'14 Keene Music Fest, compilation cd, Sunflowers, & Donna Morse.
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September Newsletter

Director's Blog

Happy September everyone! It’s now several days after the 14th was a very well received event. Those of us who are part of the organizing team are feeling quite good about the event that we put together this year. We hope you enjoyed listening to the music as much as we enjoyed bringing it to you. 

One of the amazing things that comes up in our organization is the power of a small group of people to do very big things through effort and perseverance. When you think about it, most of the amazing things that happen occur due to individuals and/or small groups. Doing well at something often times involves perseverance and discipline over the long haul. It also means being willing to stick with an idea in spite of, rather than because of, how others feel about it. 

Keene Music Festival is founded on some core ideas of what it means to be successful and what it means to be part of a community. It also focuses on the idea of low impact and sustainable growth; bigger is not always better. Our measure of success is how well the things we do integrate into the community, more so than how big our event is. 

Often, folks consider success to have something to do with fame, money, bigness, and things like that. In the world of music, that kind of thinking can lead musicians to look beyond their music to focus on making the connections, getting press, getting the “right” gigs, and other such stuff in order to “make it.” Personal experience has been that “making it,” is always a compromise. You end up giving up control of what you love in order to get business success. It’s kind of like candy, initially satisfying, but it leaves you empty in a short while. 

While being a good businessperson is important to any career, one of the cool things about music is that you can still be a musician and not have to subscribe to the “fame track,” in order to find fulfillment. Most of the best musicians I know are people who have day jobs and only play for fun. Some of the best professionals I know are driven by their passion for the art, more than for recognition. 

Notoriety is best when it’s a side effect of your passion for something. As an end in itself, it’s a bit hollow. After 35 years of working with musicians, I have a theory that true talent and passion for the art go hand in hand. Really talented individuals will do whatever it takes, within reason, to perform and /or to play as much as they can. During our event, we were witness to some amazingly talented and passionate musicians who volunteered their time to play for our community. It’s a blessing to have such people in our lives.

Keep in mind that Keene Music Festival is more than this one-day event. We have things going on all year, which you can read about below. So please come out and support what we do by coming to our shows, and that kind of stuff.


Thingamajigs From The Keene Music Festival

Sumner Knight Series: Ian Fitzgerald and Haunt the House
Saturday, September 13

The Keene Music Festival, in collaboration with Keene Parks and Rec and Southwestern Community Services presents a series of concerts at the Sumner Knight Chapel in the Woodland NED Cemetery to help raise money to renovate the chapel. This amazing little venue features music in its natural form. No amplification or sound equipment is used during the show; it's music just as it's always meant to be.

Ian Fitzgerald is heavily influenced by Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, and Gillian Welch, making him the unique folk singer he is today. Since 2004, Ian has performed extensively throughout New England; toured up and down the east coast; and independently released four albums of original material. Ian's compelling lyrics and indelible melodies have won him first place in the Boston Folk Festival Songwriting Contest (for the song "Lillian") and earned him a spot in the Emerging Artist Showcase at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival and a Quad Showcase performance at the 2013 Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) Conference. 

Haunt the  House (Will Houlihan) falls somewhere between a bedroom whispered heart broken prayer and a brilliant repentant cry in the dark. He consistently writes songs that are simple and personal. This mix of Devotional, Americana, Experimental Folk, Indie, and Westerly styles makes Haunt the House a band of true individuality and a perfect match to play at a stone chapel in the middle of a cemetery. Their new release: Jack Rabbit Jones tells the story of a loving couple torn apart by jealousy and madness. With featured performers Allysen Callery, Amato Zinno of Vudu Sister and Bessie Bessin of Pier Jump, and many others, produced by Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky of The Low Anthem, “Jack Rabbit Jones” is but the first statement by one of Rhode Island’s most intriguing new folk ensembles.

Admission is by donation (we suggest $12 or so); you can donate at the door or order tickets online.

