PORTSMOUTH — Tom Hall's friend Bruce MacIntyre quoted Hall saying, "If you want to be in the community, be the center of it." Tom Hall had certainly achieved that status; it was said many times in many ways Saturday afternoon at a gathering to remember him.
Tom Hall died last November at age 71, a fixture at the Press Room where he sang, played and talked during Friday night traditional music sessions and monthly Saturday sea shanty singarounds with fellow musicians for 30 years. That music community celebrated Hall's life in word and music at the Press Room on Saturday.
With Hall's widow, Linn Schulz, sitting at the front, Emery Hutchins introduced speakers and musicians who had played with Hall, had been mentored by Hall, had been friends with Hall — some even acknowledging that their singing had been critiqued by Hall.
Some called themselves "Tom Groupies." They definitely skewed toward retirement age, dressed in jeans and khakis, with a generous display of plaids and wool and cloth hats.
The first to speak was Raelene Shippee-Rice, who said, "When I think of someone like Tom leaving us, the universe should halt. The universe should resonate with song and music in acknowledgement of Tom Hall."
Many in the audience sang with those on stage, joining in with Paul Schurr's rendition of The Watersons' "Chickens in the Garden," and with Bob Eaton on "Steady Boys Walk On."
"This will be our last trip home, so steady boys, walk on," Eaton sang.
Lauren Orlen of Concord brought her 1984 Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School yearbook, which was dedicated to Tom Hall. He taught social studies. Lauren said, "As many said on Facebook, he was always available."
Bill Cunningham recalled his childhood friend. "We called him Tommy; we were 6," he said. Cunningham said Hall was very interested in history. "He was the only kid I knew who read Sir Walter Scott for pleasure."
Press Room music booker Bruce Pingree told a story from 30 years ago, when then Press Room owner Jay Smith, musician Larry Garland and Hall said, "Bruce, we're proud of you. We think of you as a curmudgeon in training." Pingree replied to them, "With the three of you as teachers, how could I be anything else?"
Andrew McKay and Carole Etherton wrote from Wales: "We'll raise a glass to Tom at our local pub."
The musicians attending included David Surette, Jeff Warner, Harvey Reid and Joyce Andersen. Surette said he started coming to the Press Room's Friday afternoon sessions in 1984, while he was in college. "Tom was friendly, welcoming," Surette said. "I just found it incredibly exciting."
"He was so supportive," said Barbara Heggie, who plays flute and whistle.
Bob Frost of Portsmouth said he has known Hall since the late 1960s or early 70s, when they began playing together at the former New World Gallery in Portsmouth.
Katherine Rhoda met Tom and Linn at the Whitehorse Pub in North Conway. She sang, "a farewell shanty."
Alan Taplin sang "Four Strong Winds."
Peter Bixby sang "Hal-an-tow," old English song.
Frost played with Reid and Andersen on "Whisky Before Breakfast."
Scotsman Chris Vaughan said, "When I first came here in '92, I was a wee bit homesick. I wanted to find some real music. That's what I found here in Tom Hall and the Press Room. We will never see his like again."
Steve Smith and Dave Hallowell each presented video tributes to Hall. Smith put together photographs with Hall singing or talking behind them, and Hallowell found old and new video interviews with Hall. In a recent interview with Steve Carrigan at WSCA, Hall whispers because of the loss of his voice. But older ones sound a voice that could be heard the length of sailing vessel.
At the end, Linn Schulz welcomed those who would not get through the crowd during the performances. After, she said, "I am a writer and I have no words. Tom and I have the most amazing friends anyone could have." And, "we had a life filled with music and artists."
Perhaps the legacy of Tom Hall was best expressed at the end of Hallowell's video. A mosaic of photographs grows and grows until the viewer realizes that it forms a portrait of Hall. His friends form his image, and superimposed are the words "Most of all we thank you for the musical community you have sparked."