Music Notes: Cotuit hosts a rare Cape appearance by Donna Byrne

Written by Anne Ierardi
 As part of Provincetown Jazz Festival

 “Sing the melody. Gershwin and Cole Porter knew what they were doing.”
 Donna Byrne
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If you’re fond of sand tunes…

Written by Anne Ierardi

Circle by the Sea makes music on Sandy Neck

Sand Tunes

SING A SONG ON SANDY – Singer/songwriter Dawna Hammers, whose father used to peform on Cape Cod with jazz great Lou Colombo, entertains last month on Sandy Neck at the monthly Circle by the Sea gathering.
Photo by Anne Ierardi

…we can know reality only by being in community with it … the leader becomes better able to open spaces in which people feel invited to create communities of mutual support.

Parker Palmer

The orange sun is setting; the full moon is waxing, a bonfire glows red on the beach, the wind is blowing as the tide comes ever closer to a large circle of people. There are women, men, children enjoying each other, the warmth of the fire pit, the sounds of the wind and sea. For 34 years, this monthly summer circle has met at Sandy Neck Beach. Originally called “PM by the Sea,” it was sponsored by People Meet, Inc., with Avis Strong Parke.

About ten years ago, Leona Bombaci, a longtime participant, assumed leadership and a new name, “Circle by the Sea,” continuing the rich tradition of bringing people together to sing, dance, play music, tell stories, toast marshmallows, and have a good time in the midst of the natural world.

Circles by the Sea meet around the time of the full moon from June through September. Bombaci explained to me the usual format: June and September focus on “friends of Circle by the Sea,” an open talent participatory evening with music and stories and a drum circle. July and August host invited musicians, storytellers, dancers.

Last month I joined the circle, happy to be on the beach for the first time this summer – why do I wait so long, I wondered. Dawna and Leona created a warm and enlivening atmosphere, opening spaces with their music and welcome.

There were a few other smaller groups of people sitting around bonfires in this designated area of Sandy Neck. Singer, songwriter, music teacher Dawna Hammers, a longtime regular performer, returned from Vermont, where she now makes her home. She played some familiar folk tunes on her guitar including “Both Sides Now” as well as many songs she composed. “Come to the Table” invites a community spirit as we all sang along (You can learn more about her and her music at Dawna dedicated a song, “Women are the Weavers of the World,” to Leona and Avis, who 25 years ago became her “spiritual mothers.”

On Aug. 30, the circle will feature another favorite performer: Jackson Gillman. Known as the “Stand-Up Chameleon” for bringing many characters to life through his talents in mime, acting, singing and storytelling, he’s a well-known performer from Onset who appears at schools, libraries, conferences, and festivals. For many years he has presented workshops at the New England Storytelling Conference (

Also performing in August is the Paul, Ben & Jerry Show with “songs of the sea” Using acoustic instruments including a washtub bass to sing whaling and sea songs, they represent three generations. Paul is father of Ben, who is 17; Jerry is the elder of the group.

If you are looking for a place to unwind in a camp-like atmosphere by the beautiful sea, with good entertainment and a family fun vibe, put Sept. 20 on your calendar.

Circle by the Sea is a family event for all ages. $5 donation is requested. Next circles: Sept. 20, 7 to 10:30pm. Bring beach chairs, a piece of firewood, a non-alcoholic beverage, chair, blanket, drums and other instruments. Sandy Neck Beach Road /off Route 6A Barnstable/Sandwich – park in the lower lot and enter at the far end to the beach. Rain location: Knights of Columbus Hall, 5 Armory Rd. Buzzards Bay.

Reprinted with permission from The Barnstable Patriot

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Music Notes: Viva Italia: A multi-course celebration in honor of Verdi

Written by Anne Ierardi

Giuseppe Verdi

Giuseppe Verdi
Illustration by Anne Ierardi

“Chatham mist” will be dispelled by warmth of Italy

You may have the universe if I may have Italy. – Giuseppe Verdi

A few years ago in our antique home my spouse and I redesigned our kitchen around a single medieval-style tile of men baking polenta, the white and blue kitchen walls are now tomato-red and warm yellow colors, and our neglected English garden became a Tuscan courtyard with St. Francis in a vegetable garden. I hear the voice of my grandfather “Pa” Verrochi chiding my parents, “Why are you planting flowers? You can’t eat them!”

If I can’t physically be in Italy, I desire to bring my soul and imagination there. On Sunday, April 28,Cape Cod will have the opportunity to be warmed, serenaded, and romanced by Viva Italia! in celebrating Italian vocal and instrumental music with compositions by Verdi, Puccini, Bellini, Mascagni, Scarlatti, and Tosti. Sponsored by the Chatham Music Club, in honor of Giuseppe Verdi’s bicentennial, the concert will be at 3 p.m. in the Chatham Congregational Church.

I had the pleasure of speaking with two of the performers and members of the Chatham Music Club: Barbara Reed and Carole Buttner Maloof about the concert. They say the scope of the concert is, as one put it, “incredible,” highlighting the professional quality and diverse musical talent we are privileged to appreciate on Cape Cod. Indeed, all the performers are connected to the Cape. Art MacManus, a well-known pianist and opera-coach is director and accompanist for this performance. Operatic choruses include The Easter Chorus from Cavalleria Rusticana, “Casta diva” and cavatina from Norma, the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore, and “Va Pensiero” from Nabucco.

Vocalist soloists include Christopher Allen, Bonnie Brenner, Alan Brooks, Leslie Loosli, Carole Buttner Maloof, Barbara Reed, Helen Guilet Smith, Diana Toscano, Ashley Wade and Kathy Wimberly. Alan Brooks will be performing “Di Provenza” from La Traviata. Ashley Wade, a beautiful young mezzo-soprano and graduate of Harwich High School, is singing “Stride La Vampa” from Il Trovatore.

Leslie Loosli, an amazing performer, will sing “Vissi D’Arte” from Puccini. I met Leslie two years ago when I took her vocal class at ALL (Academy of Life-Long Learning). Her vivacity and love of song inspired our group to sing together with confidence and gusto while preparing our minds to relax and focus. During our last class, we invited our friends to come hear us sing. When I need healing energy riding in my car, I play Brigadoon’s “Heather on the Hill.” recalling our class with Leslie.

When I was growing up in Boston my brother Johnny worked in the music business, as we called it in those days. He often brought home people from diverse backgrounds, sometimes not giving my mother a lot of notice, for an Italian dinner. We always delighted in watching the faces of his guests when yet another dish was brought to the table from my mother: homemade cavatelli, eggplant parmagiana, veal cutlets, a big salad, and assorted Italian pastries.

Just when you think you are full, we have the chamber trio: Christian Holleck on cello, Gabriella Ramsauer on recorder, and Rodney Shuyler on piano. And organist Julian Petrallia and pianists Anne Francouise Perrault, Lucy Banner and Arthur MacManus. An exciting four-hands piano operatic overture is planned.” As my mother would say to our guests, “make some room” for the next course.

Established in 1999, The Chatham Music Club’s mission is to promote appreciation of classical music through performance and education. The club began meeting in members’ homes, listening to and performing classical music. It developed into a nonprofit organization to bring classical music to everyone and support music education especially for young people. All proceeds from their concerts go to a scholarship fund.

A $2,500 scholarship will be given to an accomplished music student. The competition will take place on Oct. 19 at the First Congregational Church in Chatham and is open to vocal and instrumental classical music students, ages 14 to 21, who are Cape residents or are studying with a music teacher on Cape Cod.

And the last course on Sunday? A complimentary sweet and savory reception follows the concert.

Ah…La Dolce Vita!

Viva Italia, Sunday, April 28, at 3 p.m. at the Chatham Congregational Church, Main Street at the downtown rotary. Tickets ($20) may be purchased at the door or by calling Ann Lieber (508-398-8811). Children under 12 are admitted free

Reprinted with permission from The Barnstable Patriot.

