In the 1964 movie Mary Poppins, Mrs. Banks bursts into a scene singing “Sister Suffragette.”
Even though one expects songs in a musical, actual suffragette songs really did exist and Phil Passen of Chicago will perform 12 of them during a free program Oct. 28 at Shepherd of the Hill Lutheran Church in Lockport.
"March of the Women: Music for the 100th Anniversary of Suffrage" – will consist of Passen singing suffragette songs while playing them on his hammered dulcimer – with slideshow of historical posters and images in the background.
It’s not Passen’s first historical show, but it was one of the more complicated to create, he said, simply because it took effort to locate authentic songs.
The ones Passen selected range from 1868 through the 1970s and the women’s liberation movement, he said.
Passen said searched online and scoured libraries, which led him to books containing the songs he needed. In some cases, the songs came with original scores.
In others, the lyrics simply said, “Sing to the tune of ‘Auld Layne Syne” or another familiar song of the time, Passen said.
“There are three or four songs in the program that are more recent,” Passen said. “These I was able to find sheet music for.”
More historical programming
Passen’s website said the Illinois Humanities selected "March of the Women: Music for the 100th Anniversary of Suffrage" for its 2019 – 2020 Road Scholar roster.
Another of Passen's programs – "From Prairie to Farm to City: Music to Commemorate Illinois’ Bicentennial" as Road Scholar program, but with a slight title change: "From Prairie to Farm to City: Illinois History Through Music," Passen's website also said.
In addition, Passen has put together programs on other topics: Civil War, old-time American music, the Titanic, Irish music and Carl Sandburg.
“People always say they love the information and what they learn as much as they love the music,” Passen said.
A musical journey
Passen started performing in 1998, about four years after he started taking hammered dulcimer lessons.
He and his wife Barbara Gregorich had heard a recording of a hammered dulcimer, liked it and subsequently bought some recordings to listen at home.
A hammered dulcimer, according to a news release from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the host of Passen's Oct. 28 program, is a "free-standing, trapazoidal-shaped, many stringed, folk instrument."
Part of the zither family, the hammered dulcimer originated in Turkey and made its way to North America in the 1600s, the release also said.
Eventually, Passen decided to take lessons because it seemed the best way to combine the best of both musical worlds for Passen, his love for violin and love for the drums.
“I not only enjoyed the physical sensation of moving around while I played, I loved the sound of it,” Passen said.
This was huge for Passen. He is missing two fingers on his left hand and one on his right, so learning the violin was out of the question.
“I could hold two drum sticks easily,” Passen said. “But Barbara never let me have a drum set in the 1,000-foot apartment we had for along time.”
By 1996, Passen was performing his hammered dulcimer shows on a full-time basis. But Gregorich, he said, predicted that during Passen’s first hours a rented dulcimer.
“She came into the living room where I was practicing and said, ‘Well, I know what you’re gong to do for the rest of your life.’”
Goal: "I do it for two reasons. The main one is I love it. It’s how I want to spend my time. The other reason is that it really does bring joy and happiness to people. Their eyes just light up.”
Challenges: “It’s very difficult to sing and play the dulcimer and I’m one of the few who can do it. But if someone comes up to me and wants to talk to me, I can’t have a conversation while I’m playing the dulcimer.”
Words of wisdom: If you want to do it and you like the sound of it, you should probably do it, but rent something first; a hammered dulcimer can cost $500 to $600. You’re also going to have to tune it.
"Tuning it can take a half an hour to an hour and you’ll have to tune it weekly. So you’re not just making a commitment to practice but to keep the dulcimer in tune…it has 100 strings that I have to tune.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: "March of the Women: Music for the 100th Anniversary of Suffrage"
WHEN: 7 p.m. Oct. 28
WHERE: Shepherd of the Hill Lutheran Church, 925 E. 9th St. Lockport
INFORMATION: Contact Jean Miller at 815-838-2051 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Georgia Alberico at 815-838-3228 or email@example.com. Visit philpassen.com.