Promised Land Celebrates 31 years with YAMA!
Apr 27, 2022
Happy YAMA-versary to members of the folk ensemble Promised Land past and present! There have been many iterations of this fantastic ensemble over the years, including Jay Rosenberg and John Fleagle (Bartholomew's Fair), Lisle Kulbach (Bartholomew's Fair, Alexander's Feast). Jeff Davis (also a 30 year solo artist bringing American folk music programs, American Sampler, Massachusetts!, and Oregon Trail to school audiences), Chris Rua and Dan Meyers (current ensemble members with Jay).
Jay recalls, "The actual Promised Land show, a great deal of it, came from John’s inspiration. He found a lot of folk songs from different countries, and we kind of morphed from the more early music type of show that Bartholomew’s Fair was performing into this folk music of immigrants." Fleagle has since passed away, however his collection of the songs of immigrants to the United States were essential to the development of Promised Land's current program The Immigrant Experience.
Recently, YAMA Staff had a great time connecting with Jay Rosenberg, Lisle Kulbach, Jeff Davis, and Chris Rua as they went down memory lane, and chatted about their experiences as musicians, and performing with YAMA.
Why is telling the stories and sharing the songs of people who emigrated to this country significant to you?
Chris: It seemed to be during a time when there was a lot about immigration and immigrants and anti-immigration, and so it seemed like a very appropriate thing to create. That is how it came about in my mind, what is something that is needed?
Jeff: One of my favorite points was when we would often ask if there were anybody who wasn't born in America there, and the kids would sometimes very shyly raise their hands, but we made much of them, and really celebrated the fact that they were immigrants, and that was always a really nice thing to watch.
Lisle: I know, and then we asked about their parents and it could be 90% of the kids and grandparents, everybody.
Jay: It’s only obviously grown in relevance with every passing year.
Chris: Just the acceptance of where you’re from, who you are, everything.
Jeff: I think that the current iteration of the band does a great job of talking about what it’s been like for people…It’s a great thing to talk about the difficulties of [being an immigrant], so the kids in the assembly might come to some appreciation of how difficult that could be.
What brought you to performing for young people, and why is it important to you?
Chris: There’s an immediacy to it, a connection. They don’t put up any walls, they are open and responsive in either positive or negative ways, but you know what they’re feeling, and I find that exciting. I love it.
Jeff: So much of what I've done in my life came from a school performance that I went to when I was in 7th grade. . . So I always figured that if you go to a school there might be that one child for whom it will make a real difference. It certainly did for me, and it might for somebody else as well.
Lisle: My mother taught recorder in NYC, she taught in a lot of schools. It just seemed the natural thing to do…just to go into music and do it wherever I could.
Jay: I find that I enjoy the immediacy of it, it lets me get in touch with my inner child. I feel much less nervous because I can fool around in front of kids, and my inner child will come out. So I have a good time!
Share you thoughts on the state of arts in education, and your wish for the future of YAMA.
Chris: I think we're going to really suffer because they’ve cut so much of the arts out of schools. I don't know what it's like in the Boston area, but I keep hearing about kids [in Northern New England], and they don't have a music program. They’ve gone through their whole elementary school without a music program or art, I really worry about that.
Jeff: I was astounded to hear that English departments at a lot of colleges now comprise about 9% of the students, most people are going into engineering and business. It seems like a very very limited perspective on the world, and it's a shame.
I always thought the Young Audiences was a very good way to introduce an infinite variety of music, you look at the programs on the roster and it’s just astounding what is there. And my hope for Young Audiences would be that it can succeed wildly and be in more schools, and people can be even busier than they are.
Jay: I think one of the things that I've always appreciated about Young Audiences is that we are a large enough organization to have a lot of different offerings, and to have a big enough profile that will catch notice in the community at large. It's certainly nice to hitch my wagon to a star, with a group that can be noticed, and be recognized for the work that is going on.
I imagine that there are a lot of artists of different kinds that have to do their own beating the pavement. I think it’s great that Young Audiences has so much going on, people can in a sense do one stop shopping, also because of a very broad offering of things.
Check out a video of Jay speaking about The Immigrant Experience.