Illinois Humanities has selected my new program, March of the Women: Music for the 100th Anniversary of Suffrage, for its 2019 – 2020 Road Scholar roster.
2019 marks 100 years since Congress passed the 19th amendment — forbidding states to deny the right to vote on the basis of sex — on June 4, 1919, and sent it to the states for ratification. Illinois was one of the first three states, along with Michigan and Wisconsin, to ratify the amendment, just six days after Congress passed it. 2020 marks 100 years since August 26, 1920, when Tennessee became the last of the necessary 36 states to ratify the amendment, thus making it the law of the land.
This program consists of songs about women’s suffrage from as early as the mid-nineteenth century through 1920. In addition, the program includes songs from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries about the role of women in society, including songs about equal work for equal pay, reproductive rights, and other relevant topics. It begins with “Winning the Vote,” a humorous but pointed song written in 1912 as a conversation between men and women about women’s suffrage; and end with “Bread and Roses,” the anthemic song of women workers based on a poem inspired by the 1912 Lawrence textile strike. This is an entertaining and informative look at the fight for women’s right to vote and the continuing fight for women’s rights.
Illinois Humanities has also once again selected my program From Prairie to Farm to City: Music to Commemorate Illinois’ Bicentennial as Road Scholar program, with a slight title change to From Prairie to Farm to City: Illinois History Through Music.
This program has proven to be really popular. The music in my program reflects the story of Illinois, which is shaped not only by the land (prairie, Great Lakes, Mississippi River), but also by the many cultures which have thrived in it, beginning with Native Americans, and including French, German, African-American, Mexican, and other immigrant groups. The program includes songs about farmers, workers, disasters, and tragedies. Maybe even a little Blues and Rock and Roll.
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Phil’s latest CD contains seven tracks of toe-tapping old-time and bluegrass tunes and songs. With guitar, banjo, and bass accompaniment from wonderful musicians, Some Come to Tarry is a great listen for dulcimer and traditional music fans.
Few musicians play the hammered dulcimer. Fewer still sing while accompanying themselves on this fascinating instrument, whose name means “beautiful song.” Phil Passen does both.
Phil plays and sings traditional American and Celtic music. Can such upbeat dance music be called soothing? With rhythmic playing on fast tunes and sensitive playing on slow numbers, Phil’s music often elicits that word — “soothing.” And though it may seem contradictory, listeners also dub the music “happy” and “bouncy” as they tap their feet to the beat. The songs he sings include familiar American folk songs such as Red River Valley and The Sloop John B; old-time songs such as Sail Away Ladies and My Darling Nellie Gray; and contemporary folk songs such as Kilkelly, Ireland and Hot Buttered Rum.
Phil’s third CD, Tramp, Tramp, Tramp: Music of the Civil War on Hammered Dulcimer is a fascinating solo recording of music commemorating the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. The hammered dulcimer was popular in the United States during the Civil War, and music of that era seems right at home played on this unique instrument. Many tunes and songs in this program are still familiar today, such as The Girl I Left Behind Me; When Johnny Comes Marching Home; Home, Sweet, Home; The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching. Others, such as Lorena; Lincoln and Liberty; The Battle Cry of Freedom, The Marching Song of the First Arkansas Regiment; Shiloh Hill; and John Brown’s Dream are less familiar but just as beautiful, rousing, and inspiring.
Phil’s second CD, with guitarist Tom Conway, is Cold Frosty Morning: Christmas and Winter Holiday Music. Beautiful melodies such as Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring andWhat Child Is This; old favorites such as My Dreidl, Jingle Bell Rock and Here Comes Santa Claus; and contemporary songs such as Winter Solstice and Hot Buttered Rumare featured on this diverse and exciting recording.
Swinging on a Gate: Traditional American and Celtic Music, Phil’s first CD, was a “most popular” choice on Amazon.com. The all-instrumental CD, with Phil on hammered dulcimer and Tom Conway on guitar, features old-time American dance and fiddle tunes and Celtic music. Tunes include Twin Sisters, Bonaparte’s Retreat, Miss MacLeod’s Reel, and John Ryan’s Polka.
Libraries, schools, receptions of all kinds, store openings, barn dances, parties, teas, weddings, coffee shops, bars, and restaurants — Phil plays all these in settings formal or informal, as background or foreground music, solo or with guitar or banjo accompaniment. He has consistently been selected as a “best of the best” by the Library Administrators Conference of Northern Illinois. Phil performs most frequently in the greater Chicago area, which, due to his poor sense of geography, also includes Indiana and Wisconsin.
Phil also teaches hammered dulcimer at workshops and music festivals.