Carlton County's historic songsby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
Some kids in Cloquet--just southeast of Duluth--have found a different way to learn about their history. They've been working all week with folksinger Charlie Maguire, composing songs about the region. Saturday night they'll share their music with the community.
Cloquet, Minn. — Members of the Concert Choir at Cloquet High School are excited about composing songs based on the true stories of Carlton County.
The week-long song-writing project is Charlie Maguire's idea. The local historical society asked him to perform at a kick-off concert for their new fundraising effort. He thought having the kids learn about local history and turn their knowledge into song would make a more permanent contribution.
Both Maguire and the students have been reading a lot. But he didn't bring any tunes with him. He says when he collaborates with other people, it has to start from scratch.
"You have to hang out on the edge, just like they are, in order to convince them that the work they're doing is really original and really exciting," he says. "It's better for me if we read the story together, and I watch their reactions, their body language, what they tell me, and then we go from there."
Matt Palmquist is in the choir. A tune he wrote became the basis of one song. "He kind of asked if anybody had any stuff written, and I kind of did," Matt says. "I like to write music, a lot. So I showed him what I had, and we kind of made it work."
The song is about the region's favorite tree--the white pine. The words are written down, but not the music. Becca Rogers says that's an extra challenge.
"As a choir, we're used to performing with specific notes," she says. "There is a correct way to sing it, there's a correct rhythm, there's a correct key, everything is exactly just so. It has to be the right way. But now, we're just given a sheet of music with words." Maguire tries to persuade the students it's okay to be that loose.
"You don't have to look at this as a concert situation," he tells them. "A lot of folk music is kind of singing it as you feel it, and not every time you sing it has to be exactly the same as it was before. So, let's see. We can sing it a couple of ways and you can see if it works for you."
After a quick demonstration of a couple of different ways of singing a line, Maguire tells the students not to "sweat the small stuff."
The middle school girls choir chose to write about the devastating Cloquet Fire of 1918. The song is a riff on a faded black and white photo of a child clutching a teddy bear. The teddy bear is on display at the historical museum: one family's treasure that survived the fire.
The Varsity Choir chose to write about Laura Marchand--a young woman who was a champion log roller.
The school's teams are the Lumberjacks, and timber has long been the mainstay of the economy.
The song, "Rolling to be a Champion," has a driving beat and percussion provided by hand-claps.
Jeff Dunaisky says he inspired the melody. "We were just kind of fooling around, and he (Maguire) built on it, and turned it into a good song."
Cassi Kruchten says she and a friend added the clapping. "My friend and I were just fooling around, and he was like, 'Hey you should do that in the song,' and we're like, 'Oh, okay.' So that's how that happened. And it's really cool!"
Jeff adds, "He's cool like that--he just lets us go off on our own ideas and be original."
Charlie Maguire and the Cloquet school choirs will perform a concert called "Linking the Generations," Saturday night at 7:00 at Cloquet Senior High School.
- All Things Considered, 11/17/2006, 5:23 p.m.