The Tapestry Singers were ridin’ the rails, a set in time

Tue, 04/20/2021 - 8:30am

The Tapestry Singers were preparing for a rich Bicentennial series of concerts and events celebrating all things Maine. Then COVID-19 arrived.

Wrote Music Director Beth Preston, “The Bicentennial Celebration concert repertoire was chosen last spring to honor as many cultures as possible and include pieces that are both straight-ahead choral and folk arrangements. Four of the pieces have lyrics of Maine poets (H.W. Longfellow, Edna St. Vincent Millay, E.A. Robinson and Philip Booth) There are folk songs that give nods to lumberjacks, potato farmers, seafarers and the French. There is also a Water Song sung both in Algonquin and Penobscot.”

A program celebrating Maine had to include a nod to the narrow gauge railroad, and that’s how the group and Preston ended up at Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum in Alna on April 17.

Conductor and Train Master Ed Lecuyer said Preston contacted him about three or four months ago about a collaboration. “We were delighted,” Lecuyer said. “The narrow gauge railroads played a critical role in the lives of Mainers (for) freight and passenger service. And construction costs for a narrow gauge (24-inch) railway were a quarter of the price of standard gauge. Maine was the only state in the country with a network of these railroads.”

Preston chose the children’s book “Crossing,” written by Maine poet Philip Booth and illustrated by Bagran Ibatoulline in 1957. The story informed readers about the diverse kinds of freight carried by trains. And the rhythm of the words is similar to the cadence of a moving freight train.

The Tapestry Singers had already recorded the song and would be lip syncing aboard the train. Explained Preston, “When they were recording at home, the singers had a backtrack, or reference track, in their headphones to listen to and then add their own voices. After that their recordings were engineered on a digital audio workstation (like GarageBand) that can record and play back multiple tracks of audio.”

Videographer Angus Fake was there to film the video of 30 of the Tapestry Singers. Preston said they average between 50-60 members. Preston said Fake will create the finished product that will most likely be shown on the Tapestry Singers’ Facebook page and/or website.

The group has recorded five songs, or virtual choir projects, intended for its Bicentennial Celebration concert planned for 2020. Right now a live concert performance cannot be confirmed.

“We have advertisers and sponsors who have helped us, and there have been ads purchased for the program book,” said Preston. “If we can’t do the live performance where the books would be handed out, we can put the whole thing up online with the ISUU program.”

“We’d love to do (the live show),” Preston said. “It’s all up in the air right now … We’ll see!”