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MUSIC NOTES: Celebrate Earth Day with the exhilarating music of Libana

Written by Anne Ierardi

Chatham concert promises world tour

Sue Robbins Portrait

Portrait of Sue Robbins, illustration by Anne Ierardi

“Libana has collected accolades from far and wide. They have been called ‘magical,’ ‘…diverse, colorful, a wonder to behold…’ and ‘one of the top musical groups performing today.’ Perhaps a critic from the Cape Cod Times said it best, though, when he wrote that ‘their music makes you high. It swells the spirit as they swing into harmonies never encountered in American music.’” — The Southampton Press (NY)

The amazing music of Libana stretches our imaginations and brightens our spirits as we listen to music from Bolivia, Algeria, India, Liberia, Malaysia, the Bedouin Arabs, the Sephardic Jews and beyond! Libana returns to Cape Cod on Sunday, April 21, at 3 p.m. at the Chatham Unitarian Universalist Meeting House. Susan Robbins, Lisa Bosley, Allison Coleman, Marytha Paffrath, Linda Ugelow and Cheryl Weber make up Libana. They play instruments from many parts of the world including the djembe (West Africa drum) dholak (Indian drum), charangos (Indian strings) and the oud. Their songs and chants are illuminated by spoken introductions to the cultural context of the music with stories or anecdotes.

Artistic Director Sue Robbins and I met for lunch at a Peruvian restaurant near her music studio in Somerville. She described how Libana came to be:

“I had an epiphany 34 years ago on Crane’s Beach in Ipswich. I felt disheartened after Alexander’s Feast broke up (early music/medieval renaissance group) so I sought refuge at the beach. My best dreaming occurs at the beach and indeed, it was like a lightning bolt, an epiphany. My desire was two-fold: to explore what women around the world were doing and to work with a group of women to understand and work with the creative process as women.”

Libana was born as 25 women gathered to make music together, music that empowered a depth, authenticity and freedom of expression. It was a time when women, especially in the Cambridge/Somerville area, embraced change, formed groups and experimented with new art forms and healing expressions. That quest fueled the hauntingly beautiful music of Libana for the past 34 years.

“The unity and universality of women from around the world transcends race, language, and class,” Robbins said. “The opportunity for women to sing together balances the history books that have favored male musicians. We are all creative beings. While women’s realities in various parts of the world are challenged or restricted, there is always something to celebrate. The core is love, spirit, and our essential oneness.” Today we know this music as “World Music.” We can be thankful to Libana for assisting in its birth and development.

Sue Robbins knew from an early age that singing was at the core of her spiritual path.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, she returned with her family to New England and eventually came to Cape Cod, where she graduated from Dennis-Yarmouth High. “I wasn’t happy with being taken from my friends junior year and having to fit into a new community,” she reflected. A year later she was studying voice and music education at UMass Amherst.

Her interest in music and instruments from different cultures grew during the time she was with Alexander’s Feast. From her bedroom window in Cambridge she could hear the Arabic music from the belly dancing at the restaurant below. (“Wow! that is so cool.”) She bought an “oud,” an Arabic stringed instrument that goes back to Spanish Medieval times with its Moorish influence.

Sue’s studio in Somerville is a delightful open space for rehearsals, dance and other community artistic ventures. When she shuts the heavy door she enters her own world of music, art and wonder. Throughout the space is fabric art from different countries that Libana has performed in: India, West Africa and Turkey.

While feasting on our delicious Peruvian chicken, we recalled how we met at an 11-day workshop two summers ago in the breathtaking hills of Umbria, Italy. Sue was our accompanist for the 19 singers that gathered from all over the world. Many of us, including myself, had never performed a solo piece. Sue took the songs we chose, put them in the best key and helped us draw out our full authentic voices. Many afternoons Sue led us in an energetic group sing of songs from different cultures.

Another face of Libana’s music is in their connection and commitment to global justice. Relationships have been cultivated as they shared songs together, leading to support organizations that assist women in villages practicing traditional arts. Barefoot College in rural Rajasthan is an innovative place that trains village grandmothers in solar electricity. This knowledge allows the women to illuminate their villages. This in turn empowers the women as leaders in their communities and allows girls and women to learn to read and write in the evenings. Libana also supports SEWA, Self Employed Women’s Association, in Gujarat. Artisans, health care workers and street vendors are learning a new model of unionization and business skills. In Bulgaria, Libana toured in 1996, returned in 2008 sharing songs, dancing, and partying with the “babis” or elders who live close to the earth in secluded areas. International Fair Trade items will be available for purchase at the Cape concert.

LIBANA in CONCERT! – Sunday, April 21, at 3 p.m. in the Chatham UU Meeting House, 819 Main St.; 508-945-2075. $12 in advance, $15 at the door (seniors 65+ kids 12 & under: $10 in advance, $12 at the door)

Reprinted with permission from The Barnstable Patriot

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