All interviews were taped and documented.  They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library.  The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.

NARRATOR: Robbie Wedeen
INTERVIEWER: Ann McGrath
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    January 9, 1985
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (11/1985)

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(I) Just to finish up on Timothy, did he join any school activities in the high school or any after school activities like the recreation program or anything like that?

(N) Well an organization that I found particularly helpful to Tim and that is he became involved in the eighth and ninth grades I think when he was at Benjamin Franklin Junior High School was the Magnet School and Magnet School, as you undoubtedly know, was a program of after school activities where Tim got particularly involved with learning how to use a computer and in Dungeons and Dragons and it was a very good opportunity for him because it helped him to first of all become familiar with the high school that he was going to go to so that I think the high school felt like a comfortable place when he actually got there and secondly, it, the activities were arranged around interests rather than chronological age or development and therefore I think that freed a lot of the children to make friends with older children, with younger children, according to their interests rather than according to their strict age. For my son who is an only child, that was a good experience I think and I think the Magnet School was extremely helpful to him in helping him to explore the world a little bit and to grow up. Tim also participated in high school when the Playcrafters was working on stage crews but I think that his social life was more involved with individuals and less in outside school activities and though he seemed to enjoy the high school, he did not participate in a great number of activities. He particularly enjoyed a creative writing course that he took in his senior year.

(I) Do you remember his teacher?

(N) Mr. Sosland I believe and I think he enjoyed his Senior Service Project which in his case was to work in the Fire Department but I think that too is a good

(I) What is the senior project exactly?

(N) In (END OF TAPE 1 - SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2) 

(I) Just to go back, what we were talking about, what is a senior project?

(N) Senior Service is a program open to eligible seniors in the last six weeks or so of the spring term of their senior year where they are encouraged to work in the community as my son did in the Fire Department, in the library, in the schools assisting teachers, in the elementary schools and junior high schools. I think that also some seniors devised their own research projects which they perhaps did at Fairleigh Dickinson or other institutions in the area.

(I) What is the eligibility?

(N) The idea I think is to do something of service to the community.

(I) And what is the eligibility part of it?

(N) Well I am not positive. We could get my son as a consultant. But I imagine that at some certain academic level and attendance and so forth probably are the requirements. In other words, the student had to be a student in good standing I think before

(I) What did he do in the Fire Department?

(N) I think he generally did clerical work and assisted with things of that sort. I think that they cannot go out on fire engines or go out to fire calls because of obvious safety reasons but I think he felt that he was doing useful work and he enjoyed it and he enjoyed participating in I think an exciting and necessary institution in the community.

(I) All right. Let's get back to you. I'd like to ask you what made you become interested in Operation Community Talent. How did you get involved in it?

(N) Well I am not sure that I remember how I became involved in it. Again, I think Teaneck is an unusual community and that where there have been perceived lax, that there usually seems to be a citizen or group of citizens or organizations that says at some point, hey, we could use a Parents Center to help parents with toddlers. We could use an organization that welcomes new residents. We, at one point I believe the problem was that funding was cut back in Teaneck, as in the other communities, for programs in music and art and other areas for financial reasons. I am not positive of that information but in any event, Operation Community Talent which was what those initials stand for was formed to call upon the services of citizens of the community who had particular skills and interests in a variety of areas to come in and share their interests in whatever way was relevant to whatever age group existed within the school system. And I don't really remember how I met Judy Dissler who was then running Operation Community Talent but at any, in any event, she invited me to sing songs for some classes in schools which I was happy to do. I think I had mentioned that I started out by writing and learning how to play the guitar and performing my own songs but at the same time, I was renewing an interest in folk music and becoming active in that and adding a large number of songs to my repertoire and I really enjoyed going into the classes and singing with the kids and they were generally delightfully responsive.

(I) What kind of a program would you do?

(N) The program would vary totally depending on the age group and upon what the individual teacher might request. For example, if a class was doing a particular unit on transportation or on the sea, studying sailing ships or something, I might do a program of sea shanties. If they were studying the settling of the west, it might be western songs. More generally, in the younger grades, it would simply be a combination of participatory songs where the kids join in on the chorus, where we bring in instruments, rhythm instruments that they could play along in the band which I still do and which they still do.

