In Washington's Shadow

March 1st, 2017 3:20pm

Dear Listener,


Tahsae Smith award Sound and Story celebrates Mahattanville college  student, Tashae Smith. Last weekend, she received the  Black Pioneer of Newburgh Award from the City of  Newburgh Human Rights Commission.  What did Tashae  do to earn this honor?

 She unveiled the story of 19th century African Americans  in Newburgh through an audio walking tour, In Washington’s Shadow.
150 years from now when a college student like Tashae wants to research life in the late 20th century, they’ll have an abundance of documentation to explore. Including stories Sound and Story has collected.  But few acconts of African American life in the 1800s remain today. Tashae had to scour public records and search through old newspapers to uncover this little-known history of the Hudson Valley.
Sign In Washington's Shadow  2The In Washington’s Shadow audio tour starts, not at Washington’s Headquarters - an important Revolutionary War landmark-but across the street at George Aldorf’s home, a man who claimed his freedom in 1827 before slavery was abolished in New York. Yes, our farms were once sustained by a slave population as large as Georgia’s.  Aldorf went on to become one of the wealthiest men in Newburgh, and fought for the early desegregation of the Newburgh public schools. Thank you, Tashae, for bringing forward important stories from the Hudson Valley that may have otherwise been left unheard. 
In honor of Black History Month, we’ve gathered together a new playlist - African American Voices. Listen to Frederica Warner describe watching her lovingly restored house destroyed by an urban renewal wrecking ball. Hear Barbara Williams fear as she recalls sitting on her porch in Alambama witnessing smoke rising a few blocks away from the burning of a Freedom Rider’s bus. Share Ted Bowles’ shock as he remembers encountering Jim Crow south after enlisting in the army. These stories may not have the national significance of General Washington’s, but they help us learn about our neighbors strengthening our connections to each other while revealing aspects of our past not always included in the historical record.   
Keep listening, 
  Eileen McAdam
Sound and Story 

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Record Family Stories with a Smart Phone

December 13th, 2016 6:36pm

Years ago, rummaging through a box of old things, I came upon a single cassette. The yellow worn out label read simply, “Mom.” In a flash it came back to me: I was in grad school, working on a film project and came home to interview my mother.  At the same table I’d eaten all my childhood meals, I asked my mom about her life – boarding school, her mysterious first marriage, raising five kids. This was that recording. I rifled through the box for a player, plunged the cassette in, and pushed play, already excited to share her stories with my children. But a somber male voice touched my ears. Confused, I fast-forwarded. Again and again, I searched desperately for my mom’s voice. And then I remembered.  My then-husband recorded a law school lecture 20 years earlier on this very cassette. My mom was still alive at the time and neither he nor I realized the gift that it contained. 

The human voice carries within it so much more than the words spoken. Like a finger print, our voices are completely unique. Voice carries nuances of meaning, feeling, things unsaid. It hints at our age, tells where we are from, even what we might aspire to. When I think of all the gifts I’ve given my children, family, and friends over the years, I regret that something as permanent as a child’s giggle or my mother’s words has not been one of them.    

Today it is easier than ever before to capture these wondrous voices. Most of us now carry an audio recorder in our pockets – our smart phones. With attention to a few small details, you can make a decent recording of your loved ones. This guide can help you.

Wishing you a joyful holiday season filled with cherished stories shared now and preserved for the future.  

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Story as Antidote

November 22nd, 2016 11:42am

Remember the first time you felt entranced by a story? Your ears glued to every word waiting to hear what happened next? I do.  When I was a little girl, my father would make up scary tales that my brother and I called the Toady Stories. We’d burrow under the covers on either side of Dad, and excitedly await to be transported to a different world. I remember the warmth. The anticipation. The little yelps at the surprise thumps my father would add to the stories to scare us. 


