By Janet Lyons, Maine Humanities Council’s Consulting Project Coordinator for Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War
Gould Academy’s Bingham Auditorium was full on Sunday afternoon, May 17, for the Final Celebration of Local and Legendary: Bethel in the Civil War.
The celebration began with the singing of songs of the Civil War performed by theAndroscoggin Chorale Chamber Singers, directed by Dr. John Corrie of Bates College.
Dr. Corrie (far right in photos below) gave a brief introduction to the importance of music during the Civil War period. In 1861 each Union regiment was required to have a 24-piece regimental band but as the need for weaponry increased bands were disbanded.
The audience was treated to a variety of songs, including familiar tunes, such as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “Goober Peas,” and “The Dixie War Song.” Many of the songs by George Frederick Root were less familiar to the audience and provided a better understanding of the sentiment of the time. One such piece was the classic and endearing “Just Before the Battle Mother.” The 13 singers ended with the moving spiritual “Steal Away.”
After a brief intermission, audience members were treated to the premier performance ofMy Dear Absent Husband–a dramatization of the Civil War letters of Private Stephen Richards and his wife Lydia, of Upton. Local & Legendary team member Tom Davis, a trustee of the Bethel Library Association, wrote the play based on the letters, which were transcribed by Gary Fuller.
Davis did comprehensive research to put the play together, obtaining information from the Adjutant General’s Report on the 30th Maine Regiment, the army records of Private Richards, and “Life on the Homefront: Bethel During the Civil War” an essay by Dr. Stanley Howe, also a team member.
The play allowed the audience to step into the life of a farm family in the waning years of the Civil War. Stephen and Lydia shared their daily life, frustrations, thoughts on the war, and their love for each other in the letters. The letters between 10-year-old daughter Lizzie and her father epitomized the caring relationship between the two. Narrator Lenny Hoy provided seamless and informative transitions between the reading of letters by Roddy Royer (Stephen), Lake Templeton (Lydia), and Corrine Nivus.
The afternoon performance closed with the entire audience rising to their feet and joining the Androscoggin Chorale Chamber Singers in a rousing rendition of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
In addition to Tom Davis, this fantastic final performance was made possible by the incredible teamwork of Gould teachers Brad Clarke and Savannah Sessions and other Gould employees who assisted with the lights and sound for the production; Dr. Stanley Howe and Randy Bennett of the Bethel Historical Society; and Michelle Conroy of the Bethel Library Association.