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Obit: Helen Schneyer, (1921-2005)

Related threads:
Seek recording: H. Schneyer-Somber,Sacred,& Silly (9)
Where can I hear Helen Schneyer? (19)
Happy! – Jan 10 (Lovelace / Schneyer) (4)
Help: Helen Schneyer!..Tell me about her (58)


Alan Oakes 05 Sep 05 - 07:54 PM
bbc 08 Aug 05 - 07:39 AM
michaelbix 07 Aug 05 - 10:22 PM
jule 07 Aug 05 - 12:11 PM
GUEST,Julie Ball 07 Aug 05 - 11:55 AM
musicalmary 03 Aug 05 - 12:06 PM
GUEST,june&bob silverman 01 Aug 05 - 11:15 PM
Fortunato 01 Aug 05 - 08:51 PM
GUEST,John Whitlock 01 Aug 05 - 06:58 PM
KathWestra 01 Aug 05 - 06:52 PM
GUEST,ruff 01 Aug 05 - 05:18 PM
GUEST,Ruff 01 Aug 05 - 05:15 PM
R.D. 31 Jul 05 - 03:54 PM
michaelbix 31 Jul 05 - 05:31 AM
Fortunato 30 Jul 05 - 09:47 PM
Fortunato 30 Jul 05 - 09:27 PM
GUEST,Roz Fischer 30 Jul 05 - 09:06 PM
KathWestra 28 Jul 05 - 11:33 PM
bbc 28 Jul 05 - 11:17 PM
musicalmary 28 Jul 05 - 08:52 PM
GUEST,musicalmary 28 Jul 05 - 08:45 PM
GUEST,Muff Worden 28 Jul 05 - 05:17 PM
bbc 28 Jul 05 - 04:17 PM
KathWestra 28 Jul 05 - 12:40 PM
Bill D 28 Jul 05 - 09:52 AM
KathWestra 27 Jul 05 - 09:04 PM
KathWestra 26 Jul 05 - 07:56 AM
Charlie Baum 25 Jul 05 - 11:38 PM
GUEST,Linda Goodman at work 25 Jul 05 - 05:24 PM
GUEST,Cora-Dot 25 Jul 05 - 02:19 PM
GUEST,Dr Price 24 Jul 05 - 07:38 PM
GUEST,winterbright 24 Jul 05 - 05:22 PM
Sandy Paton 24 Jul 05 - 12:00 AM
GUEST 23 Jul 05 - 11:27 AM
Bat Goddess 23 Jul 05 - 08:59 AM
KathWestra 22 Jul 05 - 11:41 PM
Ferrara 22 Jul 05 - 12:09 AM
Susan A-R 21 Jul 05 - 11:05 PM
Bill D 21 Jul 05 - 10:51 AM
Alan Oakes 21 Jul 05 - 01:31 AM
GUEST,Jennifer Woods , DC 21 Jul 05 - 01:18 AM
Dani 20 Jul 05 - 10:40 PM
Alan Oakes 20 Jul 05 - 10:14 PM
KathWestra 20 Jul 05 - 09:11 PM
kendall 20 Jul 05 - 09:08 AM
GUEST,Joan 19 Jul 05 - 09:49 AM
kytrad (Jean Ritchie) 18 Jul 05 - 07:19 PM
Fortunato 18 Jul 05 - 04:06 PM
Barbara 18 Jul 05 - 03:12 PM
Charlie Baum 18 Jul 05 - 01:57 PM
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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Alan Oakes
Date: 05 Sep 05 - 07:54 PM

Suzy and Nigel – Another Story of Helen's Pets


Back in the mid 70s Helen acquired yet another new animal – a young female cat. She probably would have been a teenager had she been human. I'm not certain that I remember her name correctly but it may have been Suzy.

I remember Helen telling me about Suzy back then. "Suzy keeps us all young," she said. Suzy had only one ambition in life and that was to be chased around the house by each of Helen's other animals. Suzy's usual approach towards satisfying this urge was to lurk patiently for hours on the tops of cabinets or tables waiting for another animal to walk by underneath. Then Suzy would leap down on the poor victim's back scaring the daylights out of him or her. When the poor animal had recovered its composure, he or she would growl (if a dog) or "phisssst" (if a cat) and lunge at Suzy. But Suzy could run faster than anybody. She would get a big grin on her face and take off -- always remaining just a little out of reach. Suzy could also take corners faster than anybody so the victim could usually be lured into smashing into walls or furniture or people's legs while in pursuit. Suzy would happily wait until the victim got back to his or her feet and then take off again.

A visit to Helen's house during those days was often punctuated by the sounds of pursuit – high speed paws and claws running across the floor, collisions between bodies and walls, the sliding of furniture and, occasionally, human screams.

