Folk singer blends history with music for junior high students

Post date: May 16, 2017 5:22:42 PM

Did you ever wonder how the song Yankee Doodle Dandy originated or what the inspiration was for Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land? Folk singer Adam Miller of Oregon could provide an answer and tell you much more about traditional American folk music, all while playing and singing.

Miller, a fine autoharp player and interpreter of American folk songs and folktales says that he has performed for about 1.5 million students in the past 25 years. On May 11th he brought his show to two groups of students at Wells Junior High School. He played two hours of traditional folk songs, some of which were written before or around the time that America became a nation. Playing acoustic guitar or autoharp, Miller sang often pausing while strumming to explain the origins of the various songs that he was performing.

Miller pointed out that folk songs go back hundreds of years, well before recorded music was invented in the early 20th century. Folk songs were often parodies of other songs and evolved lyrically into many variations of the original.

"Adam Miller is a more than an entertainer. He is a history teacher when he performs,” commented social studies teacher Bonnie Dill who arranged for Miller’s morning concerts at WJHS. “He tells stories that bring meaning to the songs and kids learn while they enjoy and sing along. Truth be told, the teachers and other adults in the room acquired some new information too.”

Adam Miller’s appearance was sponsored by the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) at WJHS and took place in the school’s library located on the third floor. “He piqued student interest through his vivid storytelling techniques which has already resulted in student interest in the library around researching the topics and people he presented,” commented School Librarian Lynn Mercier about Miller's two shows, one geared for sixth graders and the other tailored for fifth grade.

Teacher Dill added, “He adeptly wove the topics into a medley of songs that touched upon the learning of our students. This sparked so much interest because the kids had background knowledge to bring to the experience.”

One of the songs that students and staff sang along with was This Land is Your Land, the ever popular classic written by Woody Guthrie in 1940. According to Miller, Guthrie’s song was an answer to Irving Berlin’s super patriotic God Bless America. Guthrie felt his song added to Berlin’s vision of America by speaking to an America still struggling to emerge from the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

Folksinger Adam Miller performing for students at WJHS on May 11th