So a musician walks into the Clara Barton Missing Soldier Museum and says . . . “What a great performance space!” If Miss Barton’s ghost was there, I bet she was surprised, but eventually, I am pretty sure she was pleased.
Clara Barton is famous for several things, including founding the Red Cross. She was at the battlefield with her wagons full of supplies to help out the beleaguered Union Medical Department during the Battle of Antietam, and she opened her tiny apartment to the public as the “Missing Soldiers Office” near the end of the war to help identify missing loved ones for distraught families. The Missing Soldiers Office http://www.civilwarmed.org/clara-barton-museum/about-clara-bartons-missing-soldiers-office/ has been found in Washington, D. C., and is open to the public on Saturdays from 1:00 to 5:00 PM.
According to musician Jonny Grave, he was in the MSO one Saturday and immediately connected with the space as a performance space, not just a museum. He eagerly contacted museum director David Price, and probably gave him the sell job of the century. It worked! Price is farsighted enough to see that the whole point of a museum is that people go there, and even if this sounded a little far-fetched, it just might draw folks who would otherwise have passed this space by.
Grave got the go-ahead, and then recruited friends from the D. C. music scene for a project celebrating not only Miss Barton, but the music of her time as well. Once a person has heard “old timey music,” played without amplification, it is hard to forget it. I always think of the Joni Mitchell song with the refrain, “Playin’ real good for free,” whenever I go to something Civil War-ish and hear banjos, fiddles, spoons, etc. It is honest, and it is American. I love it, and apparently so does Jonny Grave.
Grave asked the final grouping to do two things: research and choose a song of the period that they liked and could bring to the group, and write an original song inspired by what they discovered. “We want to show how the memory of these songs and all the songs of that era survive. It’s like a game of telephone. It changes from generation to generation with every person that plays it.”
After some serious decision making, the final songs were selected and the group got together at the Missing Soldier’s Office for a long night of recording in the office itself. By the time the sun rose, the band was just finishing “Battle Cry of Freedom.” Did they have a winner? YES! The group has promised that there will not only be other performances in the Missing Soldier’s Office, but they want to extend their work to other spaces around the D. C. area.
The final musical lineup includes Greg Adams, Manny Arciniega, Anders Fahey, Brian Farrow, Marty Frye, Jonny Grave, Jonathan Een Newton, Laura Schwartz, Kate Saylor, and Margaret Wasaff. The project was financed by a Kickstarter campaign, which helped the musicians recoup their own donations and funded enough extra to print CDs and make music videos.
Interested?? I hope so. They have a Facebook page where they announce their performances https://www.facebook.com/clarabartonsessions?_rdr. The Museum of Civil War Medicine http://www.civilwarmed.org/the-clara-barton-sessions/ has information as well, including a date for those of you who live in the D. C. area. On September 11 and 20 Jonny Graves will present the Release Concert for The Clara Barton Sessions at the Missing Soldiers Office. http://www.clarabartonsessions.com
“This is not a reenactment or a period piece, but rather a demonstration of the living tradition of music that transcends through time, as authentic now as it was 150 years ago.” . . . Jonny Grave.
 Tori Kerr. dcist Arts & Entertainment. “Clara Barton Sessions: How A Group of Musicians Found The Past Isn’t Just History.” April 17, 2015. http://dcist.com/2015/04/clara_barton_sessions.php