There was one animal, however, that did not respond to Suzy's antics – that was Nigel, the old, aristocratic, long-eared dog. His dignity was too immense – much too immense – to bother with silly young female nonsense. When Suzy jumped on his back, Nigel would simply look at her with contempt and with a dog-like harrumph, walk away. Suzy would try poking at Nigel while he was lying down or would create a ruckus nearby while he was sleeping. But nothing worked – that is, until, one day, she discovered a technique that never failed. I don't know why she didn't use it more often, perhaps she was somewhat embarrassed to employ it or maybe she just wanted the greater challenge of attempting less-certain techniques. In any case, as a last resort, she would wait until Nigel was asleep, walk over to him, lift up one hind leg and sit down with her crotch right on poor Nigel's nose. That was too much! That wasn't cricket! Nigel – enormously offended – would leap up from the floor and chase Suzy around the house until he was exhausted. Of course he never caught her.

Did Helen's pets acquire personality traits from her? What about Nigel's aristocratic dignity? We all remember that Helen had an incredible aura of dignity and substance that made a powerful impression on the people she met and on her audiences. That quality of hers reminds me of the similar quality one can see in the faces in Curtis photographs of elderly American Indians and in the faces of some wonderful old blues singers. Incidentally, Helen met remarkable individuals from both groups in her travels. From the respect they gave her and from the comments they made to Helen's friends afterwards it was obvious that they regarded her as a very special woman and a very special soul.

What about Suzy's lack of dignity and her hi-jinks? Examples of Helen's lack of dignity and her frequent nonsense come easily (very easily) to mind. Here are just three examples: Helen owned a book on bird poop (with photographs, for crying out loud!) and she often set a tone at get-togethers that promoted completely losing it and she was almost always stirring things up to create a ruckus. How could one not love her?

Yes, pets become like their masters – and Helen kept us all young.


-Alan Oakes


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: bbc
Date: 08 Aug 05 - 07:39 AM

Camsco has been run for some time by our own dick greenhaus. There is a link for ordering music from them if you click on the mudcat at the top of the forum page.

best,

bbc


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: michaelbix
Date: 07 Aug 05 - 10:22 PM

SACRED, SOMBER AND SILLY - Helen's 1990 CD and cassette featuring "Lonesome Robin," "Mary of the Wild Moor," "Don't Marry a Man If He Drinks," "Heaven Will Protect The Working Girl," "The Cruel Mother," "Are All Your Matches Sold Yet Tom," "He Turned the Water Into Wine" and (my favorite) "Queen Jane" among others, has been located, I think.   Helen owned the pressing run. She asked Wally MacNeer (McNear?) of Camsco Music to take over distribution of SS&S (SAR 9014) in 1994 or thereabouts.

Camsco has relocated to Greenwich, CN and their website says the CD can still be purchased. See Camsco Music - Helen Schneyer

Good luck

Michael Billingsley
Straight Arrow Recordings
440 Canal Street
Brattleboro, VT 05301 802-254-3975
michaelb@sover.net


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: jule
Date: 07 Aug 05 - 12:11 PM

My heart is filled with love and sadness for the loss of this very special person who made the world a better place. She filled me with song and helped me grieve and laugh as never before.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: GUEST,Julie Ball
Date: 07 Aug 05 - 11:55 AM

My heart is filled and overflowing with love and saddness for the loss of this very special person who made the world a better place. I hope I'll see her when I get home.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: musicalmary
Date: 03 Aug 05 - 12:06 PM

Fox Hollow Memory - -

My mother had passed away earlier that year. We were planning for a visit during my upcoming school break, but she died three weeks before my planned arrival.

By the time Fox Hollow came around, I had learned Lonesome Robin, and ". . . wonderin' what Marian's found to do that's better than comin' to see you one, last time" had a real resonance for me.

I recall a beautiful, sunny day, and an a capella workshop. Not knowing who Helen was, or that her interpretation of Lonesome Robin was becoming well-known, if not definitive, I did the song. It was no surprise to me that several of those present, including Helen, were openly weeping at the song's end. Such was the power of the song, and Helen's sensitivity, even to a newcomer. MB


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: GUEST,june&bob silverman
Date: 01 Aug 05 - 11:15 PM

Helen was wonderful and unique. Sad that she's gone.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Fortunato
Date: 01 Aug 05 - 08:51 PM

John, you old reprobate. Good to know you're alive. The damn cat looked siamese to me six months dead. Didn't even hardly stink any more. Sure was a surprise when we tipped the dryer up to take it up the stairs though. I damned near fouled my britches.

How the hell are you?


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: GUEST,John Whitlock
Date: 01 Aug 05 - 06:58 PM

Hi all
1. Chance - the cat wasn't Siamese, it was black and white!
2. How are you all. I miss Bette (2 years dead tomorrow), I haven't had a chance to miss Helen yet - but I know I shall!


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: KathWestra
Date: 01 Aug 05 - 06:52 PM

1.
"Ballads, Broadsides and Hymns": Folk-Legacy Records originally published as an LP, still available as a custom CD from F-L
2.
"On the Hallelujah Line": Folk-Legacy Records originally published as an LP and still available as a custom CD from F-L
3.
"Somber, Sacred & Silly": Straight Arrow Records originally published as a CD and as a cassette. Currently unavailable but limited number of copies may again be available this fall. Watch this space for info.
4.
"What a Singing There Will Be" : self-published, to be released as a CD at the end of August. Availability and ordering information to be posted on the Mudcat as soon as it is known.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: GUEST,ruff
Date: 01 Aug 05 - 05:18 PM

Sorry for the typo. CD's I meant to say.

