or songs that had a social purpose,” Deacon said. “People sang when they gathered, or they danced.”

A few of the songs have choruses, and Deacon will accompany himself with guitar and fiddle.

His repertoire includes:

• “In Old Pod Auger Days,” a satirical nostalgic song from the 1870s that looks back to the days of Andrew Jackson. Lyrics include “I’ll sing to you of the good old days, when people were honest and true/Before their brains were rattled and crazed with everything strange and new.”

• “Song of the Vermont Farmers,” a song with a text by John G. Saxe in honor of the Cornwall, Vermont, Sheep Sheering Festival of 1853.

• “Vermont Sugar Maker’s Song,” a popular song about sugaring from the 1830s.

• “The Tune the Old Cow Died On,” A humorous song about a cow trying to sing along with a farmer and dying in the process. Fiddlers would say about a tune poorly played that it was “the tune the old cow died on.”

• “Money Musk,” and “Chorus Jig,” Deacon learned the first from a fiddler from Chester. These are two classic tunes.

• “Young Charlotte,” a song about a woman who froze to death heading to a ball, associated by legend with the area between Mt. Holly and Downers Four Corners, but written by Seba Smith of Brookfield, Maine. It was sung for many years in logging camps.

• “John Colby’s Hymn,” is a few verses of a hymn written by a man who preached in the Meeting House in 1809.

The program raises funds to support the historic landmark building that is over 230 years old. It was restored and rededicated in 1907, and each year since, a pilgrimage has featured a program of historic or cultural interest presented by the nonprofit Rockingham Meeting House Association.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #470 (Wednesday, August 1, 2018). This story appeared on page D3.

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