Ye Olde Catchcough

March 18, 2013

“The general consensus is that between 50 and 90% of languages spoken today will probably have become extinct by the year 2100.”

This from Wikipedia, the know-it-all of my generation. Also this:  language refers to “the cognitive ability to learn and use systems of complex communication, or to describe the set of rules that makes up these systems, or the set of utterances that can be produced from those rules.”

I was specifically looking for the word “creative” in the encyclopedia entry because I have been thinking about how language, writing, and communication are creative endeavors. I’m not just thinking of stories and poems and works of literature, but the way we put words together to communicate basic, or complex, ideas. My nearly three-year-old daughter impresses me daily with her choice of words and turns of phrases.

I was recently sitting among middle school students watching Ron Frye of Milwaukee’s Optimist Theater  act like William Shakespeare. He was in full garb, explaining he had just traveled 400 years to talk with us. His hook, with the kids and with me, was good: He told us he had just heard some of our modern rap music and that he quite liked it, but didn’t fully understand the words. Instead he enjoyed the rhythm and cadence and got the gist of the thing. That, he suggested, is the best way to enjoy his (Shakespeare’s) plays.

Shakespeare has become synonymous with literature and the first line of the Wikipedia entry states that he is “widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language.” He was a playwright. Why not a playwrite? That would make more sense, but the rules have never made sense. (Tell that to the folks who were up late celebrating National Grammar Day  earlier this month).

This photo of a sign in both  Malayalam and English was taken by Samia Shalabi, who leads tours in South India. Visit to see more.

This photo of a sign in both Malayalam and English was taken by Samia Shalabi, who leads tours in South India. Visit to see more.

In his day, Mr. Shakespeare, AKA Ron Frye, explained that spelling was considered a creative act. Writers tried out different spellings of the same word within one piece of work, just to demonstrate how clever they were!

Blogging is a relatively new genre of writing and naturally some are more clever, others more rule-abiding. As a general rule, it’s more important to keep it pithy than to get the sentence structure right. Penelope Trunk, a blogger whom I read because she is interesting, says that the best way to judge writing today is if people want to read it. She suggests we forget the rules and aim instead to find an audience. That is, if we are hoping to communicate something. The post is titled “How to teach writing: Ignore Grammar.”

The Wisconsin Humanities Council, where I work, has just awarded Optimist Theater’s outreach program with a grant to continue the hard work of making Shakespeare fun, relevant, and inspiring. Their mission is based on the belief that “the theatrical arts broaden and enrich those parts of our minds and spirits that are most essentially human.” Ron Frye takes the challenge personally, making him a great blend of history-nut and modern man. He wears a sword in a scabbard, so he gets respect.

March fourth, you say? Language evolves. OMG, it does. Many of you have stopped reading by now because I’m getting long winded. If I still have your attention, will bring this back around to ponder the influence the internet is having on language. While there are 6,000-7,000 languages in the world, over half of the internet is in English. It was mostly typed with a keyboard based on the English language. The foreign language internet  is rapidly expanding, with English being used by (surprisingly? only?) 27% of users worldwide (Again, thanks Wikipedia). I translate that to mean that more and more people will be using English as their second language and I think that only can add to the creativity of language use. In my experience, people who are communicating in a language that is not their mother-tongue are the most inventive! Aside from toddlers.

I’ll end with a new word for handkerchief, coined by my daughter: The catchcough. Let’s see if it goes viral.

By Jessica Becker
Director of Public Programs
Wisconsin Humanities Council 

Bringing the Bayou to the Driftless

March 14, 2013

Cajun Music and Dance Weekend returns to Folklore Village near Dodgeville on March 22-24, 2013.   Expect hot music, lots of dancing, workshops with master artists and an abundance of yummy Cajun food.  Louisiana among the Holsteins.

You never know which way March weather will turn in Wisconsin but the Cajun influence is not foreign to colder climes.  It all started when Acadian exiles from Canada – mostly from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – settled in southern Louisiana and brought the French language with them.

Cajun music is evolved from its roots in the music of the French-speaking Catholics of Canada. In earlier years the fiddle was the predominant instrument, but gradually the accordion has come to share the limelight. It gained national attention in 2007, when the Grammy Award for Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album category was created. The category has since been folded into Best Regional Roots Album, and it is interesting to note that the 2013 winner – The Band Courtbouillon – includes Wilson Savoy, the brother of Joel Savoy, one of this year’s Cajun weekend headliners.


