McCallum: On The Green

Jul 24, 2015

At the end of a summer Sunday afternoon, while walking toward the Dartmouth Green in Hanover, N.H., I heard the plaintive call of a trumpet. Across the busy intersection, a young woman blew her instrument toward the center of the green.

Drawn by the haunting notes, I entered the grassy space and saw other players ringing the perimeter. I’d stumbled upon a performance of Trumpet City, a live installation of more than forty trumpeters playing an assembly of individual notes described as “a collective call for peace, attentiveness, joy and affirmation of life.” While that mesmerizing hour on the green felt poignant, it also felt strangely communal.

Since then, I’ve had village greens on my mind. What began as common grassland for grazing New England livestock in the eighteenth century has morphed into community green space that we now use for everything from chicken barbecues to village tag sales, holiday parades and concerts. Especially concerts. My town of only 1,300 citizens enjoys a concert series every summer with top talent in blues, folk, rock and Celtic music, their harmonies bouncing off the old brick walls of a former woolen mill that borders the green. While listeners relax on blankets and sip wine, kids chase one another around shade trees and local dogs eye the pizza sold from a wood-fired oven on wheels. The only hint of livestock on this green is the crowing of a lone rooster in a nearby backyard.

With their old fashioned bandstands and lush green grass, Vermont’s hundreds of town green concerts offer urban visitors a relaxed musical experience along with a heavy dose of local color. It’s as if the sense of community is circumscribed by the perimeter of the green, and we’re all in it together - tourists mixed in with the locals and all of us stitched together by the music of a warm summer night.

When Vermont poet Neil Shepherd wrote about the South Royalton town green, he asked, “ How long has it been since I lazed on a town green? A couple of square acres set with maple and crabapple. Two gazebos, for bandstand and romance.”

Town greens are nostalgic, iconic even. They invite us to pass some time, to stroll instead of run, to notice what’s around us. Two hundred years ago a green was likely to be grazing cows and sheep, but today it can be anything from a bustling community picnic to a ring of forty trumpeters calling us to feel and and be grateful for the green grass beneath our feet.