Unlocked Treasures from Up North!
In November of 1882, a surveying crew in the north woods of Minnesota accidentally plotted Coddington Lake a half-mile further north than it was actually located. Today, the happy result is the Lost 40 Scientific and Nature Area—a rare and wonderful stand of old growth pine, some trees now over 300 years old, that was overlooked by logging companies due to the error. It is a breathtaking time capsule from Minnesota’s past.
Much of Minnesota’s early folksong traditions (including some songs as old as those trees) have been similarly overlooked. For almost ten years now, I have sought out the forgotten songs of farmers, railroad men, Great Lakes sailors, lumbermen and saloon-keepers that carried Old World ballads to the North Star State back in the 1800s. These songs are what Randy Gosa and I perform as The Lost Forty… and a very special group (of about 40) of these songs is the focus of The Lost Forty Project.
Here's how it happened:
In September 1924, pioneering folksong collector Robert Winslow Gordon traveled from Berkeley, California to Cambridge, Massachusetts with his Edison wax cylinder recording machine in tow. A month after arriving in Cambridge, Gordon wrote a letter in which he gave a brief account of his trip:
I made a very leisurely trip east with many stop-overs and side trips collecting material. I got some immensely good stuff up in northern Minnesota, lumber-jack material…
The “good stuff” Gordon recorded on this September 1924 trip was overlooked for decades—much like the pine trees north of Coddington Lake. Gordon’s recordings of singers from northern Minnesota, documenting 47 songs, were preserved by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress but not cataloged as having anything to do with Minnesota. Gordon did extensive recording in North Carolina, Georgia and California and must not have kept notes on his brief adventure “up north.”
Through my research, I was able to track down and identify Gordon’s forgotten “Minnesota” recordings. These field recordings are some of the only audio documentation of traditional folksong from Minnesota and some of the earliest from anywhere in the Great Lakes region. The 47 songs include regionally-composed songs about woods work, Irish come-all-ye’s, songs about sailing the Great Lakes, railroading songs, deer hunting songs and old British ballads dating as far back as the 1680s.
This spring I am creating The Minnesota Folksong Collection—an online digital library for the songs Gordon recorded from Michael Cassius Dean of Virginia, Minnesota and Reuben Waitstell Phillips of Akeley, Minnesota. The recordings will be free to listen to for anyone with an internet connection. In addition to the recordings, the site will provide biographical information on Dean and Phillips as well as song texts and transcriptions to encourage people to learn these songs and make them their own. An online “song forum” on the site will invite others to post videos of themselves doing songs learned from the collection
To promote the revival of these songs and publicize the site, The Lost Forty is performing and teaching our arrangements of songs from the collection at concerts and workshops throughout Minnesota. We are also posting online monthly videos of us performing our arrangements. .
This project has been a dream of mine since July 2012 when, late at night while scouring a set of digitized newspapers for information about singer Michael Dean, I found an article implying the existence of these recordings.
A bit about my budget:
Seventy-five percent of the funding for this project is coming from a Folk and Traditional Arts Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. In addition to crowdfunding support, I am contributing $1200 from sales of my CD "Minnesota Lumberjack Songs." The Lost Forty also expects to bring in $2400 from the 8 performances and 8 workshops we are doing this year.
What is included in the total $33,000 budget (of which this Kickstarter is part)?
- Web design for the Minnesota Folksong Collection site
- Web design for the song forum
- Software and time to transcribe songs
- Time to write background information for MN Folksong Collection site and for blog posts highlighting project songs
- Videography and video editing
- Concert and workshop compensation to artists
- Venue rentals, accommodation, mileage reimbursements
- Concert and workshop promotion (design, other expenses)
- Song arranging and rehearsal time
- Project planning and administration time
Risks and challenges
There are two main parts to this project: the creation of the Minnesota Folksong Collection website and a set of activities (concerts, workshops, blog posts, online videos) promoting the site and the songs found on it. I will be designing the website myself and doing all the promotional activities with Randy Gosa (as The Lost Forty) or alone. We are hiring a professional videographer and graphic designer but the rest of the work is just us.
One potential challenge I might face after a successful Kickstarter campaign is lack of time to complete the website or promotional activities (I have a 3 year old and a new baby on the way this month!) However, I have worked hard to schedule this project out and to plan and set aside time for all project parts. This planning and scheduling was a significant requirement of my successful MN State Arts Board grant application. The grant requires that I complete all project activities within the calendar year of 2016. 75% of my project funding is contingent on this requirement so I am taking it very seriously. This is my third Arts Board grant so I am experienced in working within this timeline and meeting deadlines.
I graduated in December with my Masters of Library and Information Studies. During that degree, my focus was on digital libraries and I took several classes that trained me to make a site like the Minnesota Folksong Collection. In fact, I created a prototype version of the site (check it out here: http://mnfsc.evergreentrad.com/) for a class. As part of the degree, I also studied project management and learned how to do a budget and project timeline and to manage complicated projects like this one. In fact, completing my degree has freed up the necessary time to do this project.
Because I'm on a limited timeline, I have already accomplished a number of parts of this project. Booking for the concerts and workshops is 50% completed. The Lost Forty has dates booked in Bemidji, Grand Marais, Silver Bay, Pine City, Hastings, Mendota, St. Croix State Park and Duluth. We have also released the first two videos of us performing our arrangements of songs from the collection.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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