LEWISTON – Renee Blacken, a Bates College senior, will offer an evening of fiddle music, singing and step-dancing at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 8, in the college chapel, College Street.

Blacken will be joined by friends, including a Bates a cappella ensemble and Greg Boardman, of Auburn, a fiddler and member of the Bates music faculty. Sponsored by the music department, the concert is open to the public at no cost. For more information, call 207-784-1425.

Blacken, of Ithaca, N.Y., will perform her own compositions and selections from the New England contradance, Celtic, old-time Appalachian and French-Canadian traditions.

A double major in chemistry and religion, she has maintained a parallel career as a musician throughout her time at Bates – performing and, as a member of the student-run Freewill Folk Society, helping to organize the college’s monthly contradances and concerts by guest artists.

“I play this kind of music because it’s what makes me feel alive and makes me feel connected to other people,” Blacken said.

In addition to Boardman and friends from the Bates traditional music scene, guest artists at her concert will include the a cappella ensemble Northfield, which practices “shape-note” singing and which Blacken co-founded in her first year at Bates.

Blacken has sustained her musical career despite the challenges of pursuing a double major. Her interest in chemistry emerged during her time at Vermont’s Putney School.

Her exploration of religion at Bates has included an Otis Fellowship for a project researching monastic life in Ireland and a senior thesis investigating the vocal music of the Baptist church in southern Appalachia.

“I think science and religion end up complementing each other much more than opposing each other,” she said. “They are trying to get at the same thing, trying to explain the things we can’t explain – the same three basic questions of how we got here, how we relate to each other while we’re here and what happens when we’re not here.”

But music remains dominant. Blacken started to fiddle at age 17, and while at Putney developed an interest in the traditional music of northern New England and in particular its Celtic origins.

In fact, Blacken said, she attended Bates largely on the strength of the college’s extracurricular offerings in folk music.


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