Cheers       the Ruff


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: GUEST,Ruff
Date: 01 Aug 05 - 05:15 PM

Another friend from the days in Kensington, with Helen and Bette living door to door, and the boat in between

Sad news. Would anyone of you knowledgeable people out there care to put together a list of the available recordings, DC's and such, with their sources

Thanks


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: R.D.
Date: 31 Jul 05 - 03:54 PM

For nearly thirty years I'd been running into Helen Schneyer, hosting a few stages she appeared on, chatting with her a little cautiously, because you always wanted to be at your best for her. For me, she wasn't just a singer, she was an occasion. I can count myself an acquaintance, not really a friend, but also a full-bore admirer. My condolences to those who never had a chance to see her perform. She was as gorgeous in her person as in her voice, like the flag of the country you always dreamed this one might become someday. My heart's at half-staff, but I don't think she'd want it to remain there long. Her memory is a blessing to us all.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: michaelbix
Date: 31 Jul 05 - 05:31 AM

Hi Kathy and all...
    I got my first whiff that things had shifted when a flood of emails started coming in asking for copies of Sacred, Somber and Silly.   Seems that folks had heard Garrison's show and were knocked over (as I've always been) by "Lonesome Robin"... they'd looked up the album and found my email.   Embarrassed to say I've had none to sell.   Most of the limited supply Helen had left with me went to Silo and when they went belly-up it was hard to tell what had been sold and what had not.   I was sorting out some nasty post-divorce craziness at the time and since Helen owned the pressing, I think she passed the rest of her supply of CD's on to someone else.
    If anyone knows where the remaining Sacred, Somber and Silly CD's and cassettes are for sale, I'd love to pass that info on to the many people who have been writing me.
    Having lost a girlfriend obstensibly over making an unchaperoned jaunt to Maine with Helen (being another "fiancee" greatly impressed by her magnificance) I was always prepared to accompany her on a road trip.   I recall driving her down to a great Revels in D.C. in which both Ricki and Norman performed. Helen and I had to take off early so I could make some appointment back in Vermont at the studio... but we played it that we were "slipping out for some hanky-panky" as I was fine with appearing as Helen's much "younger man" for the occasion.   Ricki helped out by hollaring out "don't forget your rubbers" as we neared the crowded post-concert lobby doors.
    I heed her advice still... she was never as fond as my original compositions as my renditions of traditional songs... and bless her for nonetheless insisting that I create a version of Chief Joseph's surrender speech as a song for her (which she ultimately could not perform because she broke into tears before she could finish).
    She's got even less holding her back now so I imagine the dams bursting in all those songs she could barely get through, saturating some celestial realm with the tears of her beautifully overwhelmed heart.    Hell of a woman.
    Michael B.
    Brattleboro


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Fortunato
Date: 30 Jul 05 - 09:47 PM

Related from another thread, I had followed Helen and Reed Martin and Riki up to Fox Hollow. and so...

"Hey, old Kendall, my friend, I'm sorry we can't be with you to view the mighty Bruce Phillips. Susette and I wll be at Galax. Well you know we play that old time country stuff.

All the best to you and Mr. Utah. Ask him if he remembers he and I oogling Riki Schneyer in her bikini standing in the toilet line at Foxhollow. He won't remember Chance, but I bet he remebers Riki. The only alabaster white jewish girl in a bikini who had not shaved her legs.

all the best mr. kendall"

chance


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Fortunato
Date: 30 Jul 05 - 09:27 PM

Hey Roz. Chance here. Nice to know you're out there. Yes, I thought about mentioning Bette here, but I didn't. I guess I spent as much time with Bette and her cats as I did at Helen's. Remember when I almost bought Bette's washer and dryer when she and John were moving, and I found one of her siamese cats 6 months dead and mumified in the bottom of her dryer? egad.

email me sometime at chance@theshivershow.com

Helen and Bette were a vaudeville act, no rehearsal needed.

cheers, chance


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: GUEST,Roz Fischer
Date: 30 Jul 05 - 09:06 PM

Ron Davis - as you suspected, you are not alone--the foremost image I carry of Helen is that of grande dame of the folklore society.

I met Helen in 1966 or '67 through another totally amazing woman, Bette Hamman, the 'crazy' chemist next door (in Kensington, MD). For many, many years, those two houses were the best places to be for some of the most fun I've ever had. Those two women were the greatest of friends and being around them was always a panic. We lost Bette two summers ago and now Helen. I'm taking a little consolation in believing that they are having a fabulous reunion. Bette used to build Celtic harps, which may be coming in real handy these days. God love Helen and Bette. We sure did.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: KathWestra
Date: 28 Jul 05 - 11:33 PM

Muff, wonderful to hear from you via this thread! I remember you well and fondly from Rinktums, and will ask Mary Bok for your address in Iceland. (By the way, one of our regular Mudcatters is "Skarpi in Iceland" who I look forward to meeting for the first time at the D.C. Getaway this fall.) I am now living in Maine. Small round world, isn't it. And so many in that world whose lives were touched by Helen's singing. xo Kathy


