About the time I was in the fourth or fifth grade, our Board of Education succumbed to cultural pressure and budgeted $300 to introduce music into the system. Before that, our own teachers in each room did what they could, but now we had a special music teacher who came once a week with a little stick and a pitchpipe and inveigled us into singing ''Men of Harlech,'' Mendelssohn's ''Spring Song,'' and ''Soldiers' Chorus.'' The lady was fat and nearsighted, and she held her position for 13 years before the Board of Education learned she was tone deaf. She taught me all she knew about music, and that's all I know about music.
Accordingly, it promoted a chuckle when I began researching a musician, and probably I should explain. A distant kin of mine who presumes to melodic talents (he's the one advertised for a housekeeper who could play an alto horn by ear) told me he recalled vaguely a book of songs about Maine, and one of them was called ''Friendship.'' Being resident in Friendship, I started looking for that book. Neither of the town's two piano players (one of them plays the black keys only) had ever heard of the book or the song, and was no help. Libraries nearby looked but found nothing. Professor Re at Colby College was my first assistance.
His was a good lead. Seems the book of songs was called ''Harmonies of Maine, '' and the tunes, each named for a Maine town, were written for choral and glee club use by one Supply Belcher. Years ago Professor Re had arranged the tunes for orchestration, and he had conducted the Boston Pops in a medley of Supply Belcher. He seemed to recall that Mr. Belcher was from Farmington.
I submit that one does not step into a library and announce in a loud voice that he is on the trail of one Supply Belcher. That was, however, the man's name , and I soon learned everything about him except the size of his socks and how he preferred his eggs. He was indeed, from Farmington, which is the shire town of our Franklin County, and Farmington has a considerable tradition with music - ranging from Lillian Nordica and Supply Belcher to the original Indian Band. Mr. Belcher flourished in the days of the American Revolution.
His hometown was Stoughton, Mass. - a name not likely to be given to a song appropriate for young ladies' chorales. William Stoughton, as lieutenant governor of the commonwealth, had presided at the witch trials in Salem, and his harsh attitudes had ensured the conviction and execution of 20 innocent victims. Mr. Belcher had marched from Stoughton to Concord for the patriotic exercises of April 19, 1775, and was afterward commissioned an officer of the Continental Army by Gen. George Washington. After the war he returned to Stoughton, but as he planned to write music about communities, he wisely removed to Maine. His intent to settle along the Kennebec River changed after he saw places like Gardiner and Augusta, and he moved on into the Sandy River Valley and became a first citizen of Farmington. He served as delegate to the General Court in Boston.
Farmington history tells us he believed music should be fun, and he was forever coaching vocalists and presenting concerts. His tunes in ''Harmonies of Maine'' (first published in Boston about 1779) were for four parts, with ''Farmington'' atop the list. One of the Mathers came up from Boston to evangelate, and he left us no report on his redemption success, but he did record that the young ladies who sang in the vestry presented a delightful program, and Mr. Belcher was superb. The tune ''Friendship'' is midway of the book. Various copies of the book seem to be extant, but Shirley Martin, of the staff of Mantur Library at the University of Maine's Farmington campus, brought one from her shelves, and my search was over. Friendship now has its own song, lifted from the long forgotten past. Our pianists practice, we seek somebody who can sing, and the first-grade Rhythm Kids have things well in hand. Friendship How pleafant 'tis to fee Kindred and friends agree Each in their proper ftation move, And each fulfil their part In all the cares of life and love.
There was a bit of doing, and it took some time, and I think it was Rudyard Kipling who said of something or other, ''. . . it isn't worth the toil.''