Lorraine Lee Hammond – A look back on the career of the performing artist, teacher and song preservationist. “I am proudest of my role in creating, teaching, and perpetuating music that will empower people to find their own voice and build communities.”

Lorraine Lee Hammond

Lorraine Lee Hammond

Lorraine Lee Hammond is a multi-instrumentalist, music teacher and song preservationist who is originally from Cornwall Connecticut and now resides with her family in Brookline Massachusetts. In her youth, she was exposed to music by songs her mother would sing around the house and by local town musicians. The rural area in the Berkshires, where she grew up, had well attended music festivals. Stars like Benny Goodman would perform there in the summer. Lorraine sang, and played the banjo and mandolin through her grade school years. After hearing a recording of Jean Ritchie, she soon realized that she wanted to play the mountain dulcimer as well.

While attending Goddard College in Vermont, Lorraine had access to her first dulcimer and began to experiment with it. During a summer work study in Washington D.C. she purchased her own dulcimer. Lorraine spent the next few years honing her craft, becoming very proficient on the instrument. She would begin to play regional tours and record her own music. Eventually she graduated Goddard with credentials to teach music from K to 12th grade. At the age of 65 she received an Independent Masters of Arts degree… also from Goddard College.

Throughout her impressive career, Lorraine has written two books on how to play the dulcimer… toured Scotland numerous times, and has directed many festivals and summer camps in the New England area. She has recorded albums with Jean Ritchie, Rick Lee, Roger Nicholson, Bennett Hammond and many others. Today Lorraine and her husband Bennett, continue to teach, hold workshops and perform regularly. I recently spoke in depth with Lorraine about her career.

R.V.B. – Hi Lorraine… how are you today?

L.L.H. – I’m doing well… how are you doing?

R.V.B. – I’m doing good, but it’s a little sticky and muggy out. How are things up north?

L.L.H. – We have the humidity with intermittent clouds and sun but it’s not bad. It’s still feeling like late spring. I cannot remember a time where I’ve been home week, by week from the spring and into the summer. I’m putting in plants and I am seeing things growing, that I’ve always missed. With the pandemic… I’m home.

R.V.B. – We’re all in the same boat. There’s probably ¾ of Americans doing the same thing that you’re doing.

L.L.H. – We’re just having a chance to be in connection with this place. Luckily, we’re in a comfortable one and I’m so grateful for that.

R.V.B. – You’re up in Massachusetts, correct?

L.L.H. – Bennett and I have been in Brookline Massachusetts since 1986.

R.V.B. – I’ve been listening to your music and enjoying it very much.

L.L.H. – What do you like about it? I’m not sure what you’re hearing… I’ve been recording for so many decades.

R.V.B. – I like the Old Timey aspect of it. I like the history of the songs. Sharing stories about where you are from… your particular geographic area. It’s very important in my opinion.

Cornwall Public Library

Cornwall Public Library

L.L.H. – Great! I’ve been blessed to be able to document my home town. The first time I did a concert with some of those songs, was when I offered to play for the people of Cornwall Connecticut, as a fundraiser for the library… after the death of my parents. My own parents were so woven into the life of the town. The town really, really pulled together to help us, particularly with my dad who died at home. Bennett and I were there to be with him and hold him. We carried him through this, along with my sisters. At that time, I wanted to say thank you. I put myself in a situation where I’m singing songs… for example Comfort Star about a real recluse fiddler… kind of the town drunk. He was a strong influence on me and I put that all into a song. After I sang the song, a nephew of his came up to me and thanked me. He said “People don’t really speak highly of Comfort Star in this town. Thank you for writing that song.”

R.V.B. – I read quite a few stories of you giving back. Can you describe what your childhood was like? Was it a very rural area?

The Appalachian Trail runs through Cornwall Connecticut

The Appalachian Trail runs through Cornwall Connecticut

L.L.H. – It was really a time warp in many ways. It’s easy to overlook that my part of the Berkshires is in that continuity of the Appalachian Mountains. The Appalachian trail went right past the land for our little farm in Cornwall. It’s very isolated and isolating in terms of hills and hollers. When I was growing up, there were still people who did not have running water… did not have much in the way of electricity. They had a real ability to provide for themselves. My parents were both orphans, and that they found each other is remarkable. There is a lot of this detail on the Cornwall Historical Society site.

R.V.B. – I got lost on that site for about an hour and a half.

L.L.H. – (Hahaha) That’s Ballads and Barn Dances. There was a story that there was a moonshine still up Hall Road by the creek. So it was very much like the Southern Mountains culture when I was growing up. When I finally came to teach at the John Campbell folk school in Southwestern North Carolina- I got a call out of the blue, that Jean Ritchie had suggested that I would be a good person to teach advanced dulcimer. So I fly down to Atlanta and get picked up by a van to go and teach dulcimer for a week in the mountains of North Carolina. That entire week was a sort of homecoming. I was very, very comfortable with the people there because their lives were so much like mine.

R.V.B. – Typical to the people who live in Appalachia, music was very important. Back in the day it was the form of entertainment. When you’re spread out, isolated and working the land, the stories and songs get passed down. You’ve had a few people in your home town that gave you a little push in music.

