The Keene Sentinel     Thursday November 15, 2001

Governor Honors Folk Musician

By Mary DesRosiers

Concord NH - A packed house at the Capitol Center for the Arts, a shimmering array of handweavings hung like banners in the stage lights, and an atmosphere of delighted anticipation set the stage for the presentation of the eighth annual Governor's Arts Awards ceremony on Friday night in Concord. 


The awards, first initiated by Governor Hugh Gallen in 1980, are determined by a series of juries drawn from the arts community around the state, and are bestowed on New Hampshire's best performers, educators, writers, visual artists, community organizers and philanthropists.

Governor Jeanne Shaheen opened the ceremony by repeating a sentiment heard frequently since September 11, but with a New Hampshire focus. "I urge people," she said "to keep going to theatres, concerts, museums, festivals, and dances, in our state. It's good for the economy, but most of all it's good for our spirits." She praised the work of all artists, whose imagination and dedication set an example in troubled times. 


A new tradition was inaugurated this year with the commissioning of seven area artists to create seven distinct awards: all unique in media and style, but drawn from the theme of the 1819 state house eagle. The awards, which were on display in the State House gallery this week, were exquisite both in their faithfulness to the theme, and to the individual creativity displayed. They included a watercolor, a silver sculpture, a construction of wood and granite, a clay sculpture, a multimedia sculpture, a fused-glass piece, and a sculpture in stainless steel. 


As the festivities proceeded, including a reading from poet laureate Marie Harris, a dance presentation by the children of Spaulding Rehabilitation Center in Concord, and some songs from a seacoast folk trio, it was clear that many in the audience had come to see one particular award given out: The Folk Heritage Award. 


"I was fourteen, or was it fifteen, when I went to one of his dances for the first time," whispered a woman behind me to her neighbor. The gentleman in the seat next to mine, a total stranger, was busily relating an anecdote to his wife, accompanied by chuckles, "Now don't go repeating that, he warned her, it's not for polite company." I smiled, recognizing the story, and whom he'd got it from.

When a slide appeared on the backdrop of a photo of the Canterbury Country Orchestra, circa 1978, the crowd broke into cheers and whoops, which grew as Governor Shaheen presented Dudley Laufman with the Folk Heritage award. In his acceptance remarks, Laufman thanked his family, including brothers Alan of Harrisville, and Philip of Swanzey, both of whom died this


He also remembered with gratitude, his old mentors, Ralph Page, Dick Richardson, and Arthur Hanson, and his longtime friend and colleague Bob McQuillen. He also recalled raconteur Newt Tolman of Nelson when he quipped, "Newt always said he'd do any kind of work at all, as long as there was no future in it."

Although a native of Massachusetts, and longtime resident of Canterbury, Dudley Laufman did most of his work of reinvigorating the traditional contra and square dances of New Hampshire here in the Monadnock region. Calling weekly dances in Nelson, Dublin, Harrisville, and Francestown (to name just a few) Laufman set new standards in a centuries-old tradition. He insisted on live music, and he insisted on lively music, helping younger musicians learn from older ones the reels and jigs that made the dancers swing and whirl with abandon.

He brought the Canterbury Orchestra to the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 and brought the music of New England to a new and younger audience. He traveled thousands miles to schools around the state, where old time dancing hadn't been done in fifty years: He was a one-man missionary force to give the traditional arts of music and dance back to the people of New Hampshire.


In preparing the commission's decision, jury member Jack Beard wrote, "It can be argued that there is no one alive who has made a greater contribution to the world of traditional dance than Dudley Laufman." The reception following the awards ceremony was turned into an impromptu dance in Laufman's honor.

In addition to being an experienced dancing master, Laufman is an accomplished poet, having published eight volumes of his own verse, including Mouth Music: Poems and Prose Poems published this year by Wind In The Timothy Press. Together with his partner Jacqueline, he's recently published White Mountain Reel, a book and music CD of eleven contra dances, geared toward classroom teachers and anyone else learning to call.

"Receiving the award was a heady experience," says Laufman. "I kept thinking of all the other people who'd got it before, and who probably deserve to get it. And of course it was great to see all the people there, to greet friends I hadn't seen in a long time, and, of course to dance with Governor Shaheen!"

Mary DesRosiers email: