Singing and Storytelling Bio
Mary Alice’s and Peter’s life in Cambridge Massachusetts where they first met in 1975 was a microcosm of how their lives and careers would play out. They immersed themselves in the vibrant Cambridge folk music scene, going to contra dances and Sacred Harp sings, Irish tune sessions, group singing parties, and traditional music sessions. Long before they even thought about having or teaching children, Mary Alice and Peter were always drawn first to the children’s section of any book store they visited. They loved “roots” music, learning songs from the legendary African American singer Bessie Jones, from recordings of old traditional singers from the south, and from great revival singers, particularly the traditional English duo John Roberts and Tony Barrand and their guy quartet “Nowell Sing We Clear”. Mary Alice and Peter both loved old American hymns, singing many songs from their well-used “Heavenly Highway Hymns” and learned many more from Lucy Picco Simpson, a great traditional singer who gleaned gems from her collection of four hundred 19th and early 20thcentury hymnals. They attended Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Domestic Resurrection Circus and Pageant where they were struck, moved and changed by the down-to-earth rough-hewn storytelling style of Peter Schumann and his young adult puppeteers. They started attending the life-changing weeklong Country Dance & Song Society summer camps where a hundred and forty or so souls created an extraordinary singing and dancing community.
Although joining the Word of Mouth Chorus/Bread & Puppet Theater for two three-month tours gave the Amidons a taste of the touring life, they started simple when they moved to Brattleboro Vermont in 1978. They got married; Mary Alice got a job painting houses, Peter worked in a print shop. Eventually they drifted into becoming elementary school music teachers, where they got to share the rich repertoire of traditional songs, singing games and dances they’d been collecting, and they started a weekly community all-school sing.
In 1982 the Amidons made a home-made cassette tape for a friend of some of their favorite children’s songs, and their friend encouraged them to make a similar recording they could sell more widely. In 1984 the Amidons released a cassette audio tape album of children’s songs: “Things Are Going My Way”, the first of many albums recorded at Brattleboro’s Sound Design Studio.
Storytelling was always an important part of the Amidons’ music teaching. Peter and Mary Alice started attending storytelling conferences and festivals, and Peter took a three-week storytelling course with master storyteller Laura Simms. They practiced their storytelling with their own two boys Sam and Stefan.
By the 1990’s Mary Alice and Peter were performing elementary school assembly programs of singing and storytelling. They were both in demand as artists in residence, leading multi-day residencies of traditional dance, singing and storytelling with elementary school children in Vermont, New England and the Northeast; and they started their twenty-year career of leading duo workshops of dance, storytelling and singing across the United States with groups of twenty or fifty or a hundred elementary school music teachers.
The Amidons’ sons Sam and Stefan first performed with Peter and Mary Alice in 1988 at a teacher conference when the boys were seven and four respectively. More and more of the Amidons’ concerts included their boys, with the family often singing by ear in four-part harmony. In 1996, the boys (now 15 and 12) took a year off from school and the Amidon family quartet embarked on a seven-month tour of the United States, England and Ireland, performing concerts and leading contradances (Peter caller, Mary Alice piano, Sam fiddle, Stefan percussion).
After the tour Sam and Stefan turned their musical energy to their popular, cutting-edge contra dance band “Popcorn Behavior” with brilliant fifteen-year-old pianist Thomas Bartlett, and later, with their adult friend and colleague guitarist/mandolinist extraordinaire Keith Murphy. Mary Alice and Peter went back to their duo work of elementary school residencies, school assembly programs of stories and songs, and leading workshops with elementary school music teachers.
Sam and Stefan now have their own successful music careers with their wives, both extraordinary singers, Beth Orton and Zara Bode respectively. Almost every year they join Peter and Mary Alice in Brattleboro for an Amidon family concert (joined by Keith Murphy, Becky Tracy and Aidan Murphy) on New Year’s Eve.
Peter and Mary Alice have retired from elementary school residencies, school assembly programs and elementary school teacher workshops. They are still deeply involved in choral singing, arranging and publishing; singing and leading singing with their Guilford Community Church Choir and with their hospice singing group Hallowell. They enjoy singing and playing tunes with their friends, their sons and daughter-in-laws, and, now, their grandchildren.