Chesapeake Bay's Independent Newspaper ~ Since 1993
1629 Forest Drive, Annapolis, MD 21403 ~ 410-626-9888

Volume xviii, Issue 3 ~ January 21 - January 27, 2010

Home \\ Correspondence \\ from the Editor \\ Submit a Letter \\ Classifieds \\ Contact Us
Dining Guide \\ Home & Garden Guide \\ Archives \\ Distribution Locations \\ Advertising


Tom Wisner in Story and Song

Four musicians play tribute to the Bay bard and his love of the Chesapeake

by Sara E. Leeland

As January ends, three celebratory concerts open in Solomons, Annapolis and Easton for Follow on the Water, a new two-disc CD from Maryland’s Chesapeake singer and storyteller, Tom Wisner.

Expect new songs about Bay legends like Cap’n Watt Herbert’s tale of the ghostly schooner JR Morphy, taken by a sudden Potomac River storm back in March 1919 and downed with all hands aboard. Feel your way into what it’s like to “Follow on the Water,” learning and working with Chesapeake rhythms. Join in celebrating “The Maryland Line,” a song inspired by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s interest in the story of how Revolutionary Chesapeake men held a thin but effective defense against the British advance into Long Island, just long enough to let George Washington and his troops slip away — and live to win the Revolutionary War.

Along with the songs, anticipate superb guitar work and rhythms from four musicians who play and sing, not just for themselves but also in community with Tom Wisner and love of the Chesapeake.

Singing Tom’s Songs

These concerts signal an end and a beginning. Wisner, who is struggling with lung cancer, expects to be off stage as his rich achievements are passed on. Taking the stage will be guitarists and singers John Cronin, Frank Schwartz and Mac Walter, with singer-storyteller Teresa Whitaker — all friends who join with Wisner in his new CDs.

John Cronin has been playing guitar with Wisner since, as a teen, he persuaded the 40-year-old Wisner to get on a stage. That was back when John’s father, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory director Eugene Cronin, was urging Tom to “get out and talk with the watermen and people of this place.” Cronin has played with legendary Ian Tyson, singer of the Canadian prairie lands and who called Cronin “the most lyrical guitarist” he’d ever worked with. His guitar work appeared on Tom’s much-loved 2001 CD, Made of Water, and shines on the new CDs.

Baltimorean Frank Schwartz, who says he picked up a guitar after he was “hit by the Beatles” in the 1960s, joined Tom and Teresa in the 1983 Come Full Circle and has been playing and singing ever since. His latest CD, Below the Radar, moves from “Bugs and Dirt” to “Happy, Happy Love.”

Back in the days when Wisner was directing the education program at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, he hired Teresa Whitaker to write songs for children. “How Does It Feel to be a Fish” and “The Prettiest Marsh” appeared on the Wisner and Whitaker recording Come Full Circle. She’s now a professional children’s storyteller in Connecticut. Her melodic soprano voice has appeared on every Wisner recording, and she’ll be doing instrumental rhythms in these concerts.

Baltimore area’s Mac Walter first joined Wisner, Whitaker and Schwartz in a 2004 Chesapeake music event at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in Washington, D.C. He’s played with the Washingtonian jazz/blues icon Deanna Bogart and toured with Johnny Winter. And he’s cousin to John Cronin. In 2003 the two released Cousins, a guitar and song CD, with sold-out performances. Second Cousins is now out.

Behind the CD is sound engineer Jim Fox, of Lion and Fox studios. As Tom’s health kept him from traveling, Fox drove to Solomons and recorded Wisner at home, calling out what Wisner calls “some of his best singing.” A second silent presence is Wisner’s son Mark, now an Alaskan. Tom has re-worked Mark’s songs “She’s a Good Boat” and the ballad “Susquehanna Down” for the CD.

Teresa Whittaker voices a thought shared by so many who’ve worked with or simply known Tom: “I feel such great gratitude for all he’s done to awaken our consciousness and skills.”

If pain allows it, Wisner says he’ll be in the audience and even try “a moment” on stage. However that develops, expect an exciting, unique and un-repeatable experience.

Passing Along the Legacy

Wisner is now focused on passing along his legacy. “Come to this sharing. You will never regret it. I will be rich, and I will love you forever,” Wisner urged. He has vowed to “live his death,” and he lives it in full awareness that every moment is irreplaceable. For this extraordinary living moment, you get three chances — but no more.

In the longer term, The Smithsonian Institution is adding all Wisner’s CDs to its Folkways Collection, making them as close to eternally available as music can get. The Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons has created a Chestory Archive that holds Wisner’s tapes, photos and personal records of Chesapeake waterways. The Chesapeake Education, Arts and Research group, in Greenbelt, will continue on his educational work. With support from Kathy and Michael Glaser in St. Mary’s City, Tom’s Chesapeake songs are being charted for a songbook.

The three end-of-January concerts promise a rich experience of Wisner’s work as it is being carried on by the generation after him. Friends he’s inspired are determined that “Chesapeake born, Chesapeake free” will continue to be sung — and felt — by children and adults across the watershed. Tom Wisner’s music is destined to live.

But you may not have another chance to hear it with Tom around.

© COPYRIGHT 2010 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.