James Thurber

James Thurber

L.L.H. –It was an amazing home town. Cornwall was home to James Thurber… that’s where his summer home was. My dad always wanted to stay in the country once he left the orphanage – which was in New Britain Connecticut. He joined the CCC and was sent to Cornwall. To remain there without any kind of family connection or support, he worked. He worked hard with multiple jobs. It included doing the gardening for James Thurber’s place. My mother baked the cakes for the Van Doren family. We were woven into the fabric of the town. By the time I was in high school, in the summer, I would attend Music Mountain concerts. It was just a lovely music performance space… kind of in the middle of nowhere. I would be an usher so I could afford to go, and I was able to listen to Benny Goodman playing Mozart quintets. Benny Goodman would come up in the summer to Cornwall. The Cornwall/New York connection was very strong because of the train, and it meant I met people who saw something in me or heard something in my voice and music, that helped me out in a much larger world. I was on a bus out of town the day after I graduated high school.

R.V.B. – Was the dulcimer your first instrument?

Lorraine by brook. Photo by Joanna Eldredge Morrissey

Photo by Joanna Eldredge Morrissey

L.L.B. – No, but I was introduced to the sound of the dulcimer and the sound of Jean Ritchie by Ed Canby. Ed Canby, like so many other leading lights in my life, summered in Cornwall. His father, Henry Tatnell Canby, founded The Atlantic Review of Books. Ed was the recording engineer for Jean Ritchie’s first Elektra album. He heard me singing songs that I learned from Oscar Degreenia. Oscar had learned many traditional songs and ballads from his mother as a child in Northern Vermont. He and his wife Etta moved to Cornwall in 1932 and our families were friends. He was a deeply traditional source for my own music. To that extent, I’m an actual tradition bearer… who got swept up into a revival period. I was singing The Hunting Song, “I went out a-hunting,’twas on a summer’s day.” and Ed Canby had heard Jean Ritchie do a version of it. He said “Come listen to this.” I went to his house and he played me the Elektra recording. I heard that dulcimer and my heart sang. I had no access to one until I went off on a full scholarship to Goddard College, up in Plainfield Vermont. I came down to Cambridge, MA, on a weekend and saw an actual, rather bashed up dulcimer hanging on the wall of a music shop in Harvard square. That was it… I knew that I would want one.

R.V.B. – Were you playing any instruments at this point?

L.L.H. – I was playing the banjo. And when I was a little kid I had a five bar autoharp. It was on the farm and nobody really knew what to do with it. It was like many of those little zithers and autoharps that people would buy and then wouldn’t know how to tune them. They would just kind of put it somewhere. It was a little beat up but it was playable. It had a tuning key… and I’ve always had a good ear. I just figured out what to do with it.

R.V.B. – When you went to college, did you study music?

L.L.H. – I’m not conservatory trained, but I did finish Goddard College with credentials to teach K through 12th grade music in public schools. It was a path that I was looking at. We didn’t have a piano when I was a child. I grew up in relative poverty. There were a lot of things in the town that were present around me… that I did not have on my own. I sang in the church choir and could read notes. I’ve always had a good ear. I was one of those kids that if you put an instrument anywhere near around me, I would try and play it.

Goddard College in Vermont

Goddard College in Vermont

R.V.B. – Did you have any folk groups in college where you may have gotten together with others to play?

L.L.H. – Not so typical… I arrived with the banjo that I had bought for $12.50… and it may not have been worth that much. I arrived with it in a homemade sack hanging over my shoulder. I also had a mandolin. I borrowed money to buy it… It was a beautiful round back Italian pear shape model. I also had that in a homemade cloth case. When I got to college, I had never listened to Peter, Paul and Mary. I didn’t know that stuff. People would say “Give us a tune… play the banjo.” I would sit down and start something like Little Birdie… and nobody knew it. They didn’t know anything I did. But… I also played some mandolin and I jammed all the time. I love to jam, and I learned by playing and singing with other people. I had a great time. I met Margaret MacArthur and spent the night of my 18th Birthday at her house. She put her dulcimer on my lap and said “Just brush over here and put your fingers on the strings over here.” (Haha) By then, I had arranged with my college roommate to order a dulcimer from the back cover of Sing Out magazine. There was an ad for Homer Ledford dulcimers. Marilyn wanted to be part of the folk scene. I said to her. “If you buy the dulcimer, I’ll teach you how to play it,” even though I had never played one. I stayed one step ahead of her. By the winter of January of ’63, I borrowed some money and bought an instrument of my own. My first one was made by A.W. Jeffreys, in Staunton Virginia. From then on, I had my own dulcimer. And in later years I came to know Homer and really enjoyed playing and singing with him.

Dwain Wilder at his craft of making dulcimers

Dwain Wilder at his craft of making dulcimers

R.V.B. – Now you have your arsenal… a banjo… a mandolin… and a dulcimer.

L.L.H. – I do! That was the only dulcimer that I purchased. The rest have been gifts. They’ve often been made in collaboration with the builders. The two builders I have worked with the most closely are Dwain Wilder and Jeremy Seeger. Dwain inherited the jigs and learned dulcimer building from Walt Martin of Sunhearth Folk Instruments, and until Walt’s retirement I worked with him and his son Mike to refine their design. Jeremy started building dulcimers in high school and has never stopped. I took my own turn as a dulcimer builder, designing an instrument and teaching dulcimer building at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education for five years or so. It became clear to me fairly quickly that I would rather play than build! The dulcimers I now play give beautiful voice to the music I want to express, without losing the deep grounding of tradition. They are beautiful instruments.

R.V.B. – I lost an hour or two reading up on them also.

