Museum Pieces: Island music

The evolving story of singers, songwriters, and musicians.

The crowd at the No Nukes Concert overlooking the stage with the ocean in the background. —Courtesy John Abrams

“I enjoy music wherever it’s coming from.” –Taj Mahal

Music is the pulse of a community. It helps set memories, spark ideas, and save stories. Martha’s Vineyard Museum values local music and musicians for the narratives they provide about Island life. 

There are eras of Island music that bond us. If you mention the Mooncusser, the Seaview, the Atlantic Connection, the Wintertide Coffee House, the Rare Duck, Lola’s, the Hot Tin Roof. or Outerland, you can tell how long someone has been here based on their response. Same goes if you mention artists like Maynard Silva, John(ny) Cruz, the Ululators, Alex Taylor, or the Ogres, as well as the No Nukes Concert, Vineyard Vibes, Ladyfest, Chilmark Potluck Jams. If you listen to the lyrics of the Island songwriters, you can get a sense of what people were feeling and focusing on at the time it was written. Music can preserve cultural identity, influence social cohesion, and communicate a more complete truth in a less offensive way — and musicians may protect our sense of who we are and hope to be. 

MVM is beginning a new ongoing series of talks with Island musicians to hear their story and what is behind the music they play, followed by a performance. It will start this Friday, May 17, at 5:30 pm, with the legendary Barbara Puciul and Jessie Leaman — women who have stories to tell about their music and Island lives. Some Islanders write their own music. Others interpret music written by others. All can effectively convey important information about the times. Both Barbara and Jessie have entertaining stories, rooted in Island history, that can help bring us together — to appreciate the musical ways we share in such narratives.

The museum will also use music to fulfill our mission of being a community and cultural institution. Our “Global Rhythms Summer Concert Series,” each Tuesday in June, July, and August, from 5:30 to 7 pm, will present musicians from different cultures who call this place home. Our goal is to appreciate the cultural mosaic this Island truly is, and have fun getting to know one another. Please come and help us celebrate our music community with stories from people related to that evening’s culture.

The Milokan Project, by Rick Bausman, is a music-based approach to understanding and unity founded by the iconic Island drummer. Rick will deliver a cinematic presentation on Wednesday, May 29, at 5:30 with his film “Bat Tanbou,” meaning “beat the drum” in Haitian Creole, about the origins of the Milokan Project in Haiti and its connection to Martha’s Vineyard. The film chronicles several long trips throughout Haiti, with rarely seen footage of ceremony and drumming. Attendees will have a chance to participate in drumming, and a discussion about Rick’s Rhythm of Life Project, which has grown out of his decades of leading drumming circles on State Beach with Camp Jabberwocky, and through drumming workshops for those with Parkinson’s, mobility, and coordination issues, and with schoolchildren. 

There are so many good people in our community who have stories we need to hear, and the museum is intent on collecting as many as we are able. You can help us by attending these types of programs so we can raise the funds needed to keep moving toward our objective of being an excellent source of stories that represent many groups that call M.V. home. 

No matter what you’re listening to, one only needs to remember that all music is worthy of being heard and celebrated for what it is: a time capsule.

Visit for more information about upcoming exhibitions and events. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday year-round. Regular hours are 10 am to 4 pm, and summer season hours are 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is free to members; admission for nonmembers is $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, $5 for children 7 to 17 and free for children 6 and under. Islander rates are available.