TV Productions 

"Attainable Goals - The Somerville Sunsetters" A Television Documentary by Peggy Melanson

 Photo by David Marshall

A hush fell over the crowd when David Testa began to sing, "Many Moons ago in our little town...." As the piano played, hundreds of voices raised in unison....'Twas a group that sang when the sun went down, and it happens still today."

The Sunsetters were back!

Much like the gathering of the jazz musicians depicted in the documentary, "A Great Day in Harlem," last winter, they returned to the Good Time Emporium Somerville, Massachusetts from Seattle, California, Arizona, Vermont, New Hampshire and from all over New England. More than two hundred Sunsetters joined voices one more time.

The Sunsetter Story

In the 1970's and 80's while Fleetwood Mac, Led Zepplin and Jefferson Airplane were rocking the world, The Sunsetters were singing and dancing on the streets of Somerville. Linda Thompson made people weep with her version of, "What I did For Love." Tom Smith sang "Jesus Christ Superstar," Holly Ahearn lamented, "Can't Stop Lovin' That Man," and Billy Sartell belted out "Pin-ball Wizard."

Courtesy Photo

Clad in jeans and 'T' shirts embossed with the Superman "S," they performed numbers from Broadway hits, Chicago, West Side Story, Hello Dolly and later, rock tunes such as, "Jesus Christ Superstar" and original popular music written by song-writer and director, David Testa.

As the sun dipped in the evening sky, they came to life! Night after night, hundreds of people gathered from Somerville, Massachusetts neighborhoods to watch. Many adults brought their children from Cambridge, Medford, Arlington, Malden and Revere. People settled into lounge chairs, sat on porches or stood on the sidelines to catch a glimpse of the costumed youngsters as they lined up in front of the designated house. Anticipation was palpable! When the teenagers raised their arms to the heavens, the band began to play.

 

Somerville Phenomenon

A call to Somerville City Hall placed your street on the Sunsetter calendar. The group usually "plugged" the electrical equipment into the house of the person who called. The police closed off the designated street to ensure safety for all. On any given night, you could see the police snapping fingers to the music.

The Sunsetters were truly a phenomenon peculiar to Somerville. Adults and children of all ages were thrilled by the "neighborhood kids" singing and dancing on their streets. In the 70's and 80's the group was far and away the most popular performing force in the City of Somerville.

Their magnetism and popularity came from complete dedication to rehearsing four days a week and performing four nights a week during the Summer.

More than 20 years later, Sunsetters living in different parts of the country still remember the lyrics of the "Sunsetter theme - Many Moons Ago," Lyrics to the song were written by former director, David Testa and music by Mary Rogers.

While searching for a name for the group, performer, Daryl Goodrich came up with, "Since we perform at sunset every night, "why don't we call ourselves "The Sunsetters?" The title stuck and has become a legend that lives on in Somerville.

 

Street Performance instead of Sports

In 1971, Ken Lonergan realized that that there was not much for girls and boys who were not involved with sports to do during the Summer months. He approached then Mayor, Lester Ralph and proposed the idea of "Street Theatre" for the neighborhoods as part of a Somerfest a Summer youth program. Mr. Ralph approved the idea and when Eugene Brune took office, he made sure the program was funded throughout his five terms as Mayor. Brune's eyes still twinkle whenever he talks about "his" Sunsetters.

 

Attainable Goals

During the Sunsetter era, Somerville youngsters had attainable goals. Strict rules and regulations had to be followed. Parents and participating teenagers had to sign release and behavior forms before anyone could audition. According to the directors, rule infraction, especially while wearing the Sunsetter uniform, would result in dismissal from the Sunsetters. Many of the teenagers said that knowing they were role models was the one important thing that kept them out of trouble as teenagers.

 

Sunsetters Role Models for other Kids

Because the Sunsetters existed, youngsters had neighborhood role-models that lived next door or around the corner. Kids were given goals that could be attained.

They set examples for starry eyed eight to twelve year old kids who sat on the ground in front of the performers. Others could be seen in the back-ground singing along and imitating every move and gesture for that magical day when they became old enough to be Sunsetters.

 

Impact on children far-reaching

The impact of the Sunsetters on the Community was far reaching! Parent-Groupies took their kids, not old enough to perform, but old enough to watch, night after night to see the remarkable teenagers. They encouraged their children to aspire to be Sunsetters.. Mothers and fathers were proud to call themselves "Sunsetter Groupies."

Jane Tuttle a four year veteran of the troupe said, "There was plenty of trouble we could have gotten into, but we were too busy rehearsing and performing most of the time.

The Directors made it very clear to us that we had an obligation to behave in an exemplary fashion while wearing out Sunsetter costumes.

We were taught to "raise the bar" on our expectations of ourselves and to share that with the youth of the city. This influence stayed with us beyond the summer and our time as Sunsetters."

In the seventies and eighties the Sunsetters shared their gift of talent, dedication and enthusiasm throughout the State, performing for elderly groups, women's clubs, many Mayors and even at State Functions for the Lieutenant Governor.

One of the most popular performances, "Who Do You Think You Are, Howie Carr?" a spoof about newspaper journalist and television performer, Howie Carr was held in Boston and shown on National television.