CD Compliation of the 14th Keene Music Festival

For all of you who would like to reminisce on the music of the 14th KMF or if you missed out on all the cool tunes, the Keene Music Festival will be releasing a compilation CD. The CD will feature 30 bands who performed at the festival and will be available at the end of September. The digital album will include unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC, and more for $7. To purchase the CD, go to the Keene Music Festival's Bandcamp.
Diane Ammons frequently performs at Sunflowers

Music and Art at Sunflowers Restaurant 
Lynn Merlone

On the Main Street in the heart of Jaffrey is Sunflowers Restaurant. Warm and welcoming, Sunflowers has won recognition from the likes of Yankee Magazine, the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce and New Hampshire Magazine. The cafe not only serves lunch, dinner and brunch, but music and art as well. 

Carolyn Edwards started Sunflowers ten years ago. "My restaurant experience was with a vegetarian food cart around the summer of 1976 in Hanover. I worked with a friend and we called it Out to Lunch. While working for a publishing company, I did some catering on the weekends. In 2005, I decided that if I was ever going to do this food business seriously, now was the time." 

Sunflowers opened in Fitzwilliam, and when a space became available in downtown Jaffrey, the restaurant relocated soon after the ice storm in early 2009. Patrons come from all over the Monadnock region and from northern Massachusetts. Part of its business comes from catering, and Sunflowers benefits from the many local industries and companies nearby. The menu, prepared by Head Chef David Daumé and his staff, is “eclectic, basic American with touches of special things every week.” Local ingredients are used and there is an extensive choice of baked goods made onsite, plus some from local bakeries.

Music has been a part of Sunflowers since the beginning and local musicians play on Fridays for dinner and for Sunday brunch. “The impulse to include music came from the Folkway,” said Carolyn. “When I moved to this area the Folkway was in Peterborough and I just thought this was something special that I wanted to do. We have jazz, blues, classical and some funky stuff -- we try to mix it up.”

When looking for performers, volume is a consideration. Due to the relatively small size of the venue, the acts are either soloists or duos who do not play too loudly. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be background music,” Carolyn explained, “but guests certainly have to be able to talk to each other.” Popular artists have included saxophonist Mike Wakefield, John Cucchi, JT Lawrence, Michael Blake, and Bob Arpin. Often there is classical instrumental music for brunch.

A unique feature of Sunflowers is the intimacy the space affords between performers and audience. “People will come up to the musicians and interact with them and appreciate them and that is special.” The restaurant is divided so it is possible to seat patrons in a quieter space if they want. 

I asked Carolyn about any musical highlights. “There have been times when musicians who know the performer come and sit in and we have had some magical nights when that has happened,” Carolyn remembers. “You wish you had the tape recorder out but then it probably wouldn’t capture that spontaneity.”

“One night in Fitzwilliam was one of the best nights we had. Jazz pianist J C Donelson was here and Walden Whitham came and sat with him. They had about three minutes of conversation and then they started playing together. It was like they were talking with their instruments; it was amazing. People who were there were just struck -- ‘what did we just see?’ And it just happened, it was beautiful.”

In addition to hosting music, Sunflowers caters for musical events. Opera Bites is part of the Met Live in HD opera simulcasts at Peterborough Players. Most of the performances are at lunchtime and Sunflowers staff serves sandwiches, soup, quiche, and sweets. The restaurant donates some of their profit to the Peterborough Players. Sunflowers also caters when Electric Earth Concerts or Monadnock Musichas an evening event in Jaffrey or Peterborough. Patrons may reserve and purchase a picnic basket dinner before the show. 

In the wider Monadnock region, Sunflowers supports community organizations. It caters functions for the Park Theatre and Colonial Theatre at a discount. Sunflowers works with Kristin’s Bakery in Keene to prepare food for the Historical Society’s auction as a donation as well. Sunflowers supports The Jaffrey Chamber Arts Auction and the Peterborough Players Annual Auction, plus events at the Jaffrey Civic Center.

Sunflowers hosts an art show every five weeks. Like the musicians who come to play, artists are recommended or they will come and ask to have a show. “Many artists that are displayed come from the greater Jaffrey-Peterborough area,” said Carolyn. “Sometimes when I feature a Keene artist, my customers are amazed that they had never heard of this artist before. So I try to include artists from different parts of this region.”

