(1) American Folk Music Subjects

Cowboy Poetry and Nighthawk Tunes

by Michael F. McDonald

What do the Mexican-American War, Irish music and the American cowboy have in common? McDonald answers that question with an introduction to early nighthawk tunes, which were initially a tool of the working cowboy to keep the herded cattle settled down at night. McDonald shares tunes from Thomas Moore’s “Irish Melodies” poetry and those of Stephen Foster and George F. Root. The program concludes with cowboy poetry set to McDonald’s original western-style music, and can be customized for the group from the work of several cowboy poets.

Up the Nebraska Cattle Trail and Songs of the West

by Joan Wells

When the Union Pacific built the railroad across Nebraska in 1867 cattle ranching was almost unknown in the state.  With a surplus of cattle in Texas, cattle drives brought hundreds of thousands of cattle to Nebraska by way of the Great Western Trail from San Antonio to Ogallala, where they were shipped to markets in eastern cities.  The cowboys on these four-month-long cattle drives would pass the time singing songs about life on the trail.  They’d calm the cattle at night with songs traced back to European folk songs.  Wells and Simon sing and tell the story of the origin of western music.

All Original, All Nebraska

by Dan Holtz

Holtz celebrates and commemorates people, places, and events in Nebraska history through original songs (accompanied by guitar and harmonica) and the stories and background behind them. The songs’ subjects range from a general celebration of Nebraska (“We’re Nebraska”); to a retrospective on the Sandhills; to a tribute to Susan LaFlesche Picotte, the first Native American woman to become a medical doctor; to a salute to Husker football; to a tribute to the migration of the Sandhill Cranes; and more.

Music on the Trail: Where American Folk Songs Meet Classical Art Music

by Donna Gunn

Venture from the mysterious bayou of the Deep South, experience the vastness of the open prairie, feel the energy from atop Scottsbluff National Monument, and triumph in the accomplishment of fording the mountains to the Promised Land as you cross the Oregon Trail. Gunn provides an interactive experience with music inspired from American Folk songs and brought to life by American composers such as Roy Harris, R. Nathanial Dett, and Aaron Copland.

Train Songs and Tales

by David Seay

What is it about trains that so easily engages one’s imagination? Climb aboard with David as he shares a variety of railroad inspired songs and stories that offer peeks into the past from a wide variety of points of view. This upbeat excursion is accompanied by guitar, banjo, harmonica, whistles, and a sing-along or two.

Didgeridoo and Dulcimer, Too

by Phyllis Dunne by Robert Dunne

The Dunnes present the unique sounds of the Appalachian Mountain dulcimer and the Australian Aboriginal didgeridoo. The program invites audience participation as the Dunnes describe the representative cultures. The dulcimer and the didgeridoo are known for their characteristic mesmerizing drones. Phyllis focuses on the history behind American folk songs, while Bob shares the legacy of Australian Aboriginal folk tales and traditions.

Echoes of an Era

by Paul Siebert

Using the Nebraska State Seal and Flag as a back drop, Paul presents a musical living history program of a family’s journey from Russia to Nebraska in the 1870’s.  Using original and period music with up to 7 different acoustic instruments, storytelling, personal family history, period costume and extensive knowledge on the subject of Blacksmithing/metallurgy, Paul presents an interactive family centered entertaining program.   The presentation is carefully adjusted to suit the specific age group, special interest, time constraints of the listener, and can include the specific event’s local Nebraska history.

Corps of Discovery in Song and Story

by Michael F. McDonald

Through original songs and stories, McDonald leads a lively celebration of the challenges and adventures faced by the members of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery.

Music of the Plains

by David Marsh

Pioneers who settled the Plains traveled from far and wide, yet endured many similar joys and hardships.  David’s goals with this program are twofold: 1) to demonstrate the various cultures represented by these courageous folks and 2) to share stories and sing songs that arose out of their common experience of early life here.  Though music, audiences learn about homesteading, cowboys, children’s games and the wonders of the wide open prairie.

Music of the Civil War

by David Marsh

Multi-instrumentalist Marsh brings the Civil War to life with songs and stories. Children and adults alike will enjoy, learn, and sing along to songs from both sides of this epic American conflict and hear the origins of patriotic songs like “Dear Old Dixie” and .the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Songs, Dances and Games of the Lakota

by Jerome Kills Small

Kills Small describes the history and origin of Native American songs and dances. A lecturer and storyteller who makes hand drums and pow-wow-size wood drums, Kills Small also is a singer of Lakota songs who has traveled extensively as a member of the Oyate Singers of Vermillion, S.D.