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: bbc
Date: 28 Jul 05 - 11:17 PM

Beautiful, Mary. Thank you for sharing that. I didn't know Helen, but I know of her through the Patons & I know her music. I see from the posts here what an extraordinary woman she was. The earth was richer for her presence. My sympathy to you all in your loss.

best always,

bbc


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: musicalmary
Date: 28 Jul 05 - 08:52 PM

OOPS! I posted the preceding message without logging in. I am, in fact, a member, and will welcome email messages from others who also cared so much for Helen. MMB


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: GUEST,musicalmary
Date: 28 Jul 05 - 08:45 PM

This entry has taken days to write, and is not at all what I first intended. There were just so many "Helen memories" to choose from. Perhaps I will write more at some later date, but having read through the earlier postings in this thread, there is now one dominant vision that will not release me until I share it . . . Many of you will recognize the inspiration at once, but for others, some context may help.

THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS MAY BE SKIPPED BY THOSE WHO KNEW HER WELL:

Several writers knew Helen far longer, and much better, than I did. Generous mentor and beloved friend at the end, she made her first impression upon me at Fox Hollow, with her loose and flowing Summer Whites and hair. But the deepest, longest-lasting memories of her were born during the after-supper singings at Indian Neck. Especially during my first year there. The love of singing was palpable as so many of those gifted singers and musicians drew their chairs around and began the familiar circle of song. It soon became evident that each time Helen's turn to lead came around, she gave not only our voices, but our deepest emotions, a thorough workout. With her, we felt the families' grief for the fallen minors, clamored at the raucus renditions of temperance tunes, burned with anger and frustration in unity with the poor and the oppressed, and felt the beauty of her endless store of Gospel songs and spirituals.

Special as that was, there was yet another experience for this Newbie to absorb. Because her Summer Whites and turquoise set in sliver seemed so much a part of her, I failed at first to comprehand her actions, or the fiercely joyful sounds erupting all around. And then I realized: this was preparation for the REAL singing. This is what the others had already known - the coming song was only the first of many that would require nothing less than total freedom from her jewelry: from their weight, and noise, and distraction, and to give all her breath and energy to her effort. And as each piece came off, the laughter, and the comments, and the knowing looks around the room increased: First, the rings and bracelets went together to the table where she sat. Next, the the necklace took its place. And, finally, the belt, .

And as she drew her starting breath, her singer/friends and family knew that now the REAL singing was about to start . . . . +++++++++++++++++++++ So thanks to those who provided the seeds of this reflection. Join me, if you will, at wondering how that poor Heavenly Band processed Helen's arrival.

What a Vision!

Throngs of Angels, wide-eyed, voices temporarily hushed, take in the scene unfolding before them.

Beaming with joy, singer/friends and others who have 'waited her arrival lead the Venerable New One to her place.

Here, where all is present, and past and future fade into a bless'd Eternity stirrings all around her foreshadow joys anew.

Whence, the Angels wonder, comes the keen anticipation of the singer/friends and others who've awaited her arrival for so long?

Change of garb unneeded, the whiteness of her robes and flowing hair have long announced her presence to her followers, together with the silver and the turquoise - all part of her, it seems.

Still enthralled, the Angel Choir takes in the gestures of what seems to be a ritual.

Seated now, she settles in her chair, both feet planted firmly on the floor. Bathing those around her in a knowing smile. One by one, she places on the tabletop before her, belt and rings and bracelets.

Is this, perhaps, a sacrifice, acknowledging unworthiness to sing before the Throne? Or acknowledgement that earthly treasures pale before the harmonies of Heav'n?

Not at all! Every time she doffed her gems and loosed their silver clasps, she gave three signs

Of freedom: First, from burdens weighing on our bodies and our souls, Second, to embrace the joys that sharing talents brings. And Third, most powerful of all, to shed the bonds of Earth and sing in joy and praise Eternally.

Now, the Angel Band can tell, the time is come at last.

Seated in her chair, both feet planted firmly on the floor, She leans a little forward, both hands on her knees. Now, sbe takes a breath, and for the first time ever, singer/friends and family, and all the Heav'nly Host experience the ecstacy of singing praise and glory for all Eternity, with Helen.

Sing on, dear friend! Mary


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: GUEST,Muff Worden
Date: 28 Jul 05 - 05:17 PM

Hi, Kathy -

Thanks to my cousin Mary Bok in Maine, I heard only today that Helen has died. Mary had heard the news from other friends in New Brunswick, Canada, and here am I in northeastern Iceland, so the news is making its way around the world slowly but surely. I listened to the recording from Prairie Home Companion - very nicely done by Garrison - and then looked up a couple of Helen's obits, which led me to your postings. Thanks for having been a part of Helen's larger family and for adding to her joys. Thanks now for your good words on her behalf, and news of her family. Keep up the great music, and I know that Helen will live on in several generations' worth of memory and singing, via recordings and via all of us chiming in on "her" music.