During the colder, non-holiday months, Sunflowers hosts special events such as cooking classes and Ladies Night. For the latter, in addition to special appetizers and prizes, a local nonprofit is invited to come talk about their work. Patrons may purchase 50-50 raffle tickets to support the organization. "In some cases the groups are familiar to everyone,” said Carolyn, “but in other cases people don’t really know about them; Contoocook Valley Transportation comes to mind. We learned how the organization is addressing the lack of public transportation in a rural area.” In September the benefitting organization is Team Jaffrey, and in October the Jaffrey Women’s Club will be highlighted.

Carolyn and her staff are committed to community involvement: “I feel that we should use this very visible venue of our restaurant to do what we can to improve and support the community. It’s a good way to put new things forward, and this is such a great area for citizen's volunteering." 

Sunflowers is open daily, except Tuesday, for lunch, Sunday brunch and dinner. There is full bar service featuring specialty cocktails and wireless internet available. September’s musical offerings include Alan Perlman on jazz piano, vocalist Diane Ammons, Wendy Keith, The Grumbling Rustics, John Cucchi, Michael Blake, Mike Wakefield, Judy Blake and Ken Hamshaw and Bob Arpin. September’s art show opens on the 10th with Soosan Dunholter and Deb DeCicco from Peterborough and Jaffrey respectively. For more information about menus and upcoming events, go to

Lynn Merlone is the founder of Monadnotes, a website featuring musical offerings and opportunities in the Monadnock region. Here you find pages with descriptions of local musicians by genre; music venues and events; music instruction; open mics, jams and karaoke; and musical groups for you to join. The Event Calendar boasts the most complete listings of musical events in southwestern New Hampshire.Visit Monadnotes: Your Music Source for the Monadnock region.
A Conversation with Donna Morse
Lynn Merlone

Jazz, classical, concert band and rock are all genres of music that Donna Morse performs with musicians in the Monadnock region. Donna, a freelance musician, is the director of the Nelson Town Band and recently formed New Horizons Band; keyboard and vocalist in the popular Nines Band; clarinetist in the Keene Chamber Orchestra; and she plays lead alto saxophone/woodwinds in the Keene Jazz Orchestra. 

Donna grew up in a musical family. As a child she studied piano and then took up the clarinet in junior high school. She continued her music studies through college, but not as a music major. “My mother was a music teacher and superintendent of music for Dade County School system and I wanted no part of the music business,” Donna explained. “She always struggled to keep her job so I went to school as a business major.” Later, while raising her family in North Carolina, Donna studied flute with a member of the Charlotte symphony orchestra. Then in 1996, Donna and her family moved to the Monadnock Region.

First musical project: Nelson Town Band 

“Somebody snagged me the first two weeks I was here when they found out I played clarinet,” Donna remembers. She played with the band for eight years, and as it grew, members wanted more challenging music. In order for that to happen, they would need a rehearsal director who could conduct. So about ten years ago, Donna offered to try conducting with mixed feelings – could she do it and would she miss playing? “The band was very patient with me as I experimented with managing the rehearsals,” Donna said with a laugh. “And I found I love conducting.”

Nelson Town Band is comprised of musicians (including her husband and, in earlier days, her two sons) from the region who perform in parades, at outdoor concerts, in nursing homes, and at Nelson Town Hall. The band has 45 pieces in their repertoire. Donna will play whatever instrument is needed for parades, but most of the time she is directing. 

Donna doesn’t tire of the opportunity to give concerts. She described one special event when the band played for a Joni and Friends Retreat in Greenfield for disabled children “We played an hour. The campers danced and screamed and hooted and hollered. We played the Chicken Dance, which is not a tune we usually do. There were a hundred people behind me dancing and it was one of those great moments. One band member said, ‘Now I know what it feels like to be a rock star’!”