(I) Is OCT still thriving?

(N) I believe that it is. I have not really just from being busy and sort of getting involved in other things, I haven't actually done it for a year or so but I believe that it is still (inaudible) but there are people who come in and talk about snakes and science projects and all kinds of activities and things. But I also often, sometimes I would come in and do improvisations with a class where we would write, kids would write songs. We would make up our own songs. I think I, this was really like having the fun of teaching without any of the hardships that teachers experience so it really was delightful. I enjoyed it a great deal.

(I) And you had a lot of material.

(N) And I was impressed generally again with, again with I think the sense of concern the teachers have and that learning was taking place and that the kids were involved.

(I) Would you go in during the school day?

(N) I would go in during the school day or after school depending on the program the way I still do with senior citizens programs. During that period, I guess I was, I had a sort of like a grant well actually maybe that is how I started because I was participating in a National Endowment of the Humanities Grant to bring traditional folk music to schools in the metropolitan area actually so I would do that also and I don't know if Judy Dissler had heard about that or as to why I got started with it in Teaneck.

(I) So you were performing what, in Manhattan?

(N) In New York. 

(I) At public schools?

(N) Yes, right.

(I) Same type of program?

(N) In Head Start programs. Same type of flexible programs in which I would also include songs from all different backgrounds and songs with different languages some of which we'd share and teach to the kids so I enjoyed it. I still do it when I can.

(I) Would you ever sing your original songs to school children?

(N) I seldom did. Not out of any real particular conviction except maybe a kind of natural shyness. To some degree certainly in that kind of situation, the children are more captive audience than many so there is a kind of natural shyness.

(I) Where do you perform your own songs? The songs that you write. Do you have an opportunity to perform them?

(N) But also I am just going to finish up, but many of the songs were dealt with personal feelings and concerns not that I would want to keep them from children but that in a sense I didn't feel they were as lively or as appropriate or whatever for that for the younger age levels. In the high schools, for example, and in junior highs, I did go in and would sing some of mine but usually that would be then in conjunction with a creative writing class encouraging kids to delve into their own feelings and to write their own songs. Because I have a conviction that everyone can write his or her own song.

(I) Have you ever performed professionally? 

(N) Have I ever? Yes. That's what I do.

(I) Well I mean, you know, I mean like in a regular night club situation or in a professional paying job where you would be a performer per se?

(N) Yes, that is what I do. I sing in coffee houses and in, at colleges and universities and folk festivals and I am a folk singer. I mean I am a singer/song writer.

(I) So you are hired by people to come in and sing for them? 

(N) Yes, I like to be.

(I) I am getting away from the OCT which I know is all volunteer work and getting into your professional work.

(N) Yes, that is true.

(I) Where have you sung in New York? What is your favorite place?

(N) Perhaps if I seemed amazed that you asked me this question and I look at you and say well, that's what I do, but it is also true that I think Pete Seeger once said that folk singers perform wherever there are folk and in doing so, you tend to forget sometimes, you don't make the distinction between professional and

(I) Well, I'd like to make the distinction here. Where is your favorite place to perform in the city?

(N) That's hard to say. One concert that I enjoyed very much partly because it was such a beautiful place to perform was St. Peter's Church at the Citycorp Building in Manhattan on Lexington and 54th which is a very modern church with a chapel designed by Leav Nevelson (?) and a pastor who has very close ties especially with the jazz community, Rev. Gensling, Pastor Gensel.

(I) What denomination is that church?

(N) That is a Lutheran Church but its programs I think especially its music programs are sort of interdenominational I would say. But that was just a very beautiful place that had a very special spirit, feeling that we all experienced when we were performing there. However, that is by no means a typical night club or

(I) Or even a folk music place. 

(N) Or folk music place.

(I) What is your favorite spot then for folk music?

(N) That's difficult. I just completed a concert at the Speak Easy in New York which is in the village. I can't say that as a performer, I have a particular favorite spot. I am happy at almost any of the ones that I do. I can certainly think of individual concerts and places that have been memorable to me for a variety of reasons. Usually just being some particular good feeling in terms of the audience and performing and sometimes it is in terms of working out a program that combines a my music and traditional music and performers in an interesting kind of way so I've done some Baroch folk concerts and a concert last year for example at the Englewood Library which was in conjunction with a whole series on Shakespeare that combined renaissance and folk music and my original music.