Hugs to you and to the family,

Muff, whom you met at Rinktums


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: bbc
Date: 28 Jul 05 - 04:17 PM

Kathy, thanks for those links. I had just caught the end of what Garrison said about her & appreciated hearing it all.

Barbara


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: KathWestra
Date: 28 Jul 05 - 12:40 PM

I also just had the privilege to read Mary Cliff's draft of her appreciation of Helen, which will appear in the next issue of SingOut! Watch for it, it really captures Helen's spirit in a very loving way.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Bill D
Date: 28 Jul 05 - 09:52 AM

Just listened to the online tribute from Garrison...*smile*...not everyone who passes gets that kind of notice! ...but Helen's mark on that program and the musical world in general called for no less. I will always consider myself very lucky to have known her and heard her many times.
For the recent Washington Folk Festival at Glen Echo Park in Maryland, where Helen performed and worked many times, there were buttons made with pictures of some of the sterling performers of past years...I am happy that I wore a Helen Schneyer button.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: KathWestra
Date: 27 Jul 05 - 09:04 PM

For those of you who missed Garrison Keillor's moving tribute to Helen on last Saturday's Prairie Home Companion, the PHC folk have now made it available on their website. In addition to Garrison's words, which moved many of us to tears, the tribute includes clips of Helen singing "Lonesome Robin" and "Where Shall I Be When the First Trumpet Sounds." It's well worth a listen!
Kathy

Program broadcast on 7/23/05 with GK's audio tribute: Whole show with tribute

Helen's bio information, with GK's audio tribute: bio info with audio link

Just the audio: just the audio


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: KathWestra
Date: 26 Jul 05 - 07:56 AM

Thanks, Charlie. Also for the record, the obituary contained some factual errors that ought to be corrected for posterity.
Also some omissions that deserve to be noted.

Helen was born on January 10 (not 21), 1921
Riki Schneyer's given name is spelled Erika (not Ericka).
Helen's sister is Mona Wasow (not Masow).

The omissions are of the names of Helen's other family members, which were supplied to the Post but not included in the article. They are: granddaughter Renata Ament, brother Donald Cantor of Boston, and neices and nephews Michael Cantor, David Murie, Robin Murie, and Oliver Wasow.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Charlie Baum
Date: 25 Jul 05 - 11:38 PM

Since it'll disappear from the Washington Post website in a week or two, we might as well append a permanent copy of the Washington Post obituary mentioned above to this thread. When I read it earlier this evening, I thought it severely needed some editing, but I've copied it just as it appeared in the Post, so imagine a [sic] wherever it's needed:


Passionate Folk Singer Helen Schneyer

By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb

Helen Bonchek Schneyer, 84, a mesmerizing folk singer who delivered emotionally electric ballads, work songs, African American spirituals and Baptist hymns, died of cancer July 16 at Berlin Health and Rehabilitation Center in Barre, Vt. She had cancer.

She was a nationally known performer who sang at concerts and major folk festivals across the country, as well as in Europe. She shared the stage with many of American's best-known folk singers and songwriters, including Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, who urged her at an early age to sing.

Ms. Schneyer, who lived in the Washington area on and off from the 1940s to 1986, was a founding member of the Folklore Society of Greater Washington.

In recent years, Ms. Schneyer was a regular guest on Garrison Keillor's radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion." With her booming contralto voice and imposing stage presence, she belted out songs about the human condition with such power that people felt compelled either to sing along or to flee the performance.

"A lot of agnostics, atheists and people of no particular religions sang about the hope of heaven for the redeemed," Keillor said in an interview. "It was quite amazing for her to perform."

For those who came "looking for something sweet," he added, "Helen was not sweet." Instead, said Keillor, her music "was heart-rending and blood-curdling."

Whether singing such tragic ballads as "Avondale Mine Disaster," or such traditional folk hymns as "Fountain Filled With Blood," or even the somewhat silly "Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl," Ms. Schneyer delivered passionate, heartfelt music. Her deep reservoir of songs transcended eras, from the Civil War through the 1940s, and races -- she loved gospels sang in white and black churches.

By her own account, Ms. Schneyer, who also played the piano, was clear about the nature of songs she chose to perform. In an interview with The Washington Post in 1982, she said: "The only kind of songs that I sing are songs that have some sort of significance for me. I have a lot of trouble singing about kings and queens unless what befalls them is exactly the same thing that would befall me or the janitor."

Helen Bonchek was born Jan. 21, 1921, in New York. From childhood, she studied classical piano, and was drawn at a very early age to the hymns and spirituals of African American Baptists.

"The first music that I remember as a babe in arms was from a black Baptist church in New York," she recalled in The Post. "So it's no accident that I sing so much Baptist stuff. As far as I am concerned, they sing better than anybody because they haven't been shriveled up with good manners in their expressions of their love of God, or fear or hate, or whatever it is."

She was a graduate of the University of Buffalo and received a master's degree in social work from Columbia University during World War II.

After college, she lived in Washington and, with folklorist Alan Lomax, was a member of the Priority Ramblers, singing songs about working and living conditions infused with patriotism. She was with the group when first lady Eleanor Roosevelt invited it to sing labor songs at the White House.

