Gordon Bok and Carol Rohl tell musical tales of the Sea

Folk singers to perform in Juneau on Sept. 28

Posted: Thursday, September 25, 2008

It's hard not to be influenced by one's surroundings. And for a creative type it can be hard to suppress the urge to share stories about the things, places, people and experiences that have been instrumental in bringing a person to where they are now.

Hugh Chatfield
Hugh Chatfield

Folk singer Gordon Bok has taken to using instruments to keep and share stories of his past. Not only does he utilize his baritone voice, 6-string and 12-string guitars but also an instrument he likes to call the cellamba; it's a six-string, fretted cello he has built himself.

He doesn't stop there, though. He also uses wood in addition to music to create visual representations of memories that have shaped his life. He grew up among woodworkers and has followed in their footsteps as not only a furniture maker and instrument builder but also a relief sculptor.

"Many images are from memories of working on boats or fishing along the coast, and most of the figures in my carvings are people I have known," Bok said about his work.

Both the visual and verbal imagery Bok emphasizes in his carvings and his music are based around his connection with the sea. He hails from Camden, Maine, and has shared his stories through music all over the United States, Canada, Europe, New Zealand and Australia. Inspired by his years of working on fishing boats, yachts and schooners, he uses his music to share his unique perspective on people who live and work at sea.

Rather than resorting to some of the negative clichés about sailors, Bok writes about his own personal experiences as well as those of people he has known. Time Magazine described him as "the poet laureate of those who go down to the sea in ships."

He also dives into the mythical realm with albums such as "Another Land Made of Water," an album recorded in 1979 that illustrates the musical culture of an enchanted group of people living in the sea.

He is also a song gatherer, singing traditional folk songs from all over the world in their original languages, including but not limited to Italian, French, Portuguese and Mongolian.

Bok has worked and performed with many other musicians over the years. He was one-third of the trio Bok, Muir, and Trickett, who played together for almost 30 years. He also worked with Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary, and Stookey produced Bok's first album. He has performed with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and has audibly appeared on the radio program "A Prarie Home Companion." He has even had music included in several folk music collections, including the anthology "Rise Up Singing."

Bok will perform in Juneau at 7:30 on Sunday, Sept. 28, at Resurrection Lutheran Church. Tickets are available at Hearthside Books for $15 or at the door for $17. He will be joined by Carol Rohl on the harp. The concert is sponsored by the Alaska Folk Festival.

They will also be performing in Ketchikan on Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Saxman Tribal House.

Rohl, Bok's wife, began playing the harp in 1986 and has since shared her talent at all sorts of events in all corners of the world, often joined by her husband. She has also spent her share of time on the water, as she was a U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain for seven years, working at the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in Rockland, Maine.

"Carol was the first folk harp player in this area. When she came to town, we all muckled onto her," Bok said.

In 1996, she began to play private bedside performances for the ill in hospital rooms, homes and hospice environments. She is a certified harp practitioner through the International Harp Therapy Program and the Music for Healing and Transition Program. She has a B.S. in social work and also leads classes on musical healing.

In September 2004 at age 51, Rohl suffered a stroke that sent the left side of her body into paralysis. She didn't let it keep her keep her down, though. After only five months, she was performing with her husband again.

"Playing provides such great joy," Rohl said. "Anything that gives you joy has a healing energy to it."

• Libby Sterling is a writer and musician living in Juneau. She can be reached at fresh@libbyis.com

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