I’ve been working with the Gawler family for many, many years and it’s always great to reconnect with a member of that talented family. So when I discovered that Johnson Hall was going to have a livestreaming concert featuring “The Gawler Family Band — Duos” on Saturday, Dec. 5.

I reached out to one of the two daughters each of which are involved with a duo performing that night. The configurations are Elsie and Ethan, and Edith and Bennett. Having chatted with Elsie Gawler back in January, I decided to pursue her sister Edith this time ‘round and reached her at home.

Q: I don’t have to tell you that this is a year unlike any other before it.
Gawler: Definitely not. Looking at my calendar for 2020, back in January and February, it seemed like every weekend throughout the spring and summer was pretty much spoken for. I had plans to go out to the Pacific Northwest and California to play music and down in North Carolina, all sorts of fun things of the docket. And a lot of them were contra dance weekends, so that is one thing you cannot do virtually (laughter). Yeah, it was going to be a big year of playing for dances, but that has been postponed until who knows when. But, it also has been a year of silver linings.

Q: Oh, how so?
Gawler: It has been an incredible gift to have all this space and time to just turn inwards and connect with my roots. I’ve been playing a lot more music on my own and with my family, just for the hell of it, because while usually we practice for gigs, now we’re just playing because we need it, and love it, and cherish it so much. So, it’s been quite a year of rerouting excitement from events toward music making for my own self. It’s been really beautiful.

Q: Well, it’s funny that you should mention silver linings, because that’s come up in quite a few of my earlier interviews; that and livestreaming shows like the one you and Bennett and Elsie and Ethan will be doing from Johnson Hall this Saturday.
Gawler: And that in itself is another silver lining. All these venues have figured out a way to livestream now, and music has been accessible in a way that it just hasn’t been prior to all of this. It’s been amazing; I’ve been able to tune into shows on the West Coast and right across the pond, a bunch of shows with friends in Sweden, for example. And there’s such an out-pouring of creativity that is now accessible to so many of us and I’m so grateful for that.

Q: How would you describe the music that you play?
Gawler: Well, for those that haven’t heard our music, which is probably a lot of people who will be tuning in, it’s steeped on the Maine musical traditions. And of course Maine is a bit of a melting pot; we have influences from our neighbors to the north and our old-time influences from the Appalachian Mountains down south. And there’s a lot of Irish and Scottish tunes that have come over, and a lot of Swedish and Norwegian, as well. I mean, there’s a town called Norway and a town called Sweden here in Maine.

Q: And I live in Sweden, just down the road from Norway!
Gawler: Oh, yeah, that’s right! So, we play a little bit of all of these musical traditions, the fiddle tunes, and try to incorporate them all into our Maine sound. There’s fiddling and there’s banjo playing, guitars, a little bass, and cello, and lots of singing and harmonies. That’s the tradition of work songs. I would like to add that Elsie and Ethan Stokes Tischler each have been writing new songs. Elsie just released a new solo CD in the spring this year, and they will be playing some of the new songs, as well. Ethan will be playing guitar mostly, I believe and probably some banjo.

Q: So what does Bennett play, and his last name is Konesni, right?
Gawler: That’s right, and he plays just about everything under the sun. He can apply his musical knowledge to just about anything you put into his hands, but for this show he’ll mostly be playing guitar, fiddle, banjo and maybe a bit of stand-up bass.

Q: And you are primarily the fiddle?
Gawler: I would say I’m equally spread between the fiddle and the banjo, although one of the silver linings for me, in COVID, is I’ve been teaching myself how to play the bass. It is so much fun. And I feel very connected to this enormous instrument, an upright bass. You’re essentially hugging this giant, wooden, vibrating box, and you can feel the notes through your arms and your body. It’s an incredible experience; it’s almost like a warm hug in a time when we probably don’t get a lot of warm hugs.

Elsie Gawler and Ethan Tischler. Photo by Elsie Gawler

Q: Now this concert coming up at Johnson Hall with the two duos?
Gawler: Elsie and Ethan are one set, and I’ll be playing music with Bennett. I haven’t had a duo show with Bennett in a while, so I’m very excited to have the chance to do this with him again.

Q: Will the two duos have separate sets and then come together for a joint one, how will this turn out?
Gawler: I don’t know at what point in the evening the joint ensemble will take place, maybe right in the middle, maybe at the end, but we definitely have some bigger band numbers in the works. So that’ll be nice.

Q: How long does it take to put a show like this together?
Gawler: Well, that’s a good question. I mean, we’ve been playing music together, Elsie and I and Molly and mom and dad, for about 25 years, so there is such a foundation that we can build on that working up new material, or brushing off old material, just comes so easily and so naturally that sometimes it doesn’t take any preparation at all to do a show. Really (it’s) just warming up the vocal chords. And then other times, and I think this will be one of those times, we’ll put quite a bit of rehearsal time in and work on those duo numbers and the quad numbers a little more in depth. It’s a bit of a new configuration with just the four of us instead of the whole big family.

Q: Well, having worked with your family over the decades, from The Gawler Family Band and The Gawler Sisters: you, Elsie and Molly. The sound of your talents combined, especially the heavenly vocal harmonies, is always a joyful, enriching sound. And, in these trying times, a much-needed experience.
Gawler: That ability to make music with your family is definitely one of those things I keep coming back to with an incredible amount of gratitude. When we get to sing in harmony with our voices blending so well, we share DNA you know, it’s like no other sound I’ve ever heard or ever created. It just gets right into the core of my being, if you will. Yeah, it’s transformative. That’s one thing I’ve been missing the most with the coronavirus, the lockdowns and everything, but we have been able to get together outside this summer and sing together. It’s been one of the best tonics for these times that I can imagine.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Gawler: Well, I hope everyone is doing well and staying safe and taking care of themselves, and if tuning in to hear some Maine-grown music will help them fill their days with joy, then I hope they’ll tune in. And we’ll do our best to lift their spirits and to spread warmth and good feelings to everyone in these wild times.

Lucky Clark has spent over 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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