When I first heard about Housatonic River Summer in the Berkshires I was intrigued by the fact that the east and west branches of the Housatonic join near Pittsfield. This confluence of water is a powerful symbol for the revitalized energy in Pittsfield. The need for a ceremony to honor the river seems natural. Art, spirituality, and activism come together in RiverMASS. The word 'mass' in RiverMASS refers to the state of Massachusetts, to the definition of earth weight as mass, and to the performance that is a celebration of nature by different traditions and people. Perhaps music originated in our innate sounds of reverence and awe as we imitated nature with our voices. When we express our reverence and awe for the world around us in song we can begin a powerful process of change within ourselves and the world around us. Let's make a joyful noise today by singing or shaking a shaker and acknowledge the majesty of the river.
The name RiverMASS surfaced in January 2004. The making of RiverMASS includes freshets here, rivulets there: the story of the Pittsfield man who rafted down the Housatonic as a boy and rolled in the mud by the railroad tracks at Clapp Park is in RiverMASS; the bed-ridden woman at Hillcrest shaped the songs in RiverMASS by her intent listening; the textures and sounds in the voices of the children at Morris School in Lenox who took on the roles of mammals, birds and wind in the river orchestra are in RiverMASS ; each performer and reader today brings their unique rhythm and vision to honor the river. "To put your hands in a river is to feel the chords that bind the earth together" (Barry Lopez).The river is a boundary, a mirror, an indicator of movement. It is a map of early industry, sacred route of the Mohicans and repository of modern manufacture. It invites us to create legends and re-direct its flow, see where it is dead or stagnant and restore its vitality. By sharing stories and studying the history of the river we can understand better where we are now and re-direct our future.
If you get in a canoe off East New Lenox Road in Pittsfield you will be amazed at the thriving life on the river. In a 2 hour ride that was part of the Upper Housatonic River Valley Course for teachers studying the river, I saw two blue heron, turkey vultures, darning dragonflies laying eggs in the water, mayfly larvae, silver maples laying over the water, linden trees and arrowhead bushes. While we struggle to clean the river of poisons and PCB's, the river shares with us its resilience and beauty."A river sings a holy song conveying the mysterious truth that we are a river, and if we are ignorant of this natural law, we are lost" (from Thomas Moore, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life). The river holds all our voices. We are once again listening to and learning from the river.
At the invitation of puppeteer Meredyth Babcock http://marmaladeproductions.com/ I wrote six songs for a performance called " The Watershed Waltz" that explores the dynamics of a healthy watershed. "The Watershed Waltz" was written and performed in schools with funding from the Highland Communities Initiative, a program of The Trustees of Reservations and http://www.westfieldriver.org/.
Many groups locally and nationally have devoted themselves to cleaning the river. Resources to continue honoring the river: Housatonic Valley Association, The Housatonic River Museum , Housatonic RiverWalk, Housatonic River Initiative, Hudson River Sloop Restoration, Inc., riverkeeper.org, rivernetwork.org, Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail and many more.