A longtime collaborator provides an appealing portrayal of John Meredith Langstaff (1920–2005), the talented and passionate musician, charismatic performer and tireless researcher who created the combination of song, dance and drama known as The Revels.
The first Christmas Revels in Cambridge, Mass., in 1971, was an entertainment with medieval roots and a winter solstice theme grown from Langstaff’s interests in folk music and traditional dance. With his daughter Carol and other associates, he went on to develop community and seasonal celebrations of many different traditions and subjects. In nine more cities, from New England to the Puget Sound, professional and amateur musicians, children and adults, joined to offer annual performances combining mythic elements, ritual and enthusiastic audience participation. Cooper (Victory, 2006, etc.), the Newbery-winning author of The Dark Is Rising series, was a partner in many of Langstaff’s projects. Describing herself as “John's tame writer for fifteen years,” she explains that, late in life, he asked her to help him write a personal history going back to his choirboy childhood. Unfortunately, Langstaff died before they could complete their joint effort. For this “posthumous present to a friend,” she has interviewed colleagues and scoured her subject’s papers to produce a short, gracious and highly readable story of a man and an institution. Beginning with his early years in a family whose annual Christmas carol parties began before he was born, she covers his musical education, service and combat wound in World War II, teaching, performing and process of turning folksongs into children’s books. The second half of her narrative is a history of the Revels. This is a selective rather than exhaustive account, with well-chosen examples and quotations that convey the breadth and appeal of an extraordinary man.
A loving remembrance and a special gift for all who have encountered Langstaff and his performances.