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CD brings Monkton’s past to life in song

MONKTON — Residents of Monkton can now own a piece of local history created last year by Monkton Central School students and Pete Sutherland, the well-known and much-loved Vermont musician and songwriter.
The “Songs from Monkton Yore” CD, available at the Willowell Foundation website, features five songs that bring aspects of Monkton’s past to life, including the kaolin mining industry and the agricultural lifestyle of the town’s first residents.
Sutherland last year collaborated with first- through fourth-grade students in Barbara Yerrick’s, Stacey Carter’s and Virginia McLane’s classes at Monkton Central School. Together they wrote “Songs from Monkton Yore.” In 2011-2012, the Monkton Yore project provided every student at Monkton Central the opportunity to interact with a local musician or artist to create their own works in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the founding of their town.
One song on the CD, “Diggin’ That China Clay,” tells the history of the mining economy in Monkton, when kaolin — or “china clay” — was the major economic resource of the town.
“We did, together and separately, a ton of research,” Sutherland said of the songwriting process with the students, “reading local history, talking with Gill Coates at the Monkton Museum and Historical Society, looking at photos, emailing a couple folks who had had a job there, and their relatives, neighbors of the mines, etc., comparing and compiling info as we went, talking about the songwriting process every step of the way.”
Another song, “Get Along Home Cindy,” refers to Monkton Central School administrative assistant Cindy Castle. She recounted for Sutherland and the students how, as a young girl, she would trail her brothers to the kaolin mines on their way to work.
Sutherland believes music has a special role in transmitting history.
“I always make time in my schedule for every opportunity to help kids get excited about discovering local characters and stories and taking part in the ongoing process of the ballad tradition,” he said.
The Monkton Yore project took place during the 2011-2012 school year as a collaborative effort between the Willowell Foundation, Monkton Central School and the Monkton Museum and Historical Society to bring the arts and history together in celebration of the 250th anniversary of Monkton’s charter.
Monkton Yore received grant funding from the Vermont Humanities Council and the Vermont Arts Council, and the Monkton PTO. David Schein, a Burlington-based actor and playwright and former executive director of Willowell, conceived the project as a way to engage students in place-based education and historical research by teaching that history often inspires great works of art.
Monkton Yore culminated on May 24, 2012, with a presentation of the student-created songs, artwork, and theater at Monkton Central School for parents, family members, project support people and Monkton community members. Pete Sutherland led students in a performance of the songs they had written and a circle dance.
Visual artist Bethany Farrell of Vergennes-based Studio V created a huge map and pictorial timeline with students in grades 1, 2, 4 and 6. The seven-foot-tall map depicts Monkton’s historic school districts, natural features including kaolin mines, and major byways circa 1857.
The map served as part of the set for “Yore and Back Again,” a play written by Kathy Blume. She is internationally recognized for her work on the Lysistrata Project and currently speaks, writes, performs and volunteers to promote action on climate change. Directed by Blume and performed by Monkton students, “Yore and Back Again” tells the story of Monkton through time travel, voyages to alternate universes, and many colorful characters.
At the final Monkton Yore performance in May, students, teachers, family and community members gathered to experience the play, artwork and music. On June 24, after the 250th Anniversary parade, students performed three songs again at the celebration at the school.
“It was a tremendous event, a history-making event, and a true celebration of Monkton’s history,” said museum and historical society President Gill Coates of the May 24 performance.
This past fall, the Vermont Historical Society (VHS) awarded the Monkton Yore project an award of merit for educational outreach.
On Nov. 2 in Woodstock at the annual meeting of the League of Local Historical Societies and Museums, representatives of Monkton Yore accepted the award for educational merit. VHS Executive Director Mark Hudson presented the award to Schein for the Willowell Foundation, Yerrick of Monkton Central School, Farrell of the 250th Founding Celebration Committee, and Coates of the local historical society.
A CD version of “Songs from Monkton Yore” is available online at www.willowell.org.

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