For a time, Ms. Schneyer worked as a psychiatric social worker for agencies in Buffalo and Syracuse, N.Y., before returning to Washington in 1960.

She had a longtime psychotherapy practice in Kensington until 1986, when she retired to Plainfeld, Vt. She continued practicing there until becoming too ill last year.

While in Washington, her home became a focal point for the folk-life community, said Andy Wallace, a longtime friend and a Folklore Society founding member. "We met there, sang there and partied there," and out-of-town entertainers often would stop by, he said. "She was a very important person in the music community in Washington."

In addition to helping found the Folklore Society in 1964, she served on its board in a number of positions, including president. She also was on the board of the National Folk Festival Association (now the National Council for the Traditional Arts).

In 1976, Ms. Schneyer was invited by composer John Cage to participate in a world tour of his bicentennial composition, "Apartment House 1776." As part of that tour, she performed with symphony orchestras in Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Europe and Japan.

A devoted collector of traditional folk songs, Ms. Schneyer conducted a considerable amount of fieldwork in her back yard, said her sister, Mona Masow of Madison, Wis. She would go to black churches in the Gum Springs neighborhood of Alexandria and learn African American spirituals from singers who knew them.

"She was just fascinated with traditional music, the kind that gets passed along from person to person," her sister said.

Ms. Schneyer released three solo recordings, "Ballads, Broadsides and Hymns" (1974) , "On the Hallelujah Line" (1981) and "Somber, Sacred & Silly" (1992). A fourth recording, "What a Singing There Will Be," scheduled for release in August, was recorded in a live concert in Maple Corners, Vt., when she was 82.

She also performed and recorded with her daughter, Ericka "Riki" Schneyer of Takoma Park, and with folk singer Jonathan Eberhart.

Her marriage to Solomon Schneyer ended in divorce.

In addition to her sister and daughter, survivors include a son, Joshua Schneyer of Santa Barbara, Calif.; a brother; and a granddaughter.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: GUEST,Linda Goodman at work
Date: 25 Jul 05 - 05:24 PM

Today at work my supervisor handed me Saturday's Washington Post (July 23), with an obituary for Helen Schneyer. Lynda had never heard of Helen Schneyer, but figured the article was about someone I was interested in. Here is the link: Passionate Folk Singer Helen Schneyer. --Linda Goodman


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: GUEST,Cora-Dot
Date: 25 Jul 05 - 02:19 PM

I'm sure that Barbara & Helen are trading earrings!
How I miss them both and am so greatful to have had them as my Auntie's! I'll always wear my silver in their honor.
I can hear them laughing at me now!


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: GUEST,Dr Price
Date: 24 Jul 05 - 07:38 PM

I never got to meet Helen, but I listened to her records, via Muckram Wakes, and they inspired me. She had a georgous, oh-so-deep voice that made the back of my neck tingle.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: GUEST,winterbright
Date: 24 Jul 05 - 05:22 PM

I am so glad I got to meet Helen. As Kendall says, we need to focus on celebrating her life and her music! She was a treasure! On many of the tapes by other performers that I have, I can find a few songs that I love; on Helen's tapes I loved every single one, instantly and passionately! And I know she's Up There now, probably having food fights with the angels!
"No more, Robin, no more..."
Pat


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 24 Jul 05 - 12:00 AM

Well, Rita, it's a very delightful "Helenesque" story, but apocryphal. The song in question, by the way, is on her recording titled "Ballads, Broadsides and Hymns," Folk-Legacy CD-50. I did the recording, and programmed the final product, but I never really acted as "producer," telling any of our artists what they should record or how. I may have suggested that Helen might want to record a "straight" version and decide in the cold light of the morning which would be preferable for the album (some things are great fun in the "doing," but don't hold up well over many listenings), but I've never attempted to control an artist's work. I felt controlled on my own first American recording (on another label), and soon learned to detest the sound of it.
    Helen was a great artist, and Caroline and I are going to miss her powerful presence terribly. I hope her performance of "The Cruel Brother" will be on the soon-to-come CD. Mary Cliff played the ballad (as Helen sang it at the LOC concert a couple of years ago) as part of her tribute program and it was absolutely stunning! Caroline heard her sing it at Indian Neck (the last song she ever heard Helen sing), but I missed it. Will it be on the new CD, Kathy?
    Sandy


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: GUEST
Date: 23 Jul 05 - 11:27 AM

I feel fortunate to have been to two of Helen Schneyer's concerts in the DC area. The first was at a Unitarian Church in the late '70. I remember most an exuberant "Dwelling in Beulah Land" with a hotel desk bell for the top note. It instantly became my favorite song.

The second concert was a few years ago at the FSGW Monthly Program. Dragged my son and father- "You've GOT to hear her in person!!".

A couple weeks ago I was driving back from a visit to New York and played the three tapes I reserve for road trips: a Klezmer, a dixieland jazz,and Helen Schneyer's "Ballads..". I was really reveling in the sound, and singing along as of course you have to do.
--Linda Goodman


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Bat Goddess
Date: 23 Jul 05 - 08:59 AM

I miss Barbara (Carns), too -- and Jonathan. What a crew!

