In The News

Listening experience: County museum goes back to ‘roots’ in new exhibit

This article originally appeared in the Danville Commercial-News.

DANVILLE — When we listen to American roots music, we take pride in its history and diversity. It enters our souls and makes an indelible mark on our lives.

The public will get a firsthand look at the development of “roots music” in America and learn how it relates to the local area when the Vermilion County Museum hosts “New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music” from April 9 through May 23.

With its many sounds and styles in centuries of tradition, American roots music is the nation’s cultural soundtrack. Today the term means all music that has grown out of old folk traditions, whether it is sacred or secular, rural or urban, acoustic or electric, simple or complex, old or new.

The museum was chosen to be the first site in Illinois this year for the traveling historical exhibit, which was produced by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., in partnership with the Illinois Humanities Council. The exhibit is part of Museum on Main Street, a cultural project that serves small towns and rural America.

“We’re very excited that our museum will be the first in the state to host this exhibit in 2010,” said Susan Richter, director of the museum.

The national exhibits features authentic musical instruments from various eras of American history, such as the fiddle, banjo, harmonica, guitar and dulcimer. There will be recorded music at different stations that can be accessed through listening boxes.

The museum also has developed an exhibit that celebrates American roots music in relation to local people, places and events.

This exhibit will follow the progression of music in Vermilion County from pioneers and Native Americans to church music, and then through the Civil War period, marching bands era, town bands, the big bands, and on to radio listening, current trends in music, and computerized music.

The local music portion will celebrate the lives and accomplishments of musical entertainers from Danville, including Bobby Short, Dick Van Dyke, Donald O’Connor and Helen Morgan.

“We have received wonderful cooperation from local businesses, groups and organizations in setting up special activities and events to tell the story of American roots music in Vermilion County,” Richter said.

Ryan Lewis, program officer with the Illinois Humanities Council, is working closely with Richter and the museum staff on this event.

“It’s amazing what Sue Richter and her staff have put together for the local portion of this exhibit, and how they are able to get so many community groups involved,” Lewis said. “They did such a good job in 2004 with the Smithsonian ‘Key Ingredient’ exhibit that we felt they would be a good model and training site for our five other Illinois host sites.

“The Vermilion County Museum has a very professional staff,” Lewis added, “and it’s remarkable how they have the ability to get so many groups and organizations in the community involved.”

Local sponsors for the New Harmonies event include the Commercial-News, WDAN/WDNL/K-Rock, Danville Metal Stamping, Iroquois Federal Savings and Loan, Walgreen’s Accounting, First Midwest Bank, First Savings Bank, Big R Rental, and Royal Donut.

Schedule of local events:

— March through May — “I Got You Covered” is a CD cover design project for high school and college students, based on a musical CD by the local group “Spice.”

— April 22 at 6:30 p.m. — “Music: Who, What, When, Where.” This reading and discussion program on the book “Bound for Glory,” by Woody Guthrie, will be presented at the Danville Public Library, 319 N. Vermilion St.

— April 24 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. — “Make Your Own Music” is a children’s workshop on folk music that will be conducted by Ted and Pat Cundiff.

— April 30 at 7 p.m. — “The Music in Me — Bringing the Celebrities Alive.” Musical selections of every genre will be presented by performing artists from Danville Area Community College. Seating is limited.

— May 1 at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. — “Music and Markers.” The Danville Art League will present a workshop for children ages 7 through 10 on how to interpret music through art.

— May 8, at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. — “Studio Recording Fun.” Mike Hulvey from WDAN/WDNL/K-Rock. 1501 N. Washington Ave., will present this workshop for young adults .

— May 15, at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. “Be a Square — Dance.” This is a workshop on square dancing for children and adults.

All special events are free, but pre-registration is required. Call the Vermilion County Museum at 442-2922.

Preview night

A “New Harmonies Overture” preview night will be 6-9 p.m. April 9 at the Vermilion County Museum. Cost is $25 per person, and pre-registration is required. Call the museum at 442-2922.

Included in the event will be a dinner catered by Applewood Foods. All exhibits will be on display, and musical entertainment will be provided by the Danville High School Jazz Band and singer-songwriter Chris Vallillo, who is an Illinois Humanities Council performer for the exhibit’s Illinois tour.

In a variety of roots-based styles, Vallillo performs on six-string and bottleneck slide guitars, as well as the harmonica and various pocket instruments. His shows incorporate original and traditional material with the works of other contemporary songwriters to form a musical portrait of the history and lifestyle of the Midwest.