PEPPERELL -- Jackie Callinan is a Pepperell resident who was looking for things about her Irish heritage.
Tom Callinan, no relation, a Norwich, Conn.-based regional songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has released 14 albums, performed on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, National Public Radio and Shining Time Station alongside Ringo Starr, appeared on her search. In September of 2005 she sent him an e-mail.
"It turns out our ancestors lived 9 miles apart from one another in Ireland," Jackie Callinan said.
Both Callinan's began an online correspondence, e-mailing one another back and forth about family histories, political jokes and other conversational things. Before long, Tom Callinan was scheduled to play a concert in Amherst, N.H. and Jackie Callinan went up to see him.
She soon found out about Tom's vast music catalog and interest in history. Tom Callinan began playing clarinet and saxophone in grade school, but picked up many more instruments, 20 in all, by the time he graduated high school. He studied to be an English teacher at Central Connecticut University. There he also took on a music minor and would later attend Wesleyan University for a master's in liberal arts with a concentration in music.
After five years teaching English, Tom Callinan began a music career. He plays to people of all ages, educating young people and doling out nostalgia for the elderly.
His first gig was apart of The Morgans, a Hartford-based folk band, after he returned from service in the Marine Corps.
Inspired by his father, a barbershop quartet and minstrel show singer, Callinan began writing songs and playing guitar. He follows in the ilk of big bands like Tommy Dorsey, the Clancy Brothers and other traditional Irish folk music, school marching bands. In 1991 he was deemed the first "Official State Troubador" by the Connecticut General Assembly.
Tom Callinan's solo career is marked by regional history. He turns stories into songs. His next album is called Commemorations and will feature tributes to small characters from the dustbin of history.
When Jackie Callinan learned of his love for history, she suggested a Pepperell girl worthy of his pen: Prudence Wright.
So he wrote "Prudence Cummings Wright" and, in November, is coming to perform it for the town. The Pepperell Historical Society and Prudence Wright Chapter of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution are co-sponsoring a concert with Tom Callinan. It will be his first time in Pepperell.
"Its important to teach these things and boost people's awareness," he said. "My work is a tribute to people, real people."
Commemorations features the Prudence Wright tune, and songs about people like Deborah Sampson, another female hero who faked her identity to fight in the Continental Army; inventor David Bushnell, who pioneered the first submarine; and Michael Donlon, a Conn. man who died saving a mother and daughter from an on-coming train.
"I don't plan on this stuff, it just comes out of me, these are inspiring stories," Tom Callinan said.
Other's he has sung about include a lawyer who helped start the American Association of Variable Star Observers, the compassionate British Commander William Campbell, the bookish Noah Webster, level-headed Oliver Elsworth and the Paul Revere-like Sybil Ludington. He says he usually hears about these characters like he did Prudence Wright and then researches them intensely to learn all he can. By committing them to rhythm and rhyme, he says, they are accessible, understood and preserved.
The concert will take place at the Pepperell Senior Center on Thursday, Nov. 3, at 6:30 p.m. Admission will be free but donations are accepted. Information on Tom Callinan can be found at http://www.crackerbarrel-ents.com/Callinan/bio.htm. His album Commemorations is out now and will be available for sale at the event.