THE VMLS PROGRAMS:
The Music Library Collection: Studio & Live Recordings by Vermont Artists.
'In Silver Light,' the critically acclaimed Vermont songwriter compilation CD.
The 1907 L.S. Gordon Storefront Restoration - our future archive.
The Vermont Jukebox Project, bringing Vermont-made music into Visitor Welcome Centers.
The Rocket Shop Radio Hour, broadcasting from the VMLS collection every Wednesday 8-9pm on WOMM-LP 105.9FM The Radiator (Burlington).
Coming in 2009: Our 'Timeline of Vermont' CD project, gathering 400 years of Vermont's music for CD and the web.
'Music for the Sky' Soundtrack to the Vermont fiddlers documentary by Nikolai Fox
When we describe an object a space an action or interaction as art it no longer relies on function for justification. If we want value placed on something that has no understood function we call it ‘art’. When the function dominates we call it craft. This is misleading because everything has a function be it cerebral, physical, political or spiritual. The problem is that sometimes we are too embarrassed to admit how irrelevant or self-serving the functions of our creations are.
In 2008 Big Heavy World and the VMLS will be releasing the soundtrack to 'Music for the Sky,' a documentary film about a community of eccentric revivalist old-time fiddlers playing southern style fiddle music while living in the mountains of Vermont and Western Massachusetts. The film revolves around the personalities of eight musicians (George Ainley, Ahmet Baycu, Jim Burns, Michael Donahue, Zac Johnson, Bob Naess Anthony Pasquarosa and John Specker) – each described in a cinematic portrait. Using a single small camera, first-time filmmaker Nikolai Fox captures the music and personalities of this community of musicians at various informal locations. Also featuring the music of Jon Bekoff, Paula Bradley, Dan Brown, Bill Dillof, Nikolai Fox, Greg Miller, Jon Place, Alex Scala and Rose Sinclair.
Director - Nikolai Fox
View the film trailer (8MB)
George Ainley (Jon Bekof in background). Photo: Amanda Kowalski.
George Ainley (b. 1948) was raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut. George completed an undergraduate degree at Dartmouth in 1970, the same year he bought his first fiddle at a hardware store. He was an itinerant musician from 1970 until 1975. In 1975 George moved to Vermont where he worked for years as an apple picker before beginning a career as a Windsor chair maker. George is well known for playing with the Corndodgers (Ahmet Baycu, fiddle & banjo, William Wright, guitar). George learned to fiddle by listening to records of southern old-time music such as The Georgia Yellow Hammers, Camp Creek Boys and The Skillet Lickers. In the 1970’s George would hitchhike from Vermont to attend southern festivals. He now lives outside Springfield, Vermont with his family where he continues to make Windsor Chairs.
John Specker (b. 1950) was born in Callicoon Depot, New York. He grew up in Astoria (Queens), New York spending summers on his family’s ancestral farm in the Catskills. At age 13 John began violin lessons. He would carry his instrument to and from his lessons in a guitar case so his peers would not mock him for playing the violin. John graduated from high school and attended Philadelphia College of Art. While attending P.C.A. he heard fiddle music for the first time. Before this he had never heard anything other than classical music on the violin. John dropped out of college at age 19 to play fiddle music. In 1978 John was working with George Ainley as an apple picker in Vermont. George and John had met in Boston in the early 70’s while they were both living in Cambridge, Massachusetts and pursuing an interest in old-time fiddle music. John initially made his name as a musician in Ithaca, New York as ‘father of the Ithaca sound” with his band The Correctones. The Correctones blended old-time music with Reggae and African rhythms. John lives in Chester, Vermont.
Jim Burns (b. 1953) was born and raised in Seneca Falls, New York. Both of his parents left school in the eighth grade. His father was a beer distributor (an inherited family business that somehow weathered the prohibition) and his mother worked at a drug store. Jim had been playing rock and roll on the guitar since he was twelve but heard fiddle music for the first time after high school while working at his brother's restaurant ‘Cosmos’ in Ithaca, New York. He cites The Busted Toe Mudthumpers (Walt Koken, Doug Dorcshe and Jenny Clelend) for having an early groundbreaking influence. Jim’s first fiddle was an instrument that had been given to his grandmother by a civil war veteran during an unfulfilled courtship. Jim lives in Middlebury, Vermont.
Michael Donahue (b. 1955) was born in Newport, Rhode Island. He grew up in France until the age of eleven when his family moved to Washington D.C. Michael attended college as a philosophy major in California where he met a banjo player who was living in his dormitory. He began playing banjo as well, learning first from Pete Seeger's publications in 1975. Michael moved to Vermont in 1978 when he began to fiddle. He met John Specker around this time and they traveled south to attend the old-time music festivals. Michael lives in West Townshend, Vermont.
