Rod Spearin of Gardiner studies one of his copies of the sheet music to “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,” which started his collection of sheet music about Maine. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

GARDINER — Rod Spearin remembers with great clarity when music entered his life.

When he was in the seventh grade in South Gardiner, the district superintendent had found the money to pay a music teacher who would travel among the schools.

As a farm kid growing up in the 1940s, Spearin loved baseball and reading about history, particularly about the Civil War and World War II, which had ended recently.

Music was a bright spot in Spearin’s childhood and adolescence. And now in his retirement, it has brought him a new pursuit, a way to connect with others and a chance to amass a collection that highlights his home state’s role in popular music.

For more than two decades, Spearin, a retired school administrator and superintendent, had collected sheet music, including that of songs that reference Maine.

For a state that has been known for decades for its lumber, lobster and vacation destinations, Maine crops up surprisingly often in the annals of popular music of the early 20th century. And it has the sentimental and nostalgic titles to match the era: “When the Silv’ry Moon is Shining on O’er the Hills of Dear Old Maine,” and “The Dear Old Kennebec Way Down in Maine.”

Some songs were penned by natives for love of the state, like “The Song of the Kennebec,” by Madison native Alice Weston in 1913, and Roger Vincent Snow, a Brunswick lawyer who wrote “The Grand State of Maine,” in response to a 1930 contest. It later became Maine’s official song.

Spearin’s path to his collection started with that music teacher in South Gardiner more than 70 years ago.

“Jeez, that was exciting,” Spearin said, sitting in the house on Pleasant Pond he shares with wife, Linda.

“The minute she came through the door, you knew she was in charge,” Spearin said. “She wasn’t a rookie. This was not her first gig.”

She introduced them to the basics of reading music, but that could only hold their attention for so long. Then, she plugged in her record player and queued up a a record of Stephen Foster music.

“We loved his words and his jumping music,” Spearin said. “That became our theme music for the year.”

A few years later at Higgins Classical Institute, a prep school in Charleston, Spearin learned to play the trombone and played in church and at dances — when he was not hitting the books or playing baseball — until he went to the University of Maine.

Spearin said he set aside music after marrying, raising his daughters and working at school districts in Camden, Rangeley and Gardiner.

When he retired in 1995, he was looking for something to fill his time — beyond his work transforming a lakeside cabin into a year-round home and summer base for the generations of his family. He did not have hobbies, such as woodworking or fishing, but he had his loves of music and history.

That led Spearin to start collecting sheet music produced for songs in World War II. He and Linda would travel to antiques stores, homes or wherever tips would lead them in search of sheet music. He would buy sheet music by the box and sort through it at home.

In one box of sheet music, gotten during a trip to Brewer, he found what kicked off his specialized collection.

“When you were a kid back in the ’40s, every girl in America read ‘Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,'” he said. Linda, sitting at their kitchen table, confirmed this.

The popular book, which was made into a movie, is set in Maine.

“This is a treasure to me,” he said.

Not all the music has such a high profile. In Spearin’s collection is a song by Everett Basford, a custodian who worked for the school district in Camden when Spearin worked there.

He’s also collected sheet music by musician, singer and actor Rudy Vallee, who attended the University of Maine, popularized “The Maine Stein Song” and went on to achieve fame as one of the first crooners.

“There’s nothing about Rudy Vallee that catches me, for some reason,” Spearin said.

So he donated about 70 of the pieces he collected to the University of Maine archives.

Spearin gave up playing music long ago, so he has not heard or played most of the music he has collected. Instead, he appreciates the words, cover art and information on where and when it was printed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Spearin’s collecting. He said he has not been able to add to his collection for more than a year, but he hopes to continue tracking down sheet music.

For now, he is awaiting that next call from someone who has sheet music tucked away in an attic or basement that Spearin will likely want to see.


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