(I) Do you always perform some of your own songs?

(N) Yes, usually yes. With the exception perhaps if I do a program in an elementary school.

(I) I am talking about your professional

(N) Oh, professionally? Yes, professionally I always do perform a mixture of my own and traditional music usually and sometimes some contemporary songs.

(I) When you write your own songs, do you have any major themes that appeal to you? Have you ever been, what are you influenced by in your own songs?

(N) For the most part, I never know what I am going to write until it emerges which is certainly one reason writing is exciting for me because I never know what it is going to be.

(I) Do you see any patterns though?

(N) Well I think that to some degree my songs do reflect women's concerns by virtue of the fact that I happen to be a woman.

(I) When you moved here, the feminist movement began and I wondered if you were influenced by the feminist movement?

(N) I think that we have all been influenced by the feminist movement and I can't think of anyone in our society today who hasn't been influenced. I was influenced certainly by virtue of my situation and being perhaps one of those people they say was a transitional person, still in transit I think

(I) But you were moving into a profession which was unique.

(N) I was developing a profession and that was unique. In other words, I did have a career as a teacher. I became a mother.

(I) Which was a typical female career.

(N) Yes, it certainly was.

(I) And a folk singer is a little different.

(N) Well it is a little different. I think it also is related to my interest in writing so it is always hard to distinguish one's personal interests from a mass movement you know in society. But I think there is no question that the women's movement gave my effort a great deal of support. It enabled me to go out and to be in night clubs at night in a context where in more traditional or in earlier times I certainly, my husband would not have been too thrilled about that. He's not always thrilled about it now. There are conflicts. I mean if I work at something which takes place on a weekend and on evenings, when most people are relaxing with their families and it is leisure time for a husband who has a busy work schedule, you know, well then there is a conflict I think certainly the women's movement has helped everybody say well, there are certain adjustments people have to make to one another in order to have each partner in a relationship develop fully.

Also I think being a song writer, writing about matters that concerned me and my own personal experience, that I think that there were people an audience ready to hear about that kind of music and that kind of interest and because they were experiencing it themselves so that it touched upon issues that were relevant to what other people were facing which I guess any writer, you hope, you are going to do. That you go from the individual to some kind of universality of experience so that what you do affects other people. Even though I have never written from what shall I say, for me generally for example, the music comes first and the words emerge if I am lucky a little bit after or to some degree, a good deal after, so I tend not to write from an idea. You get plenty of people, song writers, who write from an idea. It is just my method. It is not primarily ideological, it is more I suppose emotional or more base coming from the music or a feeling rather than from a preconception.

I'd say with the exception of maybe two songs which I did write because I felt a lack again, here is that question of people doing things because they feel something missing, but I had been asked to do a program for young girls and as I sought for lively songs about women, there weren't any or there were very few. I mean you could find Casey Jones, these were I think ten or twelve year olds or something, they had plenty of sea chantries or songs, men, relatively few about women. And I wound up writing a song called WOMAN which is a celebration of women's contribution in this country especially to the history and development of this country from as the immigrant women came here with babies in their arms for their families to the people who worked in the anti-slavery movement and in the labor movement and in the social work movement and in the peace movement and I found, for example there is a line in the song, women strike for peace, which was the name of an organization, important anti war, anti Vietnam War organization which most people don't recognize as the name anymore. I mean it works in the song as a line but it is interesting that people's memories are short. But that song does celebrate women. And incidentally I have sung it in elementary schools, you know, sixth graders and up, and I have found that the kids generally love it and they are very responsive to it. And the only other song really that I've written from that kind of idea was a song called THE SOCIAL SECURITY RAG which is a, combines the issues of social security with nuclear disarmament and that too, that was written after I was invited to sing for the Gray Panthers in New York and those were going to be the topics of discussion and it is a funny song but it

(I) You wrote it for them in other words?

(N) I wrote it for them. And then I had the pleasure of being invited to their tenth anniversary held at City University and they asked me to sing that song especially so that was fun.

(I) Well you've done a lot of singing for Teaneck so let's get back to Teaneck and get into the bicentannia1. What made you interested in doing something for the bicentennial?