 

$100 sneakers can't cut it

Sunsetter, Linda Thompson remarked, "With the advent of computers and rapid world-wide communications, teenagers are bombarded with commercials in every area of their lives, even in school. More than ever, they look up to sport, movie and rock stars as role models. Commercials monopolize all spaces in our lives. They hold the ultimate power because we cannot escape them. Even in the privacy of our own homes, we are subject to commercials by everything we see and hear."

Children of all ages are encouraged to believe that if they consume certain ideas or products, they will become like the performers they see on television and computer screens or in the movies. Disappointment, disillusionment and anger follow when kids realize that those hundred dollar sneakers cannot make them jump any higher and that personality and behavior count more than chewing the "right" gum."

 

All about teamwork

Not so in the 70's and 80's. The kids of Somerville were exposed to the Sunsetters who spent more than twenty years working desperately hard to perform well for their community and for the youngsters that were waiting in the wings to become "Sunsetters. "There were no "Stars" in the Sunsetters, soloists perhaps, but it was always about "teamwork." Everyone got a chance to shine!

In a recent interview, Sunsetter music director, David Testa said," Being a Sunsetter was one of the most important parts of my life. It's why I'm a voice teacher today."

 

"Attainable Goals-The Sunsetters," a documentary film is available at the Somerville, Massachusetts Museum (617) 666-9810 and at the Somerville, Massachusets Library,( 617) 623-5000


 Peggy Melanson

a Biography

Chosen "Cool Woman of the Year" by AMC Television Network and Romance Classics, Peggy Melanson aka Chef Nostalgia® is a professional writer, columnist, television producer,photographer, storyteller, performing and visual artist. She writes for several New England Newspapers and Magazines. She is the designer of the "Finding The Courage To Create" a creative writing workshop for beginners. Peggy has also written and produced comedy shows, "Food For Thought," "Points To Ponder," "Kids Komments" and "Man In the Street" as as well as professional educational videos. As Chef Nostalgia, she has performed her "One Woman comedy Show at the legendary Club Passim in Harvard Square, Cambridge Massacusetts, Harvard University's Episcopal Divinity School, the prestigious "Three Apples Storytelling Festival, Natick Center for The Arts and at several libraries, book stores and private events. She presented the "Finding The Courage To Create" workshop at the 18th Annual Storytelling Conference, "Sharing The Fire" at Leslie College, and at the University Of Massachusetts Enterprise Center. This workshop is ongoing at Tufts University Administration Bldg. Somerville, MA. She also teaches "Stonescape painting" at educationsal centers and libraries.

email peggy@findingcourage.com for more information.


Courtesy Photo

Peggy Melanson Writer - Producer - Performer

 

Food For Thought

Points to Ponder

Kids Komments

Man in the Street

Talking to the Davis Square Statues

 

Peggy Melanson - Associate Producer

with Hotsand Video Productions

 

October - 2000 "Area Meeting Video" for Total Learning Concepts

Amgen-Aranesp "Roles and Responsibilities" for Total Learning Concepts

 

January, 2001 - Peggy Melanson - Producer

Web CD "Labor and Delivery at Beth Israel Hospital"

 

Crew -Left to right: Tom Hamilton, Dave Baker, John Mahoney (crew at Beth Israel Hospital shoot) photo by Peggy Melanson

The crew with director Jim MacAllister

Stories and Poems

Stories

Brother Blue - Golden Comet

The Turkey Story

Mystic View

Buddha on the Bus

Teenage Buddha

Baby Buddha

Popsicle Buddha

Crystal Bowl Buddha

Receptionist Buddha

Lucky Penny Buddha

Cat Buddha

The Girls Who Work

The Gift

Poems

Forever

Finally Let Out

The High Muckey Muck

Murder in My Yard

Green Fingernails

Frying Pan Love

 

Photographs

T.O. the Cat

Water Lily

Oops

Purple Pleasure

Wrights tower

Buddha in Pelham

Doorway

Beauty in the Square

The Teacher

Black & White Cat

Cat and Tree

New York Skyline"Before"

Out House

T.O. the Soccer cat

Munyia

John O'Donoghue and plane

 

Storytelling Recipes

Italian by Osmosis

Old Friends Fun and Food

Pilfered Orange Cranberry Scones

I can't Believe I hung up on Spencer Christian

Runes & Kiss Cookies.

 

 

Stories and Poems

Stories

Brother Blue - Golden Comet

The Turkey Story

Mystic View

Buddha on the Bus

Teenage Buddha

Baby Buddha

Popsicle Buddha

Crystal Bowl Buddha

Receptionist Buddha

Lucky Penny Buddha

Cat Buddha

The Girls Who Work

The Gift

Poems

Forever

Finally Let Out

The High Muckey Muck

Murder in My Yard

Green Fingernails

Frying Pan Love

 

Photographs

T.O. the Cat

Water Lily

Oops

Purple Pleasure

Wrights tower

Buddha in Pelham

Doorway

Beauty in the Square

The Teacher

Black & White Cat

Cat and Tree

New York Skyline"Before"

Out House

T.O. the Soccer cat

Munyia

John O'Donoghue and plane

 

Storytelling Recipes

Italian by Osmosis

Old Friends Fun and Food

Pilfered Orange Cranberry Scones

I can't Believe I hung up on Spencer Christian

Runes & Kiss Cookies.

 

 

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