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Featured Filkers: Mary Ellen Wessels and Ed Stauff

Mary Ellen Wessels was born and raised in Michigan. She developed her love of folk music partly from her musical family and partly from being a Girl Scout (where she got the nickname "mew"). She is a guitarist, plays recorders, mountain dulcimer, bodhran, dumbek and several other instruments. But her best and most unforgettable instrument is her voice. Mary Ellen reaches out and spellbinds her listeners with the passion, spirit and genuine emotion she pours into her music. Interpreting songs from a wide variety of songwriters, her voice has been compared to Sally Rogers, Sandy Denny, Claudia Schmidt and Holly Near.

Mary Ellen began studying voice at age 15 and her first years in College were as a vocal early music major. Now she teaches voice lessons privately and gives workshops across the country on a variety of vocal and performance subjects.

Born in Connecticut of musical parents, Ed Stauff grew up in a house full of musical instruments, all of which he eventually learned how to play. His earliest musical influences included the Kingston Trio and the organ music of Bach. Following the classical muse, he studied pipe organ through high school and while attending Yale University. After moving to New Hampshire, he encountered the radio folk shows of greater Boston, and was instantly hooked. As director of a variety of singing groups, he has arranged numerous folk songs, both traditional and contemporary.

Ed’s primary instrument remains the keyboard, whether it’s a grand piano, a MIDI synthesizer, or a 3-manual pipe organ. His expressive piano style has been compared to Elton John and George Winston. Through the magic of MIDI, he performs studio-quality arrangements live on stage. He also plays recorders, guitar, banjo, and hammered dulcimer.

Mary Ellen and Ed met a music convention in 1995, and the following year she moved to New Hampshire to marry him. The result is a formidable musical duo that has delighted audiences from coast to coast, as well as in Canada and England. They have performed at the New England Folk Festival and have opened for The Short Sisters, Fred Small and Lucy Kaplansky. Mary Ferguson of Simple Gifts Coffee-House says: "Ed is awesome on the keyboards. Mary Ellen’s voice and instruments of guitar and percussion add a touch of magic that is always pleasing."

Ed Stauff was born of a poor well-digger’s family in the uncharted wastes of the Northeast. At an early age he learned firsthand the meaning of the phrase "cold as a well-digger’s ass." Having heard the call of the Muse at an even earlier age, he set out to seek his fortune as a bard, seeking to study with the Elves and thereby become the greatest Harpist the world has ever seen. Unfortunately, the Dwarves found him before he found the Elves. Given the Dwarves’ love of things complicated and mechanical, the harp gave way to the pipe organ. Never satisfied and always seeking something bigger, more powerful, and more complicated, Ed turned from the pipe organ to the synthesizer. His inevitable seduction to the Dark Side of the Forte was wrought by the dread Monster In Da Instrument (MIDI). His hope of salvation came many years later in the form of a classical guitar given him by his heartbroken parents. His ears open once more to the Muse that had called him since childhood, Ed embarked on a terrible quest: instead of turning his back on the evils of electronic instruments, he sought to turn them to the service of Good. His soul torn between Wood and Silicon, the battle goes on.

Mary Ellen Wessels (AKA: mew) was not born in a little log cabin. She was born in the wilds of Detroit, Michigan, to poor (OK, middle class) teacher/parents. There is an unsubstantiated rumor circulating that she came out of the womb singing "I Did It My Way." She did run about the house enthusiastically singing at a very early age (driving her mother crazy). With a desperate sense of self preservation, her sister taught her to sing harmonies when mew was quite young. She grew up singing disgustingly wholesome and uplifting songs by Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez and that ilk.

Continuing in this wholesome trend, she went all the way through Girl Scouts and even became a counselor. One day her brother introduced her to the evils of rock and roll (the Beatles, Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, and Jethro Tull) and she was lured in. Soon after, she discovered Science Fiction Fandom, and consequently Science Fiction. Deciding she liked both, she started going to every con she could get to by car.

She joined a filk/rock/folk band with two PhDs (Barry and Sally Childs-Helton), an artist (Gwen Zak), and a professional SF author (Mike Kube-McDowell) and learned to sing "a little more like Janis Joplin." Oh the excitement! Oh the thrills! After extensively touring (several cons anyway), the band broke up when she had to move to New Hampshire in order to find truly wonderful rocks and a quite adequate musical partner. She decided to marry. (The musician, not the rocks.)

In September of 1997 she married Ed Stauff and became the proud owner of health insurance! She misses her former musical coconspirators, but fortunately the Black Book Band will reunite for a triumphant comeback tour at OVFF in 1998! Her first professional CD, "Current Obsessions," manages to get airplay totally in spite of a lack of self-promotion and a disdain for the term "product." Now she lives in New Hampshire, adapting to being an evil step mom ™, performing at local coffeehouses and folk festivals, teaching voice lessons, reading, and continuing her quest for a way to actually make money doing music.