By Annette Hinkle
Though it’s always been vastly popular in this country, historically speaking, most traditional music was never written down — especially in the era before YouTube. Like oral storytelling or legends of family travails, musical genres like Irish folk tunes were simply shared amongst a bunch of folks playing instruments, remembered and passed down when the time came.
And when the time came, if no one was there to receive it, those songs were lost forever.
Luckily, Cindy Kallet and Grey Larsen were paying attention in their formative years. The musicians, singers and songwriters are not only musical partners, but life partners as well. Cindy is a prolific songwriter and guitarist while Grey is proficient on a range of instruments including the fiddle and tin whistle as well as lesser known traditional tune-makers like the concertina and harmonium.
Next weekend the couple will bring their vast folk repertoire to Shelter Island’s Sylvester Manor for a house concert. And while they’re sure to play a range of Cindy’s original songs, they will also reach further back by offering traditional numbers they picked up first hand from others.
That’s especially true for Grey, who grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“There was a lot of bluegrass and Irish music around and I was aware of it as a teen and youth,” he says. “There were a handful of Irish immigrant musicians, including one named Michael Kennedy who I saw play in Covington, Kentucky. So I hunted him down and learned a huge amount from him in my teens and 20s.”
“I’m really deeply in love with traditional music, but I also was exposed to a lot of classical music and composing as well,” adds Grey. “I have combined those two things a lot. We have some instrumental pieces either Cindy or I have composed that are deeply rooted in traditional music.”
These days the couple calls Bloomington, Indiana home. But Cindy grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y. where she was exposed to a wide range of traditional as well as classical music.
“There was always a lot of music in my house and a lot of it folk music,” she says. “I had a brother who was 20 years older and he played guitar. He had a huge repertoire of traditional folk songs, many of which he found in the New York Public Library.”
Cindy’s formative years were also defined by the folk singers of the era like Burl Ives, Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Tom Paxton. As a result, protest songs had a huge impact on her, as did the Clearwater, Pete Seeger’s famed educational eco-schooner, which began plying the waters of the Hudson River in the 1960s. It was aboard the Clearwater where Cindy also became captivated by the history of work songs.
“I had a strong interest in that kind of music,” she says. “Later, when I became a parent those work songs turned into parenting songs. Changing a diaper, weeding a garden, pulling a sail — it’s all similar.”
Cindy will likely feel right at home at Sylvester Manor next weekend — an organic farm run by Bennett Konesni and his wife Edith Gawler. Like Cindy and Grey, the husband and wife team are also folk musicians and Konesni has a sizeable repertoire of work songs which he has gathered from around the world. He and Gawler will also perform at the show, along with a group dubbed the Sylvester Manor Worksongers.
Along the realm of work songs, one instrument that played a huge role in those sung aboard whaling ships out of the Sag Harbor was the concertina, a small, portable accordion-like instrument which Grey happens to be partial to.
“It was invented in England in the 1820s — which is pretty recent compared to violins or flutes,” he adds. “It uses a free metal reed like harmonicas and accordions. But it’s an intimate instrument to play. There’s something about it that’s really pleasing. I’ve always loved it.”
But concertinas aren’t that easy to find. Like much of his early Irish folk tune repertoire, he picked his up in Cincinnati as well, after becoming smitten with the instrument when he first heard it played.
“My research led me to the German immigrant community in Cincinnati, a sub culture where the concertina was popular,” he says. “I put an ad in the newspaper and I got answers — lots of people had concertinas in their attic.”
Hmm, so given its prolific use aboard whaling ships, perhaps there are a few concertinas lying around Sag Harbor attics just waiting to be brought back to life.
Hey, you never know…
Cindy Kallet and Grey Larsen perform on Saturday, April 6 at Sylvester Manor, 80 North Ferry Road, Shelter Island. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., Bennett Konesni and Edith Gawler open the show at 8 p.m. and the Sylvester Manor Worksongers join Cindy and Grey for the grand finale. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door and $5 for students. To purchase, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/351188