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Friday, November 30, 2012

Musicians, Poets Collaborate At Famous Cemetery

Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass., was founded in 1831 as “America’s first garden cemetery.” (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)

With its burbling water fountains and rolling hills, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass., is the kind of place where it’s said you can learn about American history just by walking the beautifully landscaped grounds.

Singer Jean Danton and pianist Thomas Stumpf recently presented “An Artful Collaboration: Music and Poetry” at Mount Auburn Cemetery. (Lynn Menegon/Here & Now)

Famous people like artist Winslow Homer, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and psychologist B.F. Skinner are buried there.

Mount Auburn was founded in 1831 as “America’s first garden cemetery,” reflecting a less harsh view of the afterlife than in colonial times.

Many people go there just to stroll the grounds and see its chapels. Which makes it a perfect place for an unusual musical concert!

Singer Jean Danton and pianist Thomas Stumpf recently presented “An Artful Collaboration: Music and Poetry.”

The concert featured 19th century parlor songs written by Boston composers who are buried at the cemetery, such as Arthur Foote and George Chadwick.

This year’s concert featured a premiere by Boston composer Thomas Oboe Lee, who set cookbook author Fannie Farmer’s “Mayonnaise Dressing No. 1″ to music. Farmer is buried at the cemetery.

Oboe Lee said he came across the idea to put mayonnaise to music by looking through a collector’s edition of Farmer’s 1896 cookbook.

“The list was great,” he said.  “Eggs, olive oil, vinegar.” Not to mention,  lemon juice, cayenne, mustard and even powdered sugar. “Nobody uses powdered sugar these days,” Oboe Lee said.

The organizers say celebrating the music of the famous people buried at the cemetery is a way to keep their legacies going.

“I just felt that their presence is here,” said Oboe Lee. “Chadwick must be sitting in one of the chairs there. Arthur Foote came by.”

Danton said they want the public to remember the beauty of the late composers’ music.

“It should be brought back and sung and programmed,” she said.


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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