Joel Savoy and Jesse Lege

Workshops on guitar, fiddle, accordion, dance and even cooking will feature an outstanding lineup of artistic staff, headlined by master artists Jesse Lege and Joel Savoy, who have collaborated on numerous appearances and albums alike.  Jesse grew up in rural southwest Louisiana and is one of the most admired Cajun accordionists and vocalists in the region.  Jesse has been nominee and winner of numerous Cajun French Music Association awards: Traditional Band of the Year; Accordion Player of the Year; Male Vocalist of the Year; Band of the Year and Song of the Year. Whew!  In 1998 he was inducted into the Cajun Music Hall of Fame.  He’ll teach advanced accordion and a vocal workshop.

Joel Savoy is one of the most requested fiddlers in Louisiana today – he comes from Cajun royalty they tell me – and has developed a style that is at once authentic and cutting edge.  His playing leaves little doubt that Cajun music is still alive.  Joel will teach advanced fiddle workshops.

Other artistic staff include Charlie Terr and John Terr, founders of the Chicago Cajun Aces band.  Charlie and John have been a part of the Folklore Village Cajun festival from the start.  Charlie will lead the intermediate accordion workshops and John will conduct the guitar workshop.Image

Eric Mohring is a nationally recognized Cajun fiddler who plays with the New Riverside Ramblers.  He will lead the intermediate fiddle classes and a beginning fiddle workshop.  Gene Losey will guide very beginning accordion players in basic scales, fingering, and techniques that “make it sound Cajun.”

If you like to kick up your heels or do a little Louisiana jitterbug, Maurine McCort joins the 2013 staff as Cajun Dance Instructor.  Maurine has been an inspiring force in the Cajun and Zydeco music and dance scene in the Twin Cities since 1990 and has taught both Cajun and Zydeco at home (every Saturday for 18 years) and festivals around the country. Although she lives upriver, her passion for the dance and music of southwestern Louisiana is from the people who she learned this dance style from.

ImageAnd if all this thought about music and dance makes you hungry that’s perfect because there will be Cajun food galore.  Jackie Miller will teach cooking classes in the Folklore Village Farmhouse for those who would like to bring this lively culture back home.  Jackie learned cooking from all the grandmas she could adopt and has authored two Cajun cookbooks.  She is a regular instructor at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, West Virginia.

The kitchen in Farwell Hall will feature hearty authentic Cajun meals prepared by Folklore Village’s own Foodways staff, led by Bonnie Isaacson-Miller and J Miller. If eating is more important to you than preparation the weekend will feature hearty authentic Cajun meals prepared by Folklore Village’s own Foodways staff, led by Bonnie Isaacson-Miller and J Miller. Saturday’s lunch will feature traditional style Sausage Jambalaya with Lucky Pennies – a marinated Carrot Salad, and refreshing Peach-Pineapple Crisp for dessert topped with heavy cream.  Supper is a Cajun Mardi-Gras Feast of Chicken Gumbo, Sweet Potato Pone, Tasty Homemade Potato Salad, Cajun Corn Salad and Cayenne Toast, plus Pecan Bars with Chantilly Cream for Dessert.

Cajuns have a reputation for a joie de vivre (“joy of living”), in which hard work is appreciated as much as “passing a good time.”  On his web site Joel Savoy says it straight: “Next time we come to town, come on out and say hi and listen and dance if you feel like it. Be a part of our music instead of a background for it.”  At Cajun weekend, Wisconsin people can join in this rare treat.Image

You can still register for the Folklore Village Cajun Music and Dance weekend by calling 608-924-4000. Sign-up for the whole shebang, part of the shebang or for individual workshops and meals.  For more information visit the Folklore Village website or give them a holler.

Just so you know, Folklore Village provides a broad range of cultural and recreational programs. The year-round schedule of over 100 events and activities includes Saturday night potlucks and social dances, concerts featuring master folk artists, folk culture learning retreats and folklife education programs for schools.

Folklore Village overlooks gently contoured fields, dairy farms, nearby woods and a prairie restoration project. The 94 acre site includes Farwell Hall, a 5,500 square foot facility with two beautiful hardwood dance floors, exhibit and classroom spaces and a restaurant-quality kitchen, Wakefield School, an 1893 one-room school house, and the Tall Grass Prairie Restoration Project, which includes over 30 relic species of remnant prairie and many grassland bird species.

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale WI  Pop. 288  (if you’ve been checking, we’ve gained 5 people!)