About Us - A Brief History of The Itinerant Band

The Itinerant Band had its genesis in late summer of 1996 when they participated in a program entitled, "Colonial Weekends" on August 30, 31 and September 1, 1996 at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate.  Bob Clark was asked to provide some traditional music for the weekend at Mount Vernon and contacted some friends to help.  In this early configuration, the group consisted of Paul Brockman on fiddle, Bob Clark on hammered dulcimer, Susan Lawlor on flutes and whistles, and Marsha Wallace on guitar and mandolin.  They thought this would be a one-time event and did not even have a name for the group to put on the program.  Missy Groppel, Manager of Special Events at Mount Vernon at that time, referred to the band as "…a group of itinerant colonial musicians."  It was a wonderful weekend of music and history and the friends had no idea what that weekend would eventually become.

Bob was contacted the following year to gather the musicians and again participate in the Mount Vernon Crafts Fair.  The group expanded to include George Bame on guitar, Dave McNew on mountain dulcimer and bodhran, and Mary Normand on harp.  Once again, the no-name band was referred to as "itinerant musicians" in the program.  The group was routinely asked if they had a recording of their music, and, since there was no real band at that time, there was also no recording.  After a couple of years of being asked for a recording, the members decided to officially form a band and enter the studio.  Several names for the band were considered, but the one that kept popping up was "itinerant" because of the listing in the Mount Vernon programs.  The group was officially named The Itinerant Band and their first recording, "Jefferson and Liberty," a collection of 18th century material, came out in 2001.  The recording included fiddler Paul Brockman's original piece entitled, "Glen Affric," which sounded like it belonged with the 18th century music, the sign of a good original "traditional" tune.  Missy Groppel referred to the group as "my band" because she hired the musicians to play at Mount Vernon and she was directly responsible for the listing of "itinerant musicians" in the programs.  The members of the band agreed and were grateful to Missy for her role in their existence.

Encouraged by the success of their first recording, the band decided to return to the studio, releasing "The Road Out of Town" in 2003.  This was another collection of tunes and songs from the 18th century, and it, too, contained some original compositions by the band members.  Susan Lawlor composed "The Eighth of August," and Bob Clark wrote "McPherson's Farewell to Creag Dhubh" and "The Road Out of Town."  The second project met with similar success as the first.

The Itinerant Band branched out to include such things as playing at Fort Meigs near Perrysburg, Ohio; the 4th of July event at Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson's country retreat in Bedford, Virginia; First Night in Colonial Williamsburg; and playing weddings and other private functions.  In 2006 came the release of their third recording entitled, "Apples in Winter."  This project had a winter/twelfth night theme and feel, offering some selections easily recognizable as Christmas music ("I Saw Three Ships," "Gloucester Wassail," "Good King Wenceslas") as well as some lesser known traditional pieces ("Carol for the New Year," "Christmas Day Ida Mornin'," "Breakin' Up Christmas").  "Apples in Winter" was a turning point for the Itinerant Band.  The prior recordings had been done on tape and the latest project was all digital, which presented a new approach to the studio process.

In 2008, two of the original members, Dave McNew (mountain dulcimer and bodhran) and Mary Normand (harp) decided to leave the group, followed by George Bame (guitar) in early 2009.  This was a personal and professional loss for the remaining members, losing their friends and their respective musical talents simultaneously.  The friendships endure, but the absence of a certain instrument in a tune or a particular voice in a song will always be missed. 

The Itinerant Band restructured itself to compensate for those who left and also to welcome an addition to the group.  Rose Ann Arnaud, a cellist with over 30 years of playing experience in classical music settings, joined the band in autumn of 2009.  Whether providing bass notes softly in the background, adding a harmony part or playing the melody, the low range and soulful notes of the cello create a new feel to the music, as is evident in the band's fourth recording released in the summer of 2013 entitled, "Lynnhaven Bay."  Drawing on material from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the band also contributed three original compositions to the new album, one being the title track of "Lynnhaven Bay," composed by our fiddler, Paul Brockman.  Bob Clark wrote the other two original melodies, "Captain Nathaniel Colley" and "Jump the Broom."  The cello was an important instrument in 18th century music and the band continues to examine the possibilities of the addition of this new sound.

2014 brought another change when fiddler Paul Brockman left the group in June of that year.  He and his wife both retired from their real jobs, wrapped up some personal and family responsibilities, said goodbye to city life and moved to beautiful south central Virginia, closer to the mountains and the lifestyle they love.  All of Paul’s music friends were deeply sorry to see them leave, but very happy that they are where they have longed to be for many years.  Paul's absence presented the same problem faced several years ago - what to do when a personality, instrument and voice leaves the group.

The Itinerants searched for other musicians who displayed an appreciation of the history and a love of the music from the 18th century and were pleased to find a very talented player. Elisa Dickon is a degreed music major with decades of experience playing the harp for a variety of orchestras around the country.  She recently retired as the principal harpist for the Virginia Symphony and is enjoying the transition into traditional music and the opportunity to wear 18th century clothing. 

The Itinerant Band is fortunate and honored to provide music to Mount Vernon at several events throughout the year.  The Crafts Fair became the Colonial Faire with dozens of artists coming from all over the country for an opportunity to be associated with Mount Vernon, and the band has always felt privileged to be included in such company.  Over the years, the band's participation at Mount Vernon has expanded to the Fall Harvest Weekend in October, the Candlelight Tours in November and December, and the Sunset Celebration on Memorial Day weekend which is now the Summer Escape weekend in mid-June, as well as special events such as corporate dinners and private functions at Mount Vernon.  Their recordings can be found at Colonial Williamsburg; Independence Hall in Philadelphia; Monticello, Jefferson's home in Charlottesville, Virginia; Poplar Forest, Jefferson's retreat in Bedford, Virginia; and, of course, George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate, where it all started.  From their modest beginnings as a last minute pickup band of friends who gathered for a weekend at Mount Vernon to over a dozen years of association with some of the top historical sites in the country, the Itinerant Band continues to explore the history and music of the 18th century.

Bob Clark
May 28, 2015

 

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