October 28th, 2016
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
WHS will celebrate the fourth anniversary of its Coffee Houses at the Wheeler’s with an evening of music from the American Songbook, plus folk, country and Joni Mitchell songs, all performed by singer-songwriter Suzanne Sheridan of Westport and dulcimer player Robert Brereton of Sherman, Conn.
The evening is being called “Someone to Watch Over Me,” the George Gershwin classic that is also the title of Brereton’s 1992 album of instrumentals featuring Renaissance dance music, Scottish folk and American jazz. It is also a special occasion for Sheridan, as it comes one day before the anniversary of her marriage to long-time partner Rosanne Gates and two days before her birthday.
“I began as a singer with a guitar,” says Sheridan, “and I’m coming back to my roots, what I care about most – a quieter, more folkie approach to music. The dulcimer,” she adds, “puts out a soft sound and is perfect for the occasion.”
Brereton, who has degrees in classical guitar, music composition and music education, is considered one of the pioneers on the contemporary mountain dulcimer, an instrument that long was associated only with the simple, plaintive music of the Southern Appalachians. Early in his career, however, Brereton worked in a folk instruments store where he learned to modify the tunings of the dulcimer so it could be used to play the more complex melodies of music from the American songbook.
The playlist for the upcoming Coffee House, Sheridan says, will include the Scottish folk song “The Water Is Wide”; Gordon Lightfoot’s “In the Early Morning Rain”; “Carey Get Out Your Cane” by Jonie Mitchell; the country song “There Ain’t No Ash Will Burn”; the American hymn “How Can I Keep From Singing”; ”More Love” by the Dixie Chicks; “Moonglow,” “Blue Skies” and “Someone To Watch Over Me.”
Sheridan began her music career singing jingles and moved on to writing her own songs and performing locally and throughout New England and Eastern Canada. She has a repertoire of songs by Mitchell and Leonard Cohen that she performs on tour. The Coffee Houses model a tradition of kitchen singing that she observed in Canada, where multi-generations of family and friends would sit around eating, drinking and playing music. The instrumentation is simple, Sheridan says, “so the sound doesn’t overpower the songs, perfect for the Historical Society.”
The Coffee Houses all take place in the Society’s Betty and Ralph Sheffer Gallery, a space about the size of a small country road house.
The mountain dulcimer is a purely American creation, the first ones being crafted by the Scottish and English immigrants who settled in the Appalachians. Music historians say these early arrivals lacked the tools and time to make violins, so they invented a new type of dulcimer using wood from the mountains where they lived. Researchers add that while the mountain dulcimer is related to European instruments of the zither family, it has no antecedents in Scotland or England. The name derives from old English, French and Italian words meaning “sweet.”
Brereton performs occasionally in Connecticut and nearby states. His most recent appearance was at the Merryall Center in New Milford. Next year, on Sept. 27, he will play “Melodies and Musings: Our Appalachian Legacy,” in Guntersville, Ala. Brereton also teaches K-6 music, works with private students and composes, arranges and directs for several choirs near his home. You can learn more about him on his website, www.robertbrereton.com.
When the first Coffee House was launched back in 2012, Sue Gold, the WHS’s executive director, described the goal as “enriching the community and creating an opportunity for Westporters to gather together.” The events take their name from Wheeler House, the historic house that serves as home to the Society.
Reservations strongly suggested, call 203-222-1424, $20 Donation includes refreshments
Image by Morgaine Pauker.