Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Spinning Wheel VI: Robert Resnik, Librarian Musician

Once upon a time, I used to work in a library. One day, my supervisor brought in a compact disc called A Little Bit Jumbled and Jivey. She said, "There are a lot of good songs on here that I think will be good to play for our storytimes." I listened to the songs, and loved how simple and lively the arrangements were. When I read the liner-notes, I found out that the performers, Robert Resnik, Gigi Weisman and Carol Scrimgeour, were three children's librarians who had put together the cd to raise money for the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont. (Later, they would produce two other cds: Like the Birdies Sing and Sweet Potatoes and Homegrown Tomatoes, all sold through the library store).

"This is what I want to do," I thought to myself as I listened to "A You're Adorable," "Ladybug Picnic" and "Sodeo" on A Little Bit Jumbled and Jivey. "I don't want to put on cds and have people sing along to recordings. I want to be a librarian who plays guitar and bring live music to my storytimes." Immediately following that thought, a patron came up to the information desk, and then I got distracted by Life In General. Four years later, I took my first guitar lesson. By then, I wasn't working in the library on a regular basis anymore, but I didn't forget that initial spark. It only seemed right that when I started the Spinning Wheel series, I would contact the people who created the cd that made me think incorporating live music in storytimes was a good idea. This week's interview is with Robert Resnik, and the next interview will be with Gigi Weisman.


Saints and Spinners: What exactly do you do for a living?

Robert Resnik: I am a director at the Fletcher Free Library, Burlington, Vermont’s public library, and I host a weekly folk and world music show on Vermont Public Radio.

S&S: How long have you been working in your chosen profession?

RR: I have worked at the library from 17 years, and at the radio station for 10.

S&S: What prompted you to work with and perform for children?

RR: When I began to perform music for kids I was the outreach librarian, and started incorporating music into joint programs which I was presenting with the children’s librarian. I have always loved children’s music, and am just a big kid myself!

S&S: Why do you continue to do it?

RR: I continue because it’s very gratifying, and also because my live performances have helped the Library sell over $25,000 worth of recordings. Proceeds from these sales have funded special programming for youth and outreach for many years here at our Library.

S&S: Which performers are your inspirations for your work?

RR: There are many wonderful musicians who play great material for children. Ella Jenkins, Raffi, Anne Dodson, Priscilla Herdman, and Pete Seeger are all major inspirations for me, as is Dave Van Ronk, who, although he wasn’t known primarily as a children’s performer, has recorded what I believe is the all-time greatest recording of “Swingin’ On A Star!”

S&S: What are some of the things you enjoy doing outside of your profession?

RR: I love playing music, and know how to play more than 30 different stringed, wind, free reed, and percussion instruments. I am an avid wild mushroom collector, and also love to cook.

S&S: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

RR: I like to crochet brightly colored afghans.

S&S: Was there ever a time when your audience surprised you? What happened?

RR: I was performing a set of Vermont songs for small local historical society, and sitting in the front row were two young boys, about 7 and 9 years old. It took me only a few minutes to realize that they knew every single word to every single song that we sang, including the ones that I had written myself. I was surprised to find that it made me very nervous as well as very happy, because it seemed that they knew my songs much better than I did, and I was afraid of making a mistake!!

S&S: What’s in heavy rotation on your stereo/iPod lately?

RR: Hurdy-gurdy music, and a new album by an English dance band named Blowzabella.

S&S: If you could headline a festival with three other performers, who would they be?

RR: Tom Waits, Dave Van Ronk (back from the dead), and Cliff Edwards (Ukelele Ike, also back from the dead), and if these guys showed up, I would just never be a headliner, just a reverent side musician!

S&S: What’s the song or story that never gets old for you?

RR: The Erie Canal.

The Pivot Questionnaire is a set of questions popularized on “The Actor’s Studio" and introduced to me through Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. If you please, answer the same set of questions:

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Playing music with people I love

What turns you off?
Not having enough time

What is your favorite curse word? (optional)
psia krew (pronounced “shakreft”)

What sound or noise do you love?
The sound of the wrapper coming off of a marvelous chocolate bar.

What sound or noise do you hate?
A broken string in the middle of a performance.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A bread baker.

What profession would you not like to do?
Mining in a tunnel for anything.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Welcome to heaven – you made lots of people happy during your life!


Anonymous said...

Whoa. I wish I knew how to play over 30 instruments.

Great interview!

Vivian Mahoney said...

I never heard of hurdy gurdy music. How cool to learn this. Nice interview!

Saints and Spinners said...

Jules: Thanks! I would be happy if I could just play my ONE instrument as well as I'd like... oh, and the harmonica, too. Thrown in the mandolin, ukulele and banjo, and I'll be set.

HWM: I confess I'd never heard of the hurdy-gurdy as anything other than that 18th century barrel-organ (complete with monkey) until I heard some of Robert Plant's later music. Trust rock and roll to introduce me to a wide variety of instruments not widely associated with rock and roll.

abcgirl said...

ach, alkelda, ye ha' doon it again! you make an album sound very appealing and then... the website is broken and i can't listen! would you say the sound is at all nearly as appealing as, say, the elizabeth mitchell recordings?

Anonymous said...

Wow thank you Robert for being such a raya de luz, I like the radio show you do and can't believe you have time to knit afghans as well!

Saints and Spinners said...

ABCGirl: For some reason, your comment never made it into my inbox, and so I didn't respond. The sound is like... oh, it's just pretty basic and straightforward. I think that as an Elizabeth Mitchell fan you'd like this album too.

Mariposa: Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure god will say "you made lots and lots and lots and lots of people very, very, very happy during your life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

That is amazing, how could someone ever play thirty instruments? I guess Robert can! I loved the interview and i learned a lot during the interview and remember singin' that ol' song, Fifteen years on Eri Canal! It's a great song too!

Aninimous-the nickname of me

Saints and Spinners said...

I'm guessing that once you have certain chord progressions in your head, you can easily pick them up on various instruments. I don't know-- I'm sure it's hard (and rewarding) work, but it conveys a certain brilliance that is beyond me.:)

Anonymous said...

Well, there are really only 12 notes in nearly all of Western music, and once you understand how to make those notes on a few instruments, it all opens up to you...the key to success is to take the time to listen!