Keene Jazz Orchestra is founded

A few years after moving to New Hampshire, Donna started studying saxophone jazz with Scott Mullett. “That’s what really launched me forward,” Donna recalls. “Soon I started playing doubles. That happens in jazz bands a lot where if you play saxophone you have to be able to at least play clarinet or flute. Then Scott helped me get started teaching.” Currently Donna teaches lessons in Keene, Milford, and Pepperell, Massachusetts during the week. 

Scott and Donna shared an interest in starting a jazz group, and in 2002 the Keene Jazz Orchestra was formed. The orchestra includes Keene State College students and professors, as well as local teachers and other musicians of advanced ability. Keene Jazz Orchestra has two shows a year: a winter dance and a spring concert. The Orchestra can play sixty dance tunes, mostly from the thirties and forties. The spring concert features a range of older and modern jazz music. “Our music choices are getting a bit edgier,” said Donna. “In the past few concerts we played music by Maria Schneider, a huge big band director in NYC. Her pieces pull in a little bit of world music, a little bit of classical along with complex jazz. “ 

The orchestra has a regular following and is committed to reaching out to new fans. Band students from the local schools can attend a Keene Jazz Orchestra concert for free admission. “Usually their parents come as well so we have seen new faces over the past few years,” Donna observed. “Our concerts include a few pieces that are crossovers to other genres which is also a good way to reach out to new fans.” Another way the Keene Jazz Orchestra fosters interest in jazz musicianship is by raising money for scholarships for music students to go to the Vermont Jazz Camp.

When asked about highlights, Donna replied “The rehearsals. Scott is a great rehearsal director and we have some of the best musicians in the area. I love jazz. It’s the hardest music I have played; you never reach the end. It is so stimulating.”

Rocking with The Nines

The Nines Band is one of the most popular rock cover bands in southern New Hampshire. Comprised of eight members - many of whom are professional musicians - the Band has placed Gold for the Monadnock Shopper Best Local Band category for four years. Their repertoire includes popular songs from all of the decades and they include up to date hits. For private events, they may also include a jazz set. The band includes guitar, bass, a horn section, keyboards and percussion. All of the band members sing. “We are a tight group right now and the band sounds great,” said Donna. 

Donna has been with the band for eight years as keyboard player and back up vocalist. She describes it as being very different from her other musical endeavors: “Playing piano puts me in the rhythm section of the band, which is different than the horn section.” The Nines play at Waxy O’Connor’s on September 27. More of their upcoming gigs can be found on their website:

Playing for the Keene Chamber Orchestra

Donna has played clarinet with the Keene Chamber Orchestra for past two years. Founded by Eric Stumacher in 1990, the Keene Chamber Orchestra performs major public concerts in Keene, as well as special concerts for students in the public schools, the elderly in retirement homes and for special events. They performed as part of the Keene Music Festival last month. Donna said that while she loves playing classical music, she will be leaving this group as she readies for her newest project – the Monadnock New Horizons Band. 

New Horizons Band: An Adult Beginners Band starts up in September

The Monadnock New Horizons Band is for adults who either have never played an instrument or have not played in a long time. The idea started last summer when Donna was invited to attend New Horizons Camp in Waterville Maine. “I thought it would be fun to do in this area because there are so many town bands, but most of them you need experience. And when you are learning an instrument as an adult, you need a place to play,” Donna explained.In January, Donna contacted Vicki Moore, a fellow Keene Jazz Orchestra member and music teacher at St Joseph Regional School, about working together. Vicki was delighted, as she had just begun discussing with her husband the possibility of starting a beginner’s band. With some input and assistance from Nelson Town Band members, local teachers and town band directors, Donna and Vicki are ready to start.

Rehearsals run mid-September and run through early December, at which time the band will present a concert. A spring session is planned as well. Donna is excited to begin. “I like working with adults,” she said, “they work really hard. It is fun to help people get their first sound and do something they didn’t think they could do.” For information about Monadnock New Horizons Band, the website address is

For Donna, much of the fall will be preparing the Nelson Town Band and New Horizons Band for their December concerts, as well as in rehearsals with the Keene Jazz Orchestra and The Nines. Her personal practice time is a challenge, as well as a source of joy. “I love to practice,” she said. “I never get tired of playing, never feel like I need a break. I could play all day!”

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