I loved those Toady stories, but do you know what stories resurfaced over the years? The ones I repeated to my children? The small anecdotal tales I heard re-counted casually in the spur of the moment. The yarns about our family. Like how on a hot summer evening, I’d come home from the town pool, towel wrapped around my two-piece and plop down next to my Dad on the bench outside our side door. One look at my exposed skin would spark my father to retell his story of swimming in the polluted Hudson River as a kid with his mother, the grandmother I never met, modestly covered from head to toe in a black bathing suit. “The only bare skin you’d see was on her face and hands,” he’d say with a smile. “She even wore shoes.” Or how as a young man my father left home suddenly to wander through the south for over a year.  When her  reappeared home, unexpectedly, my grandfather sat, reading a paper in his usual chair. He peered over the corner of the newspaper, said simply, “Hello John,” and went back to reading. That small slice of life tells me a lot about the grandfather I never knew. In these moments I’d feel like an invisible yarn was weaving its way through the years before I was born, connecting me with relatives I’d never know. 


Family gatherings provide a perfect opportunity to listen to the beautifully ordinary stories from the archives of your family’s memories. Stories that connect, rather than divide. This Thanksgiving, when families are fearful of conversations about our recent election, one simple question can steer the conversation to common territory and unlock recollections from another time. “How did you and Grandpa meet?” “What was the dress code when you went to school?” “Do you remember your first job, or first kiss, or first car?” Ask, then relax back and really listen. 

These are the kinds of stories that fill the Sound and Story archive. Stories that are told on front porches, on long car rides, in quiet moments. Stories you won’t hear on the radio but make us wonder about place, meaning and the passage of time. 

Like how my neighbor Robert Van Wagenen could sit on his front porch on a Sunday morning and listen to different church bells ringing from the distant village. Each bell so distinctive that he knew when it was time to race into town to make it on time for his church service. Or Dorothy Miller remembering  the day her mother took her to witness the Thruway opening. When the official motorcade passed, her mother yelled at the top of her lungs, “God Bless you Governor Dewey!” Unlike many others, Dorothy’s mother was grateful for the money she received for her failing farm when the Thruway tore threw the valley. 

May your Thanksgiving be filled with the stories that connect you, to be remembered and shared next year, and the next year, and the next … 


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Sound Beginnings

October 30th, 2016 7:23pm - Posted By: Eileen McAdam

 Ever say yes to something you weren’t sure you wanted to do? And then it changed your whole life? That’s what happened to me, one early spring morning when I went with a friend to record the dawn chorus. 

To be honest Jim Metzner was already more than a friend. We were both recently divorced and had started dating. So when he invited me to go with him and his students on a dawn expedition to the Vassar Farm to record birds – he was teaching a class called “Re-discovering Listening” at the time – I said, “Sure.” In my numerous careers, I had never thought about recording bird songs. Frankly, I was thinking more about being with him for a sunrise than about capturing some morning tweets on tape. 

Jim brought along an old Sony cassette recorder in a beat up leather case for me to use. I hung back while he gave his class instructions and sent them off to record. Then it was my turn. He carefully placed the worn leather strap over my shoulder, adjusted the headset just so over my ears, and handed me the microphone, telling me to hold it lightly but steadily in my hand. Then he pushed the red record button. “We’ll meet up later,” he said, simply, and was gone. 

I should have stayed home sleeping, I thought as I watched him leave, standing there alone in acres of open meadow, trying to hold the microphone the way he’d shown me. The sun, higher now, lit the specks of morning dew and the grass glistened. Standing very still, I tilted my head toward the sky and closed my eyes. The visual landscape faded as I was consumed by the soundscape. I listened. And listened. And listened some more. Sure, I’ve always loved waking up to songs of birds on spring mornings, but this was different.  The meadow had sprung to life. A cacophony of buzzes, tweets, gawks, trills hit my ears like my own personal orchestra. I was hearing what my ears had never heard before; it was like seeing the rings of Saturn through a telescope for the first time.

A half hour later when Jim returned I was still standing in the same place.

That experience turned the universe around for me. Shortly afterwards I bought my first digital recorder*, but I still have that old Sony and that electrifying morning chorus tucked away in my closet. 

Within a year, Jim and I started Sound and Story.  Within five years we were married. But that’s a story for another time. 

* See photo above 

 Jim recording with Sony cassette recorder before he went digital.


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