Celebrating America’s Music
Camden — Glenn Jenks wants to make one thing clear from the outset: America’s Music: A Film History of Our Popular Music from Blues to Bluegrass to Broadway, the film and discussion series he will lead this winter at Camden Public Library, is not a full history of its subject.
“It would take two years, a four-semesters college curriculum, to adequately address the history of American popular music,” he said, expressing doubt that even that would cover all the bases.
What America’s Music does offer is a thoughtfully constructed, film-supported way to explore the multicultural mix that is America as expressed in its music — specifically, the musical forms that came into being here during the 20th century. For six consecutive Sunday afternoons, Jenks will screen selections from award-winning documentaries and lead discussions about the genres they explore: Jan. 13, The Blues and Gospel Music; Jan. 20, Tin Pan Alley and Broadway; Jan. 27, Swing Jazz; Feb. 3, Bluegrass and Country Music; Feb. 10, Rock; and Feb. 17, From Mambo to Hip Hop. The sessions will meet at 3 p.m. in the library’s Picker Room. Admission is free.
Jenks, a well-respected ragtime composer, performer and historian as well as a longtime piano teacher, is the series’ Project Scholar. While his own specialty gets somewhat short shrift in America’s Music, he is very enthusiastic about the program and is looking forward to its debut Sunday, Jan. 13.
“This is a professional, well thought-out and carefully managed program to take just for the enjoyment of it. But it’s also to expand everyone’s knowledge — and it’s free! What else are you going to do on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of winter?” he said.
The effort to bring America’s Music to Camden — the only site in Maine chosen for the series — began towards the end of last winter. Brian Hodges, the town’s director of development, had come across the opportunity through grants.gov as part of his efforts “to look for opportunities to add to the good things already going on here.” A key factor in the grant call was collaboration, so he approached the library and Bay Chamber Concerts to partner with the town.
“I hit the submit button on March 14. We found out in August via Sen. Collins’ office that we had been selected,” said Hodges, who serves as the program’s other required personnel, project coordinator.
Camden Public Library being one of the few to earn Five Stars from the Library Journal and Bay Chamber Concerts’ longstanding commitment to music presentation and education made them clear choices as collaborators, an element of the grant that particularly interested Hodges.
“There are so many vibrant organizations in this region, but limited opportunities to bring them together in an effective way,” Hodges said. “I think we made for a very compelling submission.”
The National Endowment for the Humanities apparently thought so too, choosing Camden as one of 50 sites across the country for America’s Music, a project of the Tribeca Film Institute in consultation with the American Library Association and the Society for American Music. Once selected, the town also received funding from the Maine Humanities Council, which Hodges described as the state equivalent of the NEH.
“They gave us a grant to assist with the endeavor, which I think is a real endorsement,” he said.
Jenks has been working his way through the DVDs that will be excerpted for the series and that will become part of the library’s collection. They include such award-winning documentaries as “Say Amen, Somebody” by acclaimed filmmaker George T. Nierenberg; “Martin Scorsese Presents: The Blues”; and another multi-part series, Ken Burns' “Jazz.”
“They are very cool and all very different — the sources for this program are so good! People will be able to sign up for the full movies … We will start things off and the films will fan the flames,” said Jenks.
Jenks has been stoking musical fires for years. A teacher since 1985, he recently gave up performing and recording; his last CD, 2007’s “Spider in the Tub,” offers a mix of his own and other composers’ ragtime works “and other musical pleasures.” Jenks is particularly enthusiastic about America’s Music’s final session, which explores the influence of Latin music beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“That’s my time slot,” he said, referring to ragtime, “and it was very rich in classical music too. It’s the time of Ignacio Cervantes, whom I’m very interested in,” he said, pointing out his suite of Latin dances inspired by the Cuban composer on his CD.
“Well, I’m not saying I never play in public any more, but I have to make a living now,” he said, describing his on-the-road/in-the-studio days as “an itch I had to scratch.”
Jenks has students from 10- to 80-years-old and said he cherishes them all.
“Once and a while you get one that really takes off,” he said, speaking with pride about Ben Lary, currently studying piano at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst with Gilles Vonsattel; Vonsattel was called upon to sub for the great Peter Serkin at Tanglewood two summers ago.
“Ben’s getting a real education! Of course, what he’ll do with it … a piano degree and $2.95 get you a latte at Starbucks,” Jenks said.
Jenks has been fortunate to make his living with music but he thinks it has much to contribute to everyone’s life.
“What are the things that really enhance our lives? Sports or the arts, the things labeled extracurricular … but these are the things that enhance our lives — politics certainly doesn’t! That’s what doing a course like this is all about,” he said.
For copies of the America’s Music program materials and to sign up — not required but encouraged — contact Hodges at 236-3353 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on program-related performances and other events, visit librarycamden.org, baychamberconcerts.org and camdenmaine.gov.
Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or email@example.com.