Our lives were so much richer for them being a part of it -- and we can keep on telling the stories forever!

Linn


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: KathWestra
Date: 22 Jul 05 - 11:41 PM

Just a note. Robin Murie, Helen's neice, has written to say that Garrison Keillor will do a tribute to Helen at the top of the hour of his PHC broadcast this weekend (July 23, 2005). The show is a rebroadcast from an earlier Boston show, but apparently he plans to use a recording of Helen singing "Lonesome Robin" and say some stuff in her memory at the beginning of the program. Tune in.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Ferrara
Date: 22 Jul 05 - 12:09 AM

Oh goodness me. Reading this thread I laughed til I cried, not a new experience where Helen is concerned. I loved it that she had to stop sometimes in the middle of a song until she could control her tears. I admired her for it. She never lost connection with the feelings.

The most poignant moment for me in Mary Cliff's program last Saturday was hearing Jonathon Eberhart's voice singing, "When you come to the end of your life's trolley ride ..." Thanks Mary for a fine set of mementoes of Helen.

It's wonderful to read the stories on this thread. Haven't seen her for a long time and they bring her very clearly to mind. To me Helen was the queen of folk music in the D.C. area and the heart and soul of the FSGW while she lived here. Her two-hour Sunday morning gospel workshop was the highlight of the FSGW Getaway. Her personality and her singing voice and her sheer love of it all just shaped the musical experience.

One of my favorite memories of Helen (besides Gordon Bok's remark that Bill quoted above, and apart from memories of hearing her sing) is from a concert at a cafe in Bethesda. She invited Riki and Jonathon to join her on the chorus. Now, if you never heard this I should explain that they didn't exactly "sing along" on the chorus. What they did was blow through their hands, like a kazoo, to make appropriate boisterous and totally irreverent trumpet noises. (You can hear it like that on the record, I think it's on "Somber, Sacred & Silly.") Helen said that when the song was recorded the producer (was that you, Sandy & Caroline?) told them to re-record it without the monkey business and she said, Nope. You get it with trumpets or not at all.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Susan A-R
Date: 21 Jul 05 - 11:05 PM

I suspect that she and Barbara Carnes are singing and bitching and laughing somewhere. I'll miss Helen, her glorious voice, great taste in songs and quick wit. What a lady.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Bill D
Date: 21 Jul 05 - 10:51 AM

Oh, I am SURE it happen just like that!......well...it's just a good thing God didn't ask for "Beulah Land" (Far away the sound of strife, upon my ear is falling), as Jon Eberhart would have prepared the 400,000 chorus members to do all the silly background noises, and Helen would have petitioned to have him cast out!


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Alan Oakes
Date: 21 Jul 05 - 01:31 AM

Well, I suppose it was inevitable. Someone had to start this genre. This is what I heard happened.

Helen arrived in Heaven and Saint Peter welcomed her at the pearly gates. Saint Peter walked with her over to see God who was leading the Heavenly Choir. Arranged on the slopes of four nearby hills there were 100,000 sopranos, 100,000 altos, 100,000 tenors and 100,000 basses.

God greeted Helen warmly and told her that they had all been waiting for her. Then He asked her to sing as soloist in "Palms of Victory." Helen accepted graciously and walked over to her place on top of a fifth hill.

God waved his baton and Helen sang the first verse. It was just as beautiful as it used to be on Earth. Then everyone began to sing the chorus. But God quickly stopped the singing by tapping His baton on His podium and holding up his hand. "A little less volume from the soloist, please." He said. And then they began again.

-Alan

P.S., My source assures me that this is what really happened, and it is just a coincidence that it sounds vaguely like an old Welsh tale.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: GUEST,Jennifer Woods , DC
Date: 21 Jul 05 - 01:18 AM

What a lost. I remember the first time I saw her, back in about 1980, wandering around the Washington Folk Festival, either all in white or turquoise, with all that wonderful jewelry, and a parasol! I thought What a wonderful character! And then I got to know her -- and was confirmed in my first impression -- to say nothing of her singing -- which enriched me, brought me often to tears, and, often clutching my sides as I fell off a chair laughing!
And the time at Indian Neck when we first really got into butchering "Palms of Victory" -- she latter would sing it with her hands over her eyes so she couldn't see what we all doing! (One, rolling balls that looked like eyeballs as she sang casting her eyes backwards, two, sign-language [of a sort] during the chorus -- 20-30 people putting crowns on their heads, flashing the "V" for victory sign, wagling their "palms" of victory! )
And a good supporter of all around her -- she helped me through a tough time just before she moved to Vermont, and asked me to lead "Waltzing with Bears" at her official farewell concert for FSGW -- and I think we had a Gorilla gram arrive at the end of it with ballons and other sillies. I've tresured every visit I've had with her over the years, and will miss her greatly.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Dani
Date: 20 Jul 05 - 10:40 PM

I just picked up a CD of Helen's singing last year, having heard many stories floating around the Getaway.

