The Mattabesset String Collective is a five-piece Wesleyan-affiliated acoustic ensemble playing an eclectic mix of bluegrass, blues, folk, mountain, country and rock, all in a string band style.
The group’s name, Mattabesset, is the Algonquian name for the region that became Middletown. “Since our music reaches back into history, we thought it was appropriate. We were attracted to the term collective because it suggests the egalitarian nature of our enterprise,” said band member Marc Eisner, dean of the Social Sciences Division, the Henry Merritt Wriston Chair in Public Policy, professor of government, professor of environmental studies.
The band performed July 29 in Higganum, Conn. Photos of the concert are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)
Pictured from left is Gil Skillman, Rebecca McCallum, Kevin Wiliarty, Marc Eisner and Barry Chernoff. They have about 80 songs in their repertoire, ranging from old-time traditional jug band music, to string band versions of Jimi Hendrix and Guns N’ Roses, and a few songs written by band members. “One of the pleasures of playing in this band involves reaching for, and occasionally attaining, new levels of musical cohesion,” Skillman said.
Gil Skillman is professor of economics, tutor in the College of Social Studies. He plays the banjo, cuatro and dobro with the string collective. Skillman taught himself guitar as a teenager. “Once you learn to play one fretted instrument, learning others is primarily a matter of varying the approach to sounding the strings, which is easier than learning to play an instrument from the ground up,” he said.
Marc Eisner, at left, performs on mandolin. Eisner built his own mandolins, and a mandola, “and has the scars to prove it.” At right is guitar player Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of earth and environmental sciences, professor of biology, director of the College of the Environment and professor and chair of the Environmental Studies Program. Chernoff often writes his own songs.
Fiddle player and lead singer Rebecca McCallum is a cataloging librarian in Olin Library. McCallum also plays fiddle for dancers, including Contra, Scottish, English, Scandinavian, Civil War era, Greek and others. “Music is a great equalizer. Age, job title, gender, and other differences all melt away,” she said. “Playing music together is a wonderful way to connect with other human beings.” Pictured at at right is bass player and former Wesleyan employee Kevin Wiliarty.
The group practices weekly and performs four to six times a year in venues throughout Connecticut. “We have been on this musical journey together as friends and colleagues for some time now. We have shared losses, challenges and occasional triumphs together, which sometimes infuses our songs with special meanings,” Eisner said.
For more information on the band and their performance schedule, visit the Mattabesset String Collective website.