Bob Naess had visited Vermont several times as a child and finally settled in Cavendish in 1980. He had met John Specker and George Ainley in the past but did not know that they were living in Vermont until he moved to Cavendish where he met them again. Bob attended art school in California where he “played Cluck-Old Hen with Jerry Garcia." The west coast folk revival inspired him to learn to fiddle. Bob has worked as a large-scale glass artist and currently makes his living trading, selling, building and repairing machine guns. He lives in Cavendish, Vermont.
Ahmet Baycu was born in Ankara Turkey. He immigrated to the United States with his familywhile in grade school. He was raised in both Wisconsin and Maryland and completed an undergraduate degree in Maryland. He discovered old-time music while living in Maryland in the early seventies and moved to Vermont in 1976 where he joined the Corndodgers with George Ainley and William Wright. Ahmet learned to fiddle and play banjo by listening to records of southern fiddle music and by attending old-time festivals and making recordings with a tape recorder. Ahmet has made his living in Vermont in many ways including remastering 78RPM records, working at Wood’s Cider Mill and as a luthier. Ahmet also invented the ‘Baycu-phone”, a popular electric pick up for old-time open back banjos. Ahmet built and maintains an informative website about old-time music: www1001tunes.com. He currently resides in Shrewsbury, Vermont where he plays with the Bogstompers and Pierces Pep Steppers.
Zac Johnson. Photo: Amanda Kowalski.
Artist's Statement, Nikolai Fox
My manipulation of the matter that surrounds me is my reaction to existence. I am in awe of existence and curious about death. The work that I create in my lifetime is at best a physical exposition of my awe.
Michael Donahue. Photo: Amanda Kowalski.
'Music for the Sky' was conceived of, shot, directed and edited by Nikolai Fox. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1976 to an architect and a writer Nikolai was encouraged to follow his inclinations while growing up. In his late teens Nikolai became interested in the way that sound can be both a form of expression and communication while studying the social structure, anatomy and vocalizations of cetaceans. Inspired by the writings of Jim Nolman and J.D. Salinger, Nikolai joined a small group in South East Alaska where Jim used an electric guitar with a custom underwater sound system to lure a mother and calf Humpback whale to the side of their boat. This experience left Nikolai fascinated and inspired to consider how both objective and non-objective interactions with the natural world could clarify ones relevance to the universe.
Nikolai went on to study biology, ecology, music and fine art at Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona, Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania and after receiving a degree in Human Ecology from College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor he mentored with the Philadelphia landscape painter Stuart Shils while studying painting and drawing at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia.
In college Nikolai was introduced to traditional Irish fiddle music, Blue Grass and Southern Old-Time music from the United States. He was instantly fascinated by the paradox of simplicity and intricacy presented by traditional forms of music as well as the essential social element incorporated into the playing and inheritance of the music.
During a full fellowship residency at the Vermont Studio center in Johnson, Vermont, Nikolai sold several painting and purchased a plane ticket to Europe where he visited Athens, the Greek Islands, Prado in Madrid and traveled with his brother in the south of Spain. The social context of Spanish paintings and music (specifically flamenco) and the architecture and landscape of the Greeks began to viscerally cement Nikolai’s interest in living a life that was not dictated by a commercial media.
While studying painting in Philadelphia and playing a weekly gig with the local Blue Grass/Old-Time/Honky-Tonk band the Flat Possum Boys (now the City Wide Specials) Nikolai traveled to Vermont to visit with a banjo playing friend. During this trip Nikolai met Ahemt Nafiz Baycu. Ahmet is a musician, luthier and inventor who immigrated to the United States from Turkey as a child. Ahmet’s intense passion for fiddle music and the effect that the music had on his life was a great inspiration to Nikolai. Nikolai began traveling to Vermont regularly to visit with new and old friends and play guitar in the newly formed Old-Time fiddle band, The Bogstompers. During one of these trips Nikolai brought a small point-and-shoot digital camera and took several short videos of Ahmet and the Bogstompers playing. Upon returning home Nikolai edited some of this footage and was captured by the intensity of Ahmet’s music and circumstance and on December 31st, 2004 Nikolai began filming 'Music for the Sky' in Shrewsbury, Vermont.
Since it’s initial conception, 'Music for the Sky' has expanded to incorporate not just Ahmet’s story but also the music and personalities of five other of his peers who also live in Vermont but play a southern style of music which they learned primarily from recordings. It also follows two musicians in their early twenties as they meet and learn from the older Vermont fiddlers.
Nikolai’s interest in situations where sound is both communication and expression, forms of traditional music and the effect of recorded music and the media on the aural traditional of folk music have begun to have a presence in the underlying structures of 'Music for the Sky'.
Nikolai currently lives in Dresden, Maine.
Banner photo of fiddler Michael Donahue by Amanda Kowalski.