Margaret Vetare, who lives in Beacon, will perform folk music on the lawn of the Desmond-Fish Public Library in Garrison at 4 p.m. Sunday (August 15).
What makes a folk singer a folk singer?
How you define popular depends on where you hang out, the crowd. Around here there is a long and serious tradition of the folk revival movement. There is a bias for singer-songwriters who write original material, so singing a cover at an open mic can be perceived as “less than”. Popular may well be a word that has lost its usefulness when applied broadly. As I mainly play acoustic guitar and sing a few traditional songs, I fit in quite comfortably with many people’s perception of the term. But I love to sing so many things: Neapolitan love songs, English and Irish and Appalachian ballads, songs of the Rolling Stones, Stephen Foster, songs of medieval troubadours; it’s a long list.
Were you musical when you were a kid?
I sang in a choir from a young age, but I was interested in traditional music. As a teenager, I discovered English ballads, listening to English revival singers. I consulted records from the Mount Kisco library, as well as tomes of folk songs. I got into this very early on. When I was 10, I was allowed to walk around town on my own and go to the library whenever I wanted. At Oberlin College I majored in English Literature, with a concentration in Medieval Studies, but the music conservatory on campus was very attractive and there were plenty of opportunities to sing with other people. I also studied classical music from North India. I was musically omnivorous and still am.
Have you ever aspired to make music professionally?
I’ve never nurtured the fantasy of a career, but with the natural world it’s a way for me to shape life. My day job for over 30 years has been in museum education. I spent most of that time in historic sites and more recently in an art museum. At historic sites, I researched and played period music. At the art museum, there was a lot of inspiration to be surrounded by visual art, the moods evoked by the art and the stories of the artists.
This will be your first solo concert. How do you choose the songs?
When I sing with others, it’s about looking for songs with good harmony potential, songs that work well with two or more instruments. Singing on my own, I rather think of songs with strong words, backed up by a strong melody, which work equally well with my voice and her ability as a solo instrument. I like to create a narration around the songs, giving them a feeling of cohesion. I love songs that tell stories and convey something about the human being. I am very motivated by words. I love the economy that someone like Hank Williams uses to crystallize the human experience, but just as much love songs that express language in a poetic and expansive way. I like to give songs as gifts to move listeners to another reality.
How was this concert born?
The library contacted me while I was working at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center in Vassar to arrange a virtual tour of the museum. I was helping coordinate this and somehow [program librarian] Karen Thompson hid that I was a local person who played music. Karen asked me if I would be interested and, in a moment of delirium, I said yes. Later, I realized that much of the music I sing or listen to is the result of the time I spent and enjoyed in my public library when I was young. I still sing songs that I learned decades ago from records that I listened to because I loved album covers. I set to music poems by poets whose work I discovered while browsing the section from the 800s to adolescence. I will be incorporating some of these songs, as well as others related to literature, into the program to celebrate the place.