L.L.H. – (Hahaha)

R.V.B. – I see you spent some time in Washington D.C.

L.L.H. – I went to Washington in the summer of my freshman year at Goddard College. In those days, they shut down the physical plant because it was too expensive to heat it up in Plainfield, Vermont, through the fierce winter. They sent us all off on work study. I was not used to cities at all then. I found a placement at Peace Action Center on Park Road North in DC.It was my first time living in a city, and my job description included picketing the White House several times a week! In those few short months I bought my A.W. Jeffries three string dulcimer, and also spent Monday evenings at the Shamrock Lounge watching the Country Gentlemen..It was an extraordinary experience. I had a good time there,and packed in a whole lot of music. I was eighteen.

R.V.B. – Washington D.C. has deep roots in bluegrass and old timey music.

Jack Tottle

Jack Tottle

L.L.H. – It sure does. So many people were drawn there from rural communities to work. They brought their musical roots with them. I had met Jack Tottle of The Lonesome River Boys (great classic bluegrass band) when I was the guest on a Dartmouth College radio show. He was a Dartmouth student from Virginia and we dated and met up in Virginia at the start of my work term. He headed back to Dartmouth and the amazing flatpicker, John Kaparakis, from the Lonesome River Boys “chaperoned” me at the Shamrock all those great Mondays. Before he returned to Dartmouth I went with Jack to a Saturday night Old Dominion Barn Dance show in Richmond, VA. We spent some time with Don Reno there and later we went out for supper with Bill Monroe and his entire band. It was my first time in the segregated South, and that was an eye opener.Jack is an extraordinary mandolin player and he help to establish the Eastern Tennessee program in Bluegrass and Traditional music. He lives in Hawaii now. He did the seminal book “Bluegrass Mandolin.” It was an Oak publication. That’s another element here… the development of the instruments of the incoming builders… learning from tradition and shifting it. Certainly with the dulcimer, that’s been a big piece. At the time there was almost no written material to learn from, and it had been traditionally an instrument to play by ear. I did not have Jean Ritchie’s book. I did not know about her tunings. I made up what sounded right and I broke a lot of strings doing it. I got my own kind of strategy on how to play. I have since gone on to author two instruction books with Yellow Moon Press, The Magic Dulcimer,and Barley Break, Elizabethan Music for Appalachian Dulcimer. I also recorded an instruction series for Appalachian dulcimer with Homespun Tapes, in Woodstock, NY. I developed a teaching approach as I taught classes at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education in Harvard Square. There was nothing like that available in the 1970 and when I decided to offer a dulcimer class so many people enrolled that I ended up with two course sessions of fourteen students each, all with dulcimers of various shapes and sizes and playability. I had to think fast!

Lorraine Lee Magic Dulcimer Book

Lorraine Lee Magic Dulcimer Book

R.V.B. – What about the Pete Seeger 5 string banjo book?

L.L.H. – Same thing… I started playing banjo when I was around ten. There were people around me playing… and they were frailing. I do two-finger picking also because it felt comfortable and I could sound a little blue-grassy. I have always loved bluegrass. I haven’t really used books to learn. Sometimes I use them to teach from now;although, I mostly create my own material. I sure have taught a lot of players, singers, and songwriters through these many decades.

R.V.B. – You’re doing a great service by taking your experience and passing it on.

L.L.H. – I love to teach, and know how blessed I am to be able to have these students. A former student, just out of the blue, wrote to me from Joshua Tree, California and attached a paper from one of her sons. She’s home schooling her kids. She was a student of mine at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, where I taught for over 30 years. I taught dulcimer and banjo and singing and songwriting, and music theory. She took my music theory class. I encouraged her to take it to help understand as a singer how the songs are constructed. She had taught her son using the teaching materials that I used to teach her. He had written a really inspired paper about the harmonic overtone system. That came out of the blue and it was very nice.

R.V.B. – Your work is spanning generations. Can you share a story with me about Oscar Degreenia? Is there anything that you may have taken from him?

L.L.H. – I really loved the stories in the songs… and they were spooky. He was sometimes cranky. His worked a variety of odd jobs. For example in Cornwall, the train would sometimes throw cinders as it came along into town and he was paid to walk the tracks to look for any kind of possible fire. Here’s a story from my mom. There was an early November blizzard coming in when she was about to deliver me. She and my father were heading over to Sharon Connecticut to the hospital. Oscar came up with a wire basket filled with eggs in each arm – he was working on the farm with my parents – and wished her well. That was a happy memory from her of Oscar.

Oscar Degreenia

Oscar Degreenia

R.V.B. – When he was singing songs, did you realize the history and importance of the material?

L.L.H. – I doubt it… I was just a kid. I was just caught up in the stories. He was not the least bit pretentious about any of it. I don’t think he understood much himself about the continuum. They were songs he had learned from his family. He and his sister… for Helen Flanders recorded A Paper of Pins. They were singing back and forth. That’s the kind of thing he grew up with. Until Helen Flanders showed up, I don’t think he had much feel for how rare and valuable the songs were becoming. I remember “Young Willie drew his broadsword and he wove it all around. Thirteen of then officers, dead on the ground. Seven and four bleeding in gore. Young Willie gained his true love on the new river shore.” My mom would be there visiting with his wife Etta, who she really liked. After Oscar’s death, Etta moved into a tiny cottage behind our house. Now we have another layer, because Al Degreenia is the grandson of Oscar, and he remembered visiting Etta when she lived behind our house. He didn’t know his grandfather, but he is a fine picker himself. I only met him because of the Cornwall Historical Society concert and music events.

