Gordon Bok, folksinger from the state of Maine appears in concert April 28th, Harrisburg, PA

By Jess Hayden

The incomparable Gordon Bok, hailed by Time as “the poet laureate of those who go down to the sea in ships”, appears at a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Saturday, April 28, at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, Harrisburg. A free 90-minute workshop on moving poetry towards music at 4 p.m. will be followed by a 6 p. m. potluck dinner and the 7:30 p.m. concert. Tickets and information can be found at http://ow.ly/aoyzM.

Gordon doesn’t tour as regularly as he used to, so we’re very fortunate to be having him perform this concert for our south central Pennsylvania community. I had a conversation with him recently and asked him some questions about what’s his repertoire like and what listeners may expect at his concert:

FOLKMAMA:  I’ve seen you perform many times and I’m always amazed by the variety of styles of music that you work into your program! For someone who has never seen you perform before, can you describe what they may experience when coming to one of your shows for the first time?

BOK: My folks exposed me to many kinds of music of the Americas and other countries and I’ve learned a lot from immigrants I’ve worked with.  Mostly these days I sing in English, performing both traditional and contemporary music and instrumentals from Scotland to Australia.

FOLKMAMA: How has living in the state of Maine influenced your repertoire?

BOK: The various musicians I’ve played with here since I was a kid exercised me in contradance and country music and I learned quite a few songs from people I worked with on the water.

FOLKMAMA: What instruments do you plan to play during the Susquehanna Folk Music Society performance on the 28th?

BOK: A Spanish guitar and a twelve string guitar, both locally made, are the instruments I tour with.

FOLKMAMA: Tell us about your CD “Gordon Bok in Concert”. What songs does it feature and why did you decide to record a live CD?

BOK: Folks told me my albums didn’t give me the flavor and feeling of my concerts so I recorded a few nearby gigs for In Concert.  My latest CDs are “Other Eyes” and “Because You Asked” (requests – coming out soon.)

FOLKMAMA:  I’m fascinated with the concept of your cantefables (story-songs). I remember years ago hearing the wonderful “Saben the Woodfitter” and “Sea Djiril’s Hymn”. Do these selections fit under the cantefable category? Are you planning to perform a cantefable for us?

BOK: Cantefable is not my word, but I started to mix spoken story with music forty years ago, and that’s what Sandy Payton [founder of Folk Legacy] called that form.  It’s become more popular since, but I think it’s an ancient way of doing stories.  I might perform a recent one at Susquehanna.

FOLKMAMA:  When you come to perform for Susquehanna Folk you will also give a workshop “Moving Poetry Towards Music.” Can you tell us a little bit about what attendees might expect during this workshop?

BOK: I would give some examples of poetry set to music, but if people could bring in some of their own poems to work with, I’d rather concentrate on that.  It would be good if folks could send me one or two poems in advance.

FOLKMAMA: I’m interested in your fascination with the music and traditions of the Kalmyk Mongolians. Where does your interest come from? I’ve read that a group of Tibetans immigrated to the US to work as lumberjacks for the Great Northern Paper Company in Portage Lake, Me. Has this somehow fueled your interest?

BOK: I didn’t know about the Tibetan lumberjacks.  The Kalmyk immigrants took me in when I worked in Philadelphia and gave me some of their music.  Now that they’re forgetting it, I’m just trying to return it in a form that will be accessible to them.

FOLKMAMA: Are you planning on reciting any poet during your show? I really love your renditions of Ruth Moore’s poetry.

BOK: I’ll probably recite a poem in concert if you like.

FOLKMAMA: Thank you for agreeing to an interview. Anything else that you want to add?

BOK: I’m so grateful for all the musicians that have nourished and guided me.  Especially at a time when I could learn from some of the finest singers in so many countries.  And then to understand that this work of love is useful to other people; that’s a gift.


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