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Adirondack Awakening makes learning fun

By Al Cormier
Salem Town/Village Historian
May 28, 2008

As I sat listening to the opening verses to Adirondack Awakening, I thought what better way to learn about the largest forever-wild forest in the United States than by song and dance? I remember that the use of music was a common way to teach children years ago, but for some reason, has fallen out of favor. That's too bad I thought, thinking of the songs and dances relating to history and culture that I learned as a child in my clasroom. Those I remember well.

But here I was again being taught in a musical fashion - and an enjoyable one at that. No one could doze at this performance. This orginal musical, Adirondack Awakening, features, in a rollicking and sometimes somber manner, little known details about New York State's Adirondack Park. While the performers wound their way through historical vignettes about the early Dutch, English and French pioneers who vied for the beaver trade and valuable mineral and logging rights in the undeveloped North Country, I couldn't help but wonder why learning about history couldn't always be this much fun.

Indian culture and Indian names, such as Adirondack (bark eaters), are revealed as well as the names of those early explorers - Henry Hudson and Samuel de Champlain for whom the Hudson River and Lake Champlain are named respectively. The conflicts between the European explorers and settlers, or early Christian missionaries like the French Jesuit, St. Isaac Jogues, and the indigenous Indians tribes are made evident numerous times. For example, the changing of place names from Indian to French to English is revealed in a humorous ditty.

As the Adirondacks became better known through the building of railroads and passable roads by commercial and industrial giants looking to exploit the natural resources, the general public, too, took notice and used these mountains as their cool summer retreats. Camping, hunting, fishing and a myriad of outdoor activities captured the imaginations of those wanting to leave the sweltering cities for cooler climes.

On a sadder note, people came to the Adirondacks to be cured of terrible diseases of the 19th century. One common disease was tuberculosis, and the pure mountain air was considered to be a cure for tubercular patients. The musical's saddest song is told by a tubercular patient in a Saranac Lake Sanitorium. She tells the listener that while a cure was possible, the disease sometimes won the battle.

To live in the Adirondacks, people had to be hardy, since the rugged mountains did not lend themselves to farming and the winters were long and bitterly cold. Nevertheless, the mountain's call was irresistible to those looking for adventure. Today, people continue to answer the call.

As a retired history teacher and current Salem town historian, I liked the message, and I liked the theatrical presentation. This musial presents history in a fun way. What a pleasant break this is from the dull history texts used in classrooms today. Making a performance of Adirondack Awakening available to viewing by students fits my idea of making history interesting and exciting.

- Al Cormier
Salem Town Historian

Fort Salem Theater
© 2008