R.V.B. – I understand that you were instrumental in obtaining his work and redistributing it to his family.

Lorraine ca. 1972 - Photo by Irene Saletan

Lorraine ca. 1972 – Photo by Irene Saletan

L.L.H. – I’m a fairly mild mannered human being I think. But I would snap at the stories of how some source singers had been treated over time, by the people collecting from them. It has not always been that way. For example Eloise Hubbard Linscott was a collector in New England who had the reputation of being a real friend to the people she collected from. But often, collectors have really been out of touch with their singers. I ended up returning to Goddard College yet again, this time to earn an Independent Master of Arts degree, and to better understand, among other things, the history of the collecting of English language traditional songs and ballads. At age sixty-five I earned my Master’s. I went back to school to deepen my understanding of folklore, ethnomusicology and the politics of culture. Heady stuff. Ballad collector Helen Flanders, from Vermont, collected some of Oscar’s songs. Often source singers have believed that collectors with academic backgrounds and apparent wealth, are going to make a fortune from the songs. Oscar Degreenia was illiterate all of his life. I think Mrs. Flanders made him very uncomfortable.

Certainly she did not gain any money from Oscar’s songs, and they would likely have mostly been lost, except perhaps for whatever I remembered. Helen Flanders placed all of her collection with Middlebury College. After Oscar’s death the family wanted to hear the recordings. I had family stories about how various generations would go to Middlebury and ask for the material and be told, “No… this is the property of the Middlebury College. You can’t hear it!” I just felt that was wrong.

R.V.B. – That is wrong!!!

L.L.H. – It is wrong. Adirondack singer Colleen Cleveland had much the same thing. Kenny Goldstein was a wonderful man, a collector who left all of his collected material to the Smithsonian, and only recently –after decades of really pressuring – was Colleen able to get the recordings of her grandmother Sara Cleveland. Ultimately, I walked out of Middlebury College with a CD of the Helen Flanders recordings of Oscar Degreenia. Then Bennett and I went up to visit Dolly Degreenia Teer, his youngest daughter, in Madison, New York… way up in the rural New York State boondocks – and she finally got to hear it. It was pretty amazing.

R.V.B. – It must have been a magical moment.

L.L.H. – It certainly was. I had not seen Dolly for decades. When I started again at Goddard in 2008, I called her and said “I realize that you’re not going to remember me but I’m Joe and Eleanor Choiniere’s daughter… Lorraine. She picked up as if we had coffee the day before. That’s the nature of life from a small town. And she told me stories about her father and what she remembered about the songs, and Helen Flanders’ visits. Those connections are so deep and so solid. Bennett and I did another performance for the town of Cornwall in August of 2019, and Jerry Blakey stood and spoke to the audience about what a wonderful man my father was after we performed the song Highway Crew. I wrote it about my father working for the Connecticut State Highway Department.

R.V.B. – What a nice thing to do.

L.L.H. – It was. I feel very strongly about music and community, but I always feel somehow awkward about performance. I grew up where people just sang the songs because they had meaning and were useful for work. I sang when I walked down to the chicken coop and while I would sweep the floors. My mom did also. She didn’t have that long line of songs any more than my father did – both were orphans. She was raised on the Cornwall side of Sharon Mountain on the little farm. Her grandfather sang some old songs to her. He had come over from Switzerland. He was good with his children’s songs. She in turn, shared them with me. Singing was very much a part of the household, just not songs drawn from the British traditions.

R.V.B. – Very nice. Being a Connecticut resident, I guess it was natural to do an album at Folk Legacy.

Living In The Trees - Rick Lee and Lorraine Lee Hammond

Living In The Trees – Rick Lee and Lorraine Lee Hammond

L.L.H. – Connecticut wasn’t really my first link to the Paton’s. I was born and grew up in Connecticut, but I first met the Paton’s when I went up to Goddard in 1962. Then when they moved to Sharon, CT I was part of many Folk Legacy recording sessions.

R.V.B. – You had mentioned the Smithsonian… I understand they acquired the Folk Legacy catalog.

L.L.H. – The whole catalog!!! Yes… and they’re doing a good job. Everything will be forever available on Folk Legacy. I remember getting a letter from Sandy and Caroline, asking if Rick Lee and I could do a recording. We were on the Folk Interpreters label, so I’m in sort of a limbo there. On the one hand I am a source person. Primarily with Oscar’s songs and the music I learned in the community around me as I grew up. But I was also part of the “dreaded folk revival” of the sixties and seventies.

R.V.B. – So you were instrumental in starting the Yelping Hill Folk Festival.

L.L.H. – The Yelping Hill Festival happened only one year. That’s where I met Rick Lee and many other players. It happened in my senior year in 1962. That was a follow through after the Indian Neck Festival was established. Indian Neck usually happened on mother’s day weekend and was founded in conjunction with The Yale Folk Music Society. The deal was, there would be a big concert at Yale on Friday night, and with the ticket sales the Society would provide housing and beer for the rest of the weekend and all we did was make music! (Haha) The idea was to be a self -supporting event. We borrowed that idea for our one and only Yelping Hill Folk Festival.

Lorraine and Bennett Hammond - Photo by Susan Wilson

Lorraine and Bennett Hammond – Photo by Susan Wilson

R.V.B. – Where did you meet Bennett?