(N) I had read about the bicentennial in the Teaneck News which is our local newspaper and it shows the importance of a local newspaper. It sounded like a wonderful coming together of the community. I think that all along, now we are talking 1976 and I moved here in 1969, that generally speaking I had felt a lack of community organizations or occasions. I think that I had expressed earlier the kind of loneliness in the neighborhood. I did not feel particularly tied to this town in any way. I would say that Judy Dissler, the head of OCT, was the first person in a sense that I felt kind of a community spirit from. Now again, part of this is my own perhaps shyness and just lack of know-how about how to get started and also that I was developing a career and learning and in that stage of my own development but I simply went, I think there was a number for information on the bicentennial, and I called up and I said, it seems to me that a bicentennial celebration would be a wonderful place to have a concert concerning the folk traditions of the music and heritage of the country because there is a lot of very fine music and the two women who were running the program, I think Isaac McNatt and Paulette Zisk were sort of organizing the whole program, I regret to say and if I find their names at this point, there were two women who were running this aspect of it. They were as welcoming and as interested as they could be. And they loved the idea. And I guess because of my associations with the folk music community by this point, I had very specific ideas about who we might ask to come and sing. I think we established immediately that the township had monies available for this celebration so that I was able to invite people on a professional basis. Which I have to say has been an important theme for me as one who had produced activities within the township. I feel it is important that artists be engaged on a professional basis. Now, as you can see, I have done my fair share of volunteering and I think there is a place for volunteering but I feel personally that far too often, artists particularly performing artists, are expected to volunteer and that every township and every community ought to set aside a certain percentage of funds to involve people on a professional basis.

(I) Now your idea of a folk festival, did you receive monies, enough monies to spend on that, allocated to you?

(N) Yes, I guess I did. I don't even remember, I think perhaps this just came, I mean in this sense I was doing it on a volunteer basis.

(I) Who worked with you on this particular music part of the bicentennial?

(N) Well the two women who were running this program provided all the support in terms of publicity and funding. I will find for you their names.

(I) But you actually, you were it. 

(N) Yes.

(I) That was a huge undertaking.

(N) Well it didn't seem to be. It really worked out very well and we had Lyn and Jay Unger who were very fine performers and the New Pine Hill Ramblers who I still remember.

(I) I was going to ask you what kind of program you put on. Do you remember what time it was and where it was.

(N) It was at three o'clock in the afternoon. It was outdoors in Votee Park.

(I) It turned out to be a good day too, I think.

(N) No, it turned out to be a very overcast day that had drizzle in the morning and the committee that decided whether it was a go or a no-go I felt was very courageous, especially based on my later experience as being

(I) Were you just out in the open?

(N) There was a portable stage because other events were also I think the Tripsacorians from the high school performed or a modern dance group. There were other groups performing on the stage. So it was a portable stage. Unfortunately, there was also a brass band in revolutionary costume playing at the same time somewhere else on the field. So from that point of view, and there was a little drizzle. Debbie McClatchey was one of the other performers, I performed. We had also scheduled, and this is a nice story, we had scheduled a square dance for the evening and the square dance was held on Palisade Avenue which was closed off to traffic all the way to the other side of Votee Park. And by the end of the concert, which was about six o'clock I guess, and really the drizzle became a fairly heavy drizzle and we all returned to our various homes for dinner and reminding everybody that there was a square dance to take place at 7:30 at Palisade Avenue and at 7:30, we arrived and it was a light drizzle and everybody was dancing and having a wonderful time. There must have been 500 people I think dancing in the streets. With the musicians huddled over playing and trying to protect them from the heavy dew, the evening dew. And the scene that I remember personally as being particularly amusing is that my husband came down a little later, after we had started the square dance, with an umbrella and he held this umbrella over his head and he looked around and nobody else had an umbrella and he said, don't they know it is raining? And nobody knew, nobody wanted to know, that it was raining and in fact, ultimately, we did have to call the dance because the musicians could no longer continue but it was a wonderful, that memory of people dancing and not knowing that it was raining is one that I will treasure. It was my first such event that I participated in here in town and I think it confirmed that sense o£ the need for public activities in which people can join and that was a lovely scene.

 

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