All posts by Kate Snyder

David Holt Brought the Mountains to Williston

Holt on the washboard and Goforth on the fiddle

Musician and music historian David Holt inspired a chapelful of Williston students to try hamboning. The traditional African percussive art, brought to the American South by enslaved people, consists of rhythmically slapping parts of the body: legs, arms, chest, different parts of the hand, and, as seen in the two-second video clip that downloads when you click here, cheeks. “This is what people used to do before they had cable,” Holt quipped.

In a wide-brimmed hat and tap shoes, Holt performed songs on an array instruments with his musical partner, Josh Goforth. A four-time Grammy winner, Holt is the host of the PBS television show “David Holt’s State of Music.” Their visit was part of the Grum Project, a visiting artist program funded by a generous alumna.

Dueling guitars

The duo played songs that were antecedents to the blues, songs with roots in Europe and Africa. Each song was accompanied by a story, usually a funny one, of a person associated with the song. Projected above Holt would be the black-and-white portrait he took of that person. Most of them resided in small mountain towns in western North Carolina.

The image of Mary Thompson, who lived to be 120, was on the screen when Holt performed “Greasy Greens,” her favorite song. When he talked to Thompson, he asked her how the song went.  She said she couldn’t remember the tune. He asked her to tell him the lyrics. She said she couldn’t remember them either. “I haven’t heard the song in 105 years,” she answered. He also asked her to tell him how she lived so long. She chided, “By minding my own business.”

Susie Brown lived to 122. She taught Holt to play the washboard. Playing involves putting sewing thimbles on one’s fingers and tapping lightly, not scraping. During his performance, Holt pulled out his washboard, “a Stradivarius,” he said jokingly, that had a built-in wood block below and tin cup beside it to make a variety of sounds. “This is the home entertainment center for the 1800s,” he said. Goforth accompanied him on the fiddle with Brown’s smiling, wrinkled face above.

Holt plays the bow harp and Goforth takes the paper bag.

On stage, Holt and Goforth made sounds from many traditional instruments: a bow harp, the bones (literally bones from a cow, they had been passed down from Holt’s great-grandfather, a cowboy and later Attorney General in Texas, Holt said), the spoons, the paper bag, a slide guitar (a steel pipe or the neck from a bottle of wine—”a nice Merlot works really well,” Holt said), and an expertly crafted wooden banjo made in the 1880s at a time when the metal components would have been too expensive for its makers. Instruments were not easily accessible in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Holt said, especially in the communities in which this music was percolating. Music makers improvised, with astonishingly beautiful and soulful results.

As the image of an elderly Doc Watson shone on the screen, Goforth sang and played his song “I’m Sitting on Top of the World.” Holt toured with the seven-time Grammy winner and revered guitarist from 1998 until Watson’s death in 2012. Goforth invited students to check out Watson on, as his grandmother calls it, “the YouTubes.” Goforth, who has played alongside Holt for 16 years, grew up in Tennessee and has been playing music since he was 4 years old.

Throughout the performance, Williston students sang along when asked, clapped to the beat, gave hamboning a try, and when the program was over, stood for an enthusiastic standing ovation. Holt and Goforth remained on campus to answer questions during lunch in the Dodge Room.



Williston Welcomes Dr. Cherie Holmes ’75 as Cum Laude Speaker

Dr. Cherie Holmes ’75

The Williston Northampton School is pleased to welcome former trustee Dr. Cherie Holmes ’75 as this year’s speaker at its Cum Laude inducation ceremony on January 5, 2018. Dr. Holmes is a practicing orthopedic surgeon who serves as Medical Director for Acute Care Services at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Keene, NH.

Dr. Holmes received her B.A. in English Language and Literature from Dartmouth College. After earning her M.D. at Georgetown University School of Medicine, she completed her residency in Orthopedic Surgery at the Harvard Combined Orthopedic Program.

She completed further fellowship training in both Orthopedic Traumatology and Sports Medicine and practiced for four years with the U.S. Navy, including seven months in the Persian Gulf during the first Gulf War, as well as in private practice and in Keene. More recently she earned her M.S. in Healthcare Management from the Harvard School of Public Health.

In addition to her membership within several orthopedic associations, Dr. Holmes is a member of the American College of Physician Executives, the American College of Healthcare Executives, and the Board of Governors for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

During her three years at the Williston Northampton School, Dr. Holmes was member of the soccer and softball teams, and the science club. She was recipient of the Williams College Book Prize and the Martin Tananbaum Prize and was a member of the Cum Laude Society.

The Cum Laude Society, founded in 1906 and modeled after Phi Beta Kappa, honors scholastic achievement in secondary scholars. The society has over 350 chapters, the majority of which are in independent schools. In 1921, Williston Academy became a member of the society, followed by Northampton School for Girls in 1951. In 1971, a new charter was created for the Williston Northampton School.

Dr. Holmes served on the Board of Trustees for the Williston Northampton School from 1989 to 1994.

McCann Explores the Power of Storytelling

Colum McCann in English class

Students in Sarah Sawyer’s Writers’ Workshop English class have good taste in literature. When acclaimed Irish-born writer Colum McCann visited last week, he asked them to name their favorite books. They listed an impressive array of titles, from J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; from Sherman Alexie’s Flight to Homer’s Odyssey.

“You’re reading in healthy, agile ways,” McCann said. “That’s good.” Continue reading

“World’s Strongest Gay” Speaks about Living Authentically

Williston’s Head Athletic Trainer Rob Kearney stands out in a crowd. He sports a lizard-like Mohawk haircut and a bright pink tie. He exudes confidence and strength. And that’s because he’s strong. He’s one of the world’s strongest men, having appeared on televised “World’s Strongest Man” competitions and having pulled busses and airplanes and having deadlifted 925 pounds. Here’s his WSM profile.

During an all-school assembly on Oct. 18, Kearney told the Williston community his story with insight and good humor. In high school, he was an athlete and a weight-lifter. He was in a band. He was a really good cheerleader (he was even recruited by Division I schools for his cheerleading abilities). He dated girls. It seemed the perfect high school existence. But something was not right. Continue reading

Williston Breaks Ground on New Dormitory

The girls cross-country team and several students joined trustees and administrators for the ground breaking.

The Williston Northampton School broke ground on October 6 on a building project that will transform its Easthampton campus. The new dormitory and faculty housing are the cornerstone of a Residential Quadrangle that will be home to students and faculty. The quad will be located across Park Street from the main campus, just behind the Phillips Stevens Chapel.

During a ceremony attended by the school’s Board of Trustees, Chairman John Hazen White ’76, Head of School Robert W. Hill III, and students and faculty, the school broke ground on the state-of-the-art, 40-bed residence hall with four attached faculty homes. The new building will open onto a renovated green that will serve as an outdoor gathering space, replacing the parking lot to the rear of the chapel. The building is scheduled to open in time for the start of school in September 2018. Continue reading