L.L.H. –We met at Club Passim in Harvard Square, Cambridge. I was performing with guitarist Pete Cairo. I played some dulcimer and some banjo with him, and we sang together for that show. It was a split night with the amazing banjo player Howie Bursen. Bennett and Howie had been roommates at Cornell graduate school. I had known Howie for years. He introduced me to Bennett during the break. I took one look, and knew I was done for. (Hahaha)

R.V.B. – You guys sound very good together.

L.L.H. – Thank you. We are such a complete thought musically. Living together isn’t always easy for anyone.

R.V.B. – Living together and then practicing together.

L.L.H. – Bennett and I share a kind of wildness about our music. I think it shows up when you hear us. We listen impeccably to one another and play off of that. So when you say “practice,” that’s a pretty casual experience to us. One or the other will either write something new, and teach it to the other, or we’ll fall in love with a tune and learn it together. How I operate surprises me sometimes, with its difference from how structured musicians who’ve had a particular training would do it. Sometimes I feel very left out. I don’t sight read very well but I can do it. If somebody sat down and said “Let’s do a mandolin quartet and here’s your part.” (Hahaha) I would have to go very slowly to get anywhere playing it from the music.

Lorraine and Bennett during pandemic -Copyright 2020 Van Aiken Photography

Lorraine and Bennett during pandemic -Copyright 2020 Van Aiken Photography

R.V.B. – The general ambiance that I get from watching you two play is that it looks like you’re having fun.

L.L.H. – (Haha) We are.

R.V.B. – Number two… it looks like you’re not taking it too seriously. And I’m not saying that in a bad way.

L.L.H. – We were surprised to become popular to the extent that we have. Neither of us has pursued having a career as a performer. I’ve raised two generations of kids because my son Peter was born in 1964 and Bennett’s daughter Alaina, my stepdaughter, was born in 1981… so I spent as much time teaching this music I love while staying close to home as I spent time traveling and performing. And both Peter and Alaina spent plenty of time at folk festivals in the “performer’s kids” culture too.

R.V.B. – I know that you’ve put on a lot of workshops and festivals. It must take a lot of planning and preparation to do that?

The Cambridge Center for Adult Education

The Cambridge Center for Adult Education

L.L.H. – It does. It takes a lot of cooperative work to do that. Beginning with the Dulcimer Festival… it started with Flower Carol Dulcimer Festival in 1981. I had the idea, and four of us pooled $50.00 each to have a start-up fund. And the Folksong Society of Greater Boston sponsored the Saturday night concerts. That ran for the first 10 years on May Day weekend at the Palfrey Street School in the Boston area. It was a beautiful small private school in Watertown, Mass. The school closed, and I was able to move the festival to The Cambridge Center for Adult Education where I was teaching. That festival became a vehicle for supporting a whole dulcimer community… hammered and mountain players and builders alike. Then I added a fall festival at the Cambridge Center… so I was running two of them a year. The fall festival emphasized songwriting. The final move for the dulcimer festival was from the Cambridge Center over to the Brookline Music School. It only lasted a few years there. The folk voice is not very strong at the music school… it’s more classical and jazz. But it was lovely to do it there. So I have been able to nurture dulcimer builders and players. That has been very satisfying for me. Beginning in 1995, we had The Summer Acoustic Music Week, which was one week and then grew to two weeks, and then grew to two weeks and two weekends. This year is postponed of course.

R.V.B. – You made several trips to Scotland. Can you tell me about those adventures?

Solomon's Seal Eisteddfod stage!

Solomon’s Seal Eisteddfod stage!

L.L.H. – It was a wonderful place for an American traditional singer to go. I went many times. Rick and I toured from Edinburgh to Orkney and back again to Edinburgh with Artie Trezise and Cilla Fisher. Cilla is Archie Fisher’s sister, and for much of the month long tour the four of us borrowed Archie’s old Ford Transit van. I had gotten to know Archie because he came over to do a Folk Legacy recording The Man With A Rhyme. He came as a guest to the Indian Neck Festival which by then, was being held in Falls Village Connecticut. I did not know Archie… I did not know his music… I didn’t know any of the gang. There’s a critical element in this story, which is Eisteddfod and Howard Glasser. Howard’s real passion for the music of the British Isles meant he would bring over performers of rich tradition.I knew and treasured Howard. He booked me starting with the second Eisteddfod at SMU, and I was booked each year from then on, always teaching and participating in workshops. On the main stage I performed first with Rick Lee as a duo, then with the band Solomon’s Seal – with Rick Lee, Jane Orzechowski, and Sarah Bauhan (we recorded an album on Front Hall Records called “The Old Road”) – then with Bennett, and often as a guest in other performer’s sets Toward the end of the Eisteddfod years I was on the advising board. I played in every Eisteddfod except the very first. I was one of the music directors for what is now Music Camps North… with Banjo Camp North. I was there to found Mandolin Camp North with them. It goes hand and glove for the music to thrive. It needs to be taught and it needs to be present for people. I first went over to Scotland in 1972 or 73. Archie had heard me play when I was accompanying Allan Block… I miss him and I miss the sound terribly. It was a beautiful fiddle/dulcimer sound. After I came off stage Archie came over to me and said “I have this tune. Can you try it with me?” We went off into a back room at the festival and started to play. It was just a joy to play with Archie Fisher. I looked up and noticed that there about 75 people in a circle around us listening. At that point I looked at him and said “Ok… who are you?” (Hahaha) That was the beginning of a very good friendship. I played dulcimer on his Man With a Rhyme Folk Legacy recording with him on several cuts including The Witch of the Westmerlands and South Wind, two Scottish classics, the first written by Archie and the second traditional.

Lorraine in brown, Margaret MacArthur to her left, then Scottish traditional singer Elizabeth Stewart, then Margaret Bennett.

Lorraine in brown, Margaret MacArthur to her left, then Scottish traditional singer Elizabeth Stewart, then Margaret Bennett.

When playing at the Edinburgh Folk Club one year in the early 1980s, Archie came up to me with Margaret Bennett on his arm to tell me I should meet my “Scottish sister”. Margaret and I have been close ever since. She’s a beautiful storyteller… an academic… a singer. She arranged over time for the two of us to do comparative ballad sessions at The School of Scottish Studies. I would perform at Edinburgh University. We were planning to do a recap of that course for TradMad week this summer… we were both booked.

My Scottish connections have been powerful because the people that I meet in Scotland – as part of the Scottish folk scene – are amazing. It’s not the same homecoming as Southwestern North Carolina but it is a homecoming. It’s beautiful to be there. I’m very at ease in Scotland. More recently Bennett and I toured England and Scotland multiple times. The late Frank Bechhoffer of the Bechhoffer Agency in Edinburgh booked us. Our last duo tour was nearly twenty years ago for a full month. I went back in 2006 and played The Carrying Stream Festival in Edinburgh and a few other clubs.

R.V.B. – Do you have any stories about Howard Glasser?

Eisteddfod Logo

Eisteddfod Logo

L.L.H. – They are about the beauty of his artwork and calligraphy and his generosity with it. The Eisteddfod pins were practical art at its finest. He loved to party, and I think it always surprised and delighted him to be so welcome socially among musicians. He told some very long stories, but they were always interesting. He often spoke of his love of Scotland and the travelers and their music, telling stories of his adventures visiting there as a young man. And most important to me, I understand increasingly, was how he created a festival that encouraged real musical and cultural exchange. The Eisteddfod is where I first met Artie Trezise and Cilla Fisher. We hit it off as friends and musicians, and they arranged for my first tour in Scotland. That was one of several with Rick Lee. Later I toured on my own and also with Bennett. It opened up a world, and with money scarce for us all, we stayed with one another, Scottish and English friends stayed with me here in the states when on tour, and I stayed with them in turn as we looked out for one another and learned intimately about one another’s worlds through the next several decades.

R.V.B. – When did you pick up the Celtic harp?

Lorraine with Harp

Lorraine with Harp

L.L.H. – That just suddenly consumed me. Bennett and I had been together for about five years. We were playing a concert in New York City for The Folk Music Society of New York and staying with singer and harper Jean Farnsworth. She had her harp in her little library. I walked in and looked at it and she said “Here… put your hands here.” It wasn’t unlike what Margaret MacArthur did with the dulcimer. I staggered out three hours later. (Hahaha) I like to teach myself first. I’m comfortable figuring out how the body moves and what we need in order to be healthy players on various instruments. I loved it. Then I had to have a harp! That was in the early ’90s. When performing on dulcimer at a festival near Chicago I had met instrument makers from the Stoney End shop in Red Wing, Minnesota. I encouraged them to reconfigure a 29 string harp so that it ranged from low F rather than low G to play early music. And for power and strength, I asked for the entire low octave to have wound strings. The result is their “Sara” model harp. It is remarkable for tone and portability and it is a beautiful instrument in the studio as well. Bennett and I were booked at the “Old Songs” festival in Altamont, NY, that summer. Only later did I discover that the “Sara” is a modification of their “Lorraine” design. Sigh.

Bennett and I were scheduled for a “two duos” workshop at the Old Songs Festival in Altamont, NY, just as I fell in love with the harp.The second duo was Scottish; Billy Jackson, harp, and the late Tony Cuffe, whistle and guitar. Both men were then members of the Scottish band Ossian. I came a little early to the workshop site and there was Billy tuning up his harp. I introduced myself… a Scotsman all the way. He said “I know you. I always come to see you at The Star Club.” The Star Club was a Glasgow folk club where I had played several times. He’d be at the bar… and I had never met him. So I told him I had fallen in love with harp. “Is there anything you could just show me in a minute?” He said “I’ll show you in five minutes what it will take you the rest of your life to master.” He was right. Now I start all of my harp classes the same way, always crediting Billy Jackson.

Bukka White

Bukka White

Back in the late ’60s, when my son Peter was probably four or five, he and Rick Lee and I flew South.I had been hired to perform at a dulcimer festival in Tennessee. I had never been there. We were going to make a little trip of it and then go spend time with Buell Kazee. I have really had a blessing of time with great players.I came running in late at Logan, and plumped down in the only empty seat remaining. It was next to a rather scary looking guy. It was my first flight in a long time. I did not travel much in those days. I was excited because we were going to be going down to Gatlinburg. So as I’m sitting – very excited – next to this guy and I said “Hi… I’m Lorraine and I’m heading down to Tennessee to do some music. Where are you going?” He said “I’m going to Memphis.” I said “Wow… great.” I said “Do you play anything?” He said “I play a little but you won’t know who I am.” I remember saying so clearly “I won’t unless you give me your name.” He said Bukka White.”

