December 22, 2013

Songwriters pushing choral music that accentuates the Maine accent

Two former teachers aim to preserve Maine’s old ways through new songs for school groups.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Ayuh.

click image to enlarge

Larry Morissette, right, directs choral students at Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale as Stan Keach, center, of Rome records the group singing his songs.

Andy Molloy/Morning Sentinel

You cahn’t get theah from heah.

Being from away.

These are some of Maine’s most distinctive sounds and cultural catchphrases, but experts say fewer and fewer young people are using them. Some have never even heard them.

Those who are bothered by the idea that young Mainers may never have been exposed to a regional Maine accent might be cheered to hear that a pair of central Maine songwriters hope to buck the trend by injecting a strong dose of Maine-isms into the chorus rooms of schools across the state.

“So far we’re on a fool’s errand, you know,” said Stan Keach, a songwriter and recently retired teacher from Rome. Keach’s accent is only faintly present in his everyday speech, but it takes center stage when the folk and bluegrass musician performs his song, “Boots from L.L. Bean,” which plays with the idea that Maine’s natives belong to an exclusive idiomatic club.

The song is about someone from away – a term applied to anyone born out of state – attempting to blend with the locals by buying “rubbah-bottom boots” from Maine’s most famous retailer.

In the end, the singer tells the out-of-stater, “You’ll be sayin’ ‘Wicked good!’ just like any Yankee would, and showin’ off those boots from L.L. Bean.”

Keach has been singing for years, but he recently started working with musical arranger Larry Morissette of Hallowell, also a recently retired teacher, to sell the music to teachers around the state.

Keach said his music is an improvement over the “music from away” that’s taught in almost all of Maine’s music classrooms.

“They do stuff that’s not about Maine,” Keach said. “This would be something that adds some interest. You’re not doing it for some faceless people in Ohio or California.”

Some music teachers are excited by the idea.

“I think Stan Keach is a trend setter,” said Drew Albert, the music director at Maranacook Community High School in Readfield, where both Keach and Morissette used to teach.

Albert said Keach’s songs engage Maine students.

“It’s funny when you walk into a class and you actually see all the L.L. Bean boots,” he said. “I think people take a lot of pride in stuff from Maine.”

But Keach and Albert both said young people aren’t as well versed in local color as their elders.

“I don’t know that they’re familiar with those Maine colloquialisms, like ‘You can’t get there from here,’ ” Albert said.

Keach said that while recording some of the music with a group of students from Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale, some students seemed to have never heard the Maine accent before.

David Morris, a junior at Hall-Dale from Gardiner, was among the group of eight students who sang in the two-hour recording session with Keach to make a demo recording for the project.

Morris said he’s been living in the state since he was 4, but neither he nor any of his classmates speak with that distinctive Down East drawl.

“Trying out the real Maine accent in this song, it was really difficult,” he said.

Morris said he hears the Maine accent spoken only in overheard snatches of conversation when he is walking in downtown Gardiner, or from a particular substitute teacher.

“It’s something that’s being lost,” Keach said. “Maybe it has to be lost, but we should have some familiarity with it. It’s who we are.”

Morris’ classmate Eva Shepherd, who also sang in the recording session, said the only time she’s heard a really strong Maine accent is when it’s been parodied.

“People are always impersonating it,” she said, “like the lady in the Marden’s commercial.”

(Continued on page 2)

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