Library Programs

Phil Passen Library Program

Library patrons and staff alike react with delight and enthusiasm to the mix of music and information in these programs. Because audiences are fascinated by the uncommon, trapezoidal-shaped hammered dulcimer, I intersperse information on its intriguing history throughout my performance. Afterwards, members of the audience, young and old, musicians and non-musicians, come up to take a closer look at the dulcimer and try their hand at it.


Selected Best of the Best by the Library Administrators Conference of Northern Illinois. Library Program Coordinators exclaim:
“The information was fascinating… and the music was just heavenly. ”
“Thank you for a delightful afternoon of music.”
“The audience members of all ages, and I, were simply delighted with your music.”

Phil Passen Library Program

New Program!

Music to Reflect News of the World — This program was designed to accompany the Gail Borden Public Library’s Community Read of Paulette Giles’ novel News of the World. The program includes songs and tunes mentioned in the novel, songs that relate to news items read by Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, and popular songs of the 1870’s. Some of these songs have remained popular throughout the decades and will be familiar to library audiences today. Whether included in conjunction with reading News of the World or presented on its own as musical performance, Music to Reflect News of the World is a fascinating and delightful look at music and history from a bygone era.

March of the Women: Music for the 100th Anniversary of Suffrage. — 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 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the last of the necessary 36 states to ratify the amendment, and August 26, 1920, when it became 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 will include 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 ends with “Bread and Roses,” the anthemic song of women workers 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.

When That Great Ship Went Down: Music to Commemorate the Sinking of the Titanic
Early on the morning of April 15, 1912, the passenger liner Titanic sank in the North Atlantic. Of the 2,224 passengers on board, 1,514 died. Orchestras in first and second class on the Titanic that night played popular songs of the day. Irish musicians in third class played rousing jigs and reels. Popular songs such as The Blue Danube, Maple Leaf Rag, and Alexander’s Ragtime Band are included in this program along with energetic Irish tunes and songs about the sinking of the great ship. An informative and enjoyable program of popular music from a bygone era.

Music of the 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 When Johnny Comes Marching Home; Home, Sweet, Home; The Battle Hymn of the Republic; and 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. This is a fascinating program of historical music.

Songs from Carl Sandburg’s American Songbag
Carl Sandburg was an avid collector of folk songs from all over the United States and performed folk songs, accompanying himself on the guitar, at his poetry readings. In 1927 he published this collection of 255 songs, with words, music, and a little history of each song. In my program I describe the book and sing songs such as The Streets of Laredo, Those Gamblers’ Blues, Frog Went a Courting, The Sloop John B, Down By The Riverside, and others, all from Sandburg’s book. In many cases I describe how the song evolved into a more modern, well known song. This is a great program any time, but especially appropriate in January (the month of Sandburg’s birth) and April (National Poetry month).

The Music of Thomas Hardy
Novelist and poet Thomas Hardy is considered one of the greatest English-language writers, yet most lovers of English literature have no idea that he was a lover of English country dance. As a young fiddler, he accompanied his father in playing for local dances. In this program, I play music which comes from the tune books Hardy transcribed and collected. I read from his novels some short descriptions of tunes, sing songs relevant to Hardy and his work, and read The Convergence of the Twain, his great poem about the sinking of the Titanic. This program is particularly timely in April (National Poetry Month) and June (the month of Hardy’s birth).

Old-Time and Celtic Music
The lively songs and tunes in this program illustrate the relationship between traditional Irish and old-time North American music. Reels and polkas includeMiss MacLeod’s, Mason’s Apron, and John Ryan’s Polka. Slow tunes and waltzes include Star of the County Down and Down by the Sally Gardens. Familiar melodies such as Turkey in the Straw and Irish Washerwoman and old-time songs such as Red Rocking Chair, My Darling Nellie Gray, and Sail Away Ladies round out this highly entertaining performance.

Old-Time American Music
American roots music shines in this program of songs and tunes running the gamut from fast and lively, to slow and lovely, to haunting and plaintive. The familiar Turkey in the Straw and Arkansas Traveler or the not so familiar Grub Springs, Shove That Pig’sfoot a Little Farther into the Fire and John Brown’s Dream might have some in the audience on their feet and dancing. Songs such as Wagoner’s Lad, Coo Coo Bird, and Sow ‘Em on the Mountain capture the essence of old-time music. The beautiful sound and versatility of the dulcimer shine in this captivating performance.

Irish/St. Patrick’s Day Program
The tunes in this program of traditional Irish music range from beautiful slow airs to rousing reels and jigs, including some very recognizable melodies such asIrish Washerwoman and Danny Boy. Also included are rousing songs such asNo Irish Need Apply, Johnson’s Motor Car, Brennan on the Moor, and ballads such as The Shores of Amerikay, and Kilkelly, Ireland. This is not just for St. Patrick’s Day. Audiences love Irish music any time of the year!

Contact Phil to schedule a Library Program.