R.V.B. – Oh wow!!!!

L.L.H. – I had been listening to his music… what beautiful, beautiful, beautiful music. He had nothing but trouble in his life. I knew that he had once been left for dead by the KKK. He showed me scars on his neck when I asked about that. But we talked the whole time. I asked him about his guitar tunings. He told me about tuning to an open G chord. Sometimes he raised one string to E for what is often called a G 6 tuning. When I got to the airport, I took out my dulcimer and my lipstick case and started with an open G tuning. That’s just another piece of my dulcimer life.

R.V.B. – That’s an amazing encounter. He’s blues royalty.

Buell Kazee

Buell Kazee

L.L.H. – It was extraordinary. The time with Buell Kazee led me to Jean Ritchie. That arrangement was that when Rick, Peter and I arrived in Kentucky, I would give a call. If Beull could make the time – because he was a Baptist preacher – would have us to come over to visit. It turned out that we went over to visit with Peter. Buell’s wife and Peter got along famously. Rick wasn’t really involved. I always wanted to be in connection with elders around the music. It was not something that Rick was much interested in. Buell and I would trade songs back and forth. I would lay him versions of ballads or we would sing unaccompanied. I remember so clearly when I asked him about Little Matty Groves. It’s an adultery ballad. The Lord goes off and the wife lures Little Matty Groves into the bed. Buell was a Baptist preacher, and this was a beautiful living example of how ballad repertoires are controlled. He practically spat and said “I would never sing a song like that.” He had grown up with it in his ballad tradition in the Kentucky mountains, but was not going to pass it forward.

Buell had just been hired by Ralph Rinzler to play at the Newport Folk Festival for the first time. He was going to take a chance and go but he said he didn’t know anybody in New England and could we please come. That was the first time I had gone to Newport. The only other time is when I played the festival myself a few years ago – I was booked for the Pete Seeger stage. When we get to the ballad tree stage at Newport, Buell was playing. He saw us and he waved to five-year-old Peter. Peter ran up on stage and sat cross legged in front of Buell, who put his feed cap on Peter’s head. I’m thinking this is great because they loved each after what turned out to be several days of visiting Buell and his wife. I was out in the front of the stage listening, and I started hearing this “Pssst… Pssst” hissing. I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.

Roger Nicholson, Jean Ritchie and Lorraine

Roger Nicholson, Jean Ritchie and Lorraine

Then I saw Jean Ritchie peering around the huge trunk of the ballad tree. I recognized her from her record cover photos. (Haha) She was saying “Get that child off of the stage.” That was my first in person time with Jean Ritchie. (Hahaha) Jean Ritchie became a huge part of my life.The next time I saw her she and I were both booked at a festival at Hampshire College… around 1970 or 71. We had a fragile meeting. It was clear that we were important to each other in some way or another that we needed to figure out. Then a few years later I got a phone call hiring me to teach dulcimer at Pinewoods Music Camp for Folk Music Week. I eventually became the director of that week myself. But I hadn’t even heard about Pinewoods until I accepted the position. Joan Carr – who had made the call – said “Jean Ritchie is the director for the week, but she really didn’t want to teach dulcimer and she suggested that I call you.”I’m thinking to myself “This woman is so important to me. What am I going to do???” (Hahaha) Ann Valukis, a MicMac healer, and friend, living then in South Natick, MA suggested that Ipicture Jean every night as you’re going to bed, and wrap her in beautiful violet light.”By the time you meet again, you will be friends”, said Ann. And she was right. Whether the violet light had anything to do with it, I don’t know. (Hahaha) She wasn’t the least bit interested in teaching. We hit it off… and in the end, I recorded two albums on her Greenhays label. We traveled and toured together… and became real friends! At the close of her life, following her stroke, and the death of her husband George Pickow, Jean lived in Berea, Kentucky. She had a long association with Berea College, and family living fairly close by.I was able to put her dulcimer in front of her on the dining room table, when she was wheelchair bound, and we played two dulcimers together. It was very moving, and it was fun!

R.V.B. – She lived down here by me.

Lorraine and Roger early 1970s

Lorraine and Roger in the Early 1970s

L.L.H. – She was in Port Washington… what a great place. I stayed there some through the years, especially when recording Leeway for Dulcimer for Jean and George’s Greenhays record label. Roger Nicholson was an English dulcimer player. Roger and I became very close friends. He and Jake Walton came to the States from England and the three of us toured here many times and made a few recordings. I also toured with the two of them in England several times, and the three of us recorded one album in Germany together, The Free Spirit, named for a tune I had written, on the Folk Freak label. Jake is a superb hurdy gurdy player, and also plays guitar and dulcimer. The three of us recorded together on An Exultation on Dulcimers CD, and I joined them on their Front Hall recording, Bygone Days.

Bennett Hammond joins in to tell a story.

R.V.B. – Hi Bennett… it’s a pleasure to meet you.

B.H. – It’s a pleasure to meet you too.

R.V.B. – I enjoy your guitar playing.

B.H. – Oh thank you. Jean Ritchie was on the radio many, many years ago. They were asking her the usual questions like “How long have you been playing dulcimer?” At one point the radio personality asked Jean if she ever improvised on the dulcimer. She said “Oh no, no… that’s why we have Lorraine.”

R.V.B. – That’s an honor.

B.H. – That’s the only public remark that she ever made about Lorraine to my knowledge. About me, the only public remark is you’re playing too fast.