It's clear that you have lost a treasured friend from among you, and I am sorry for your loss. These stories (and the songs you will continue to sing, remembering her) are the finest sort of tribute. Thank you for sharing.

Dani


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Alan Oakes
Date: 20 Jul 05 - 10:14 PM

Richard! Right! Thank you, Kathy. "Sing, Richard! Sing!" I also should have said "casting His eye backwards . . ." not "my eye." Oh well, it's been hot. Some of my cylinders haven't been firing, apparently.

-Alan


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: KathWestra
Date: 20 Jul 05 - 09:11 PM

The "singing" cat was Richard, a huge Siamese who was one of the many critters who shared Helen's house when I lived there during most of 1976. He really did sing, just as Alan described. Nigel was a springer spaniel of very little brain but large devoted heart. And boy could he drool from those dewlaps of his! Helen has had many, many cats and several dogs in subsequent years, most of whom came to her because they got the word on the street that hers was a heart with as much space for four-footed friends as there was for us human waifs and strays--a place where everyone would be welcomed, fed, and cared for.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: kendall
Date: 20 Jul 05 - 09:08 AM

One more "Helen story"

We visited her a few days before she passed on, and she was telling us about a brutal physical therapist in the other facility that she had been in.
He (the way she told it) was moving her limbs around, and had hauled one leg up around her neck, then he asked how that felt. He should have known better because she replied "Fuck you, white man."

The stories are endless...


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: GUEST,Joan
Date: 19 Jul 05 - 09:49 AM

You've said it all...well, is that possible in Helen's case? So many of us will be telling Helen stories for years to come and listening to her voice via CDs and other electronic miracles. Her spirit hovers near, but I'll miss her daily presence.

I met Helen years ago through music channels, sharing the occasional festival workshop stage and our Folk-Legacy connection; admiring her awesome singing goes without saying. It wasn't until I moved to Vermont eight years ago that we both realized we were also animal nuts and gardening enthusiasts and we just plain liked each other! We talked on the phone or got together nearly every day. Oh, I'll miss her.

I lived about a minute and a half from her house and I was one of the many Vermont "unusual suspects" who did whatever we could to give help, support and comfort at the end. Plus bringing treats and taking sweet dog Daphne outside for emptying and cleaning out Tucker and Bo-bo's kitty litter box. Or just sitting and talking. Did I mention I'll miss her? So will we all.

Joan


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)
Date: 18 Jul 05 - 07:19 PM

Goodby to another great singer and friend. We met mostly at festivals, in the 70s and 80s, and at Augusta ,at Davis & Elkins. Glorious golden days (and nights), with Helen always the life of the party and the one whose enthusiasm kept us up all night! We are going down the valley, one by one.....


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Fortunato
Date: 18 Jul 05 - 04:06 PM

I met Helen at the Red Fox in Bethesda around 1978, where Bruce Hutton was running a open mike. My pal Tex Rubinowitz and I went down to sing. He never went back, but in a way I never left. Dave Olive, Bruce, Tom McHenry, Marv Reitz, and the one and only Helen and the beautiful Riki Schneyer and the FSGW gathered me in and kept me. I followed her to Fox Hollow and all those wonderful parties folks mentioned above. Clogging with Riki on the front porch and chatting with Helen in the kitchen, picking in the living room with Mike Seeger, drinking Ouzo with Peter the Giant and always Jonathan Eberhart's repartee. It was a wonderful time and I owe it all to her truly welcoming, egalatrian nature.

Helen has been very large in my life for 30 years. It leaves a hole, friends, but no regrets.

Love you Helen.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Barbara
Date: 18 Jul 05 - 03:12 PM

..Or that Jonathan and co. would back her up and sing "fried liver" whenever she sang "wide river", so she, smiling beatifically, would hold up her index fingers, stick them proudly in her ears as the phrase approached and then sing "fried liver" anyway.

Or all the sheep that baaaed their way through "Feed My Sheep"? As in "Oh good people, Baa! Baa! Baaaa!"

I only met her a few times back in the seventies and I have loved her ever since. I am sorry she is gone, she was such a force of nature, and such a delight.
I remember her talking about loving songs that went from the tonic to the IV chord in such a way as to make you cry... her example, "The broom blooms bonny, the broom blooms fair.. they'll never go down to the broom anymore" was just as good at making me cry as her.
Blessings,
Barbara


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Subject: RE: Obit: Helen Schneyer, July 16, 2005
From: Charlie Baum
Date: 18 Jul 05 - 01:57 PM

Helen Scheneyer sang directly, with full conviction, with nothing held back emotionally, and she taught others to do that by example. I first met her at Augusta Vocal Week back in the early 80s, where she did a course in the history of American folk hymnody. Her force and directness could cajole even the most reluctant angel to sing along.

She always wore white linen underneath the turquoise and silver, and once explained that no matter how muddy the festival or surroundings, it made her look calm and cool. It made her look not unlike an angel.

Somewhere in heaven, she's now singing duets with Jonathan Eberhart, and between them, they are shocking the other angels with their directness and offbeat humor, and forcing them to sing along.

--Charlie Baum


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