Nebraska through Song and Story

by Dan Holtz

Nebraska has not only a rich tradition in literature but also a rich, less-publicized tradition in music. This program interweaves songs, accompanied on guitar and harmonica, with excerpts from works by Willa Cather, John Neihardt, Mari Sandoz and Bess Streeter Aldrich. In a narrative from about 1850 to 1904, it tells the stories of the people who came to and through early Nebraska, the pioneers who crossed the overland trails, the settlers and the Native Americans. This program can be tailored for either a young audience or an adult audience.

From Bleeding Kansas to Old Virginny: Songs and Stories of the Civil War

by Dan Holtz

For four years, the Civil War raged on such storied battlefields as Gettysburg and Antietam in the East to lesser-known places like La Glorieta Pass in New Mexico. With guitar and harmonica accompaniment, Holtz performs songs that express the war’s wide variety of sentiments, issues and stories. The program includes some of the popular patriotic and sentimental parlor songs. Thus, the war is chronicled and tied to memorable excerpts from some of the great conflict’s novels, poems and short stories. Holtz can also present the program as living history by portraying fictional Nebraska Territory settler Matthias Parker telling stories and anecdotes as though gleaned from newspapers of the day or from returning veterans. As Parker, Holtz comments on and quotes such personalities as Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee and John Brown.

Folk Traditions Through Music

by David Seay

Designed for school groups, these programs give students hands-on experience with the harmonica and teach how music reflects cultural traditions and conveys them from one generation to the next.

The “Tradition” in Traditional Folk Music

by David Seay

David Seay examines how over the generations folk traditions of different cultures have merged to become our own traditions as immigrants have found their way to Nebraska. This presentation features demonstrations and stories of folk instruments such as harmonica, penny whistle, Lakota style flute, ocarina, pan pipes, yak horn, bugle, musical saw, banjo, singing bowl, and limbertoys. This show is very flexible and works for audiences of any age.

Nebraska’s Musical Smorgasbord: Music from Various Ethnic Groups in Nebraska

by Chris Sayre

This program explores the rich diversity of folk music that has been a part of Nebraska’s history from the time it was a territory to the present day. Performing on the button accordion, concertina, dulcimer, guitar, mandolin, musical saw and zithers, Sayre invites his audience to experience the music of the ethnic groups that have called Nebraska home.

Nebraska Territory Stories

by David Seay

In this upbeat presentation David performs folk music that existed at the time Nebraska became a state on March 1, 1867. Between tunes he discusses how these songs provide glimpses into history by telling stories of everyday life of the pioneers during the 13 years before Nebraska statehood.  This cheerful show works particularly well for family audiences as it has opportunities for volunteers to come up front and participate. Instruments featured are banjo, harmonica, whistles, and mountain dulcimer.

A Musical Journey Across America: Songs That Helped Shape a Nation

by Chris Sayre

From the engaging sea shanties of the Eastern Seaboard to the haunting songs of the Appalachian Mountains, from the blues of Mississippi to the pioneer songs of the American West, Chris Sayre brings to life the rich and varied music of the continental United States. Performing on guitar, mandolin, banjo, slide guitar, concertina, melodeon, lap dulcimer and musical saw, Chris captivates his audiences and leaves them with a deeper understanding of how we got to where we are today.

Making Music Come Alive

by Phyllis Dunne

Dunne presents toe-tapping, hand-clapping, sing-along music for kids of all ages. An eclectic blend of folk and traditional music is performed with voice, dulcimer and piano, spiced with interesting historical and personal insights. Dunne combines entertainment and education for an interactive exploration of music appreciation.

The Mountain Dulcimer

by Bill Behmer by Gwen Meister

Using folk songs as illustrations, Bill Behmer outlines the history and folklore or this simple-to-play, inexpensive and often homemade American folk instrument. He discusses the dulcimer’s European and Asian ancestors and similar fretted zithers found in other traditions. He demonstrates and compares traditional and contemporary playing styles, a variety of tuning methods and how to play the dulcimer by ear. Bill is accompanied by his wife, Gwen Meister, singing harmony and playing autoharp and rhythm instruments.

Traditional Folk Music

by Bill Behmer by Gwen Meister

This presentation is a brief overview of Anglo-American folk music, including 500-year-old British Isles ballads and American folk songs over the centuries. Gwen Meister and Bill Behmer describe the “folk process” as they accompany themselves on mountain dulcimer, fiddle, autoharp and other traditional instruments.