R.V.B. – (Hahaha) I was just telling Lorraine about when the two of you play together, it looks like you’re having fun and there’s no pressure involved.

B.H. – It’s like holding hands really.

R.V.B. – The improvisation always seems to be for the best. I’m a guitar player so I know what you do.

B.H. – Thank you very much.

(Back to Lorraine)

R.V.B. – Can you tell me about some of your recording sessions with Jean?

The Exultation of Dulcimers

The Exultation of Dulcimers

L.L.H. – Working with Jean Ritchie in the studio was a revelation. Her husband George Pickow supervised the engineering and favored a great deal of reverb for her singing voice. She was relaxed in the studio and very flexible about creating new songs and re-shaping old ones. The Exultation CD reflects that in particular. We have my “Black Sara” song, and Elizabethan music, and the Irish traditional “Star of the County Down” which we move through time changes and then Jean sang lyrics she composed to the traditional melody. Entrancing. Once she was clear about a track then she was very particular about details and it was a gift to learn from her. I also recorded “Leeway for Dulcimer” on Jean’s label. George and Jean produced it and Jean sang some backup. Studio time with Jean and George was always lively.

R.V.B. – How about your recording sessions with Roger Nicholson?

L.L.H. – We were in Baker Street Studio, Watertown, MA, recording the “Exultation of Dulcimers” album and I was about to record “Ophelia’s Song, How Shall I My True Love Know?” and was waiting for the cue to begin. Roger was in the booth with the engineer. I was singing a practice run through. One verse goes – “at his feet a grass green turf, at his head a stone” and Roger clicked through the speakers and said, “Don’t forget now, at his head a grass green turd!” He had a wicked sense of humor and he temporarily destroyed my ability to sing anything at all!

R.V.B. – What is the story behind your latest CD with Bennett?

L.l.H. – My most recent studio recording with Bennett was our CD “The Opal Ring”. We love working with musician and recording engineer Rik Barron in Vermont. He applies his “awesome-izer” and we are good to go! That CD features ballads I learned as a child in West Cornwall, and songs I have written about the place and people. We did live recording in real time, and it was a joy. Bennett and I play most freely that way. We also recorded “Brightest and Best” for the Dear Jean tribute CD with Rik as engineer.

Lorraine Hammond at the MFA

Lorraine Hammond at the MFA

R.V.B. – So looking back at your accomplishments as of now, what are you proud of about your place in the music community?

L.L.H. – I believe strongly in music that thrives in community – songs to sing among friends and to sing when feeding the chickens and washing the dishes and putting the baby down for a nap. Songs that teach, and songs that entertain. Throughout my life I have been creating settings to nurture that kind of music. As a high school senior in 1962, my friends Jeremy Brecher and John Nuese, (John went on to become the guitar player for the International Submarine Band with Graham Parsons), and I, with tremendous help from Jeremy’s mother Ruth, created the one and only “Yelping Hill Folk Festival” in my hometown of Cornwall, CT.

In 1981, I established “The Flower Carol Dulcimer Festival” in Watertown, MA, and continued to direct it through its move to Cambridge and subsequently to Brookline Music School where it ran its final weekend a few years ago – a run of over thirty years.

In Brookline I created the “Music in the Morning” summer program for children. It ran for over a decade at First Parish Unitarian Church, and then became the “Music and More” summer program at Brookline Music School. For ten years I was visiting multiple pre-school classrooms as music teacher for the Brookline Early Education Program.

I was music director of Pinewoods Folk Music Week for three summers, and a with Mike Kropp and Martin Grosswendt, was a music director of Banjo Camp North and Mandolin Camp North. Those camps are now part of Music Camps North, a flourishing program directed by Kelly Stockwell. I continue to teach there.

So I conclude that I am proudest of my role in creating, teaching, and perpetuating music that will empower people to find their own voice and build communities of music that will sustain them.

R.V.B. – Are you working on any new projects?

Lorraine and Bennett live on WUMB morning radio show in August 2019

Lorraine and Bennett live on WUMB morning radio show in August 2019

L.L.H. – SAMW is always new! For the past twenty-five years I have been an organizer of, and teacher at, Summer Acoustic Music Week, a program of WUMB radio/UMass Boston. Boston folk DJ Dick Pleasants was the founding energy behind the idea, and I worked with him from the start. Bennett and I have never missed a week as teachers since its inception, and I have been music director for a decade or so now. We have expanded to a July and an August summer week, a winter weekend and one in May with additional concerts and reunions and workshops through the year. The pandemic has meant canceling all the 2020 anniversary sessions since winter weekend happened at the end of February. So, I am savoring creative possibilities for next year – the 25th year observed – with my friend and colleague Patty Domeniconi. Patty is the General Manager of WUMB radio and WUMB (UMass Boston) is a public radio station featuring American folk androots music, and contemporary singer-songwriters..It dovetails perfectly with the music I create and the music I love. I am also pulling together ideas for a possible PhD dissertation on the life and work of Mary Barnicle Cadle, a powerful but largely unknown presence in collecting American folk music. I met and visited with her in the early seventies. And Bennett and I are starting to adapt to this virtual musical reality and do some videos and live online music from home. Daunting.

R.V.B. – Thank you Lorraine for taking this time to talk with me. I appreciate the informative and detailed answers.

L.L.H. – It was my pleasure and thank you.

Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz

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