Old Chestnuts & Black Walnuts Newsletter

December 1995

Hello again. Welcome to the December newsletter. For those who may have no idea what this is.... an introduction.

Old Chestnut Song Circle - Jack Cole

The Old Chestnuts Song Circle meets monthly to celebrate songs. The circle was founded in September by myself and James Morgan. It happens in the living rooms of its members - usually in Lori and my living room near downtown Kitchener. The emphasis of the song circle is on individual performance but with group participation. Thus we sing a lot of well-known songs or songs with choruses, with someone(s) leading and everyone joining in. Everyone gets a chance to "Play, Pass or Request" as we go around the circle. Singable songs of any style are welcome, as are folks of all ages. Copies of songs are often handed out. There is no charge, although help and munchies are always appreciated. As an extension, we may try house concerts in the New Year.

Black Walnut Folk Club Still Bearing Fruit - Margaret Hitchcock

Over half a century ago, Mabel Dunham immortalized the journey of the region's pioneers in her book The Trail of the Black Walnut. As the Black Walnut Folk Club moved from place to place over the past year, we came to realise that we were aptly named.

This is our history. Robin Bruce Ward and friends started the club in September '94, under the auspices of the Waterloo Region Arts Council. In December, WRAC moved to new quarters in Market Square, and so the BWFC sought another home. Gerrit's of Market Lane took us in, and we played there from March until July 1995. But as those who were with us then know, the space was very small. We quickly outgrew it and had to hit the road again.

The BWFC has set up camp now at Jester's Court, in Kitchener's beautiful Victoria Park. There you can find our open stage on the third Saturday of every month, courtesy of proprietors Sheila and George (who also make really great fries). We meet from 8.00 pm until midnight, with the music starting around 8.30. Admission is $3.00, and musicians sign up at the door.

We are very pleased with the BWFC's success. How do we measure success? Well...numbers, of course. Most nights we have around sixty people and average about 16 performers. But more importantly, we measure our success by the eclectic nature of our club. The boundaries between musical genres have blurred since the 60's coffee-house scene, and our club reflects that. Blues, traditional folk, new folk, country, original songs, comic songs, sing-a-longs -- you can hear it all.

Our music ranges wide, and so does the age of those who play and listen at the BWFC. Musicians also come from far-ranging places to be with us -- Toronto, Brantford, Guelph, Stratford, Cambridge and Owen Sound. Some musicians are seasoned and have tapes and CDs to their name, a few perform professionally, and some have made their public-singing debut at the BWFC. All are welcome.

Jackie Ridley, Debbie Battaglia, Jack Cooper, Ed Barrington and Margaret Hitchcock make up the present BWFC committee. We welcome counsel about the club, and plan to have an open meeting in the early new year to give everyone a chance to make suggestions. Projected plans include workshops, concerts, and perhaps purchase of sound equipment.

About this newsletter......

This newsletter has, in the past, been put together just for the Old Chestnuts - to promote the circle to new people and to remind the already converted. It has the secondary purpose of spreading information that I think might be of interest. To help make the cost and effort more bearable I would like to make this a joint project with the Black Walnut folks and draft a few other people to contribute reviews, stories, articles, flyers, songs, and so on.

Who Gets It (and for how much longer)

If I'm sending this newsletter to you and you wish to continue getting it, you have two options. Either periodically let me know that you're interested, or subscribe for some length of time (see below). Best of all, do both! If you're not interested then just do nothing; eventually future newsletters will not be seen to exist; even old ones will disappear!

The newsletter (without any inserts) is emailed to those who give me their addresses. A very few copies will be available at the Black Walnut or the song circle for those who don't mind getting it 'after the fact'. I have also been mailing copies to the non-email Old Chestnuts, but I think its time to ask for 'subscriptions' to cover expenses for this. So, here's my proposal. If you would like to receive this newsletter by mail, please consider helping me out by contributing time (writing, folding, stamping, stuffing, copying) or dollars (say .70 per month for postage, supplies and to help cover deadbeats) or a bunch of self-addressed stamped envelopes. It's not required, but it would be nice. Otherwise, I go bankrupt and lose the house we meet in!

December And Future Song Circles

The December circle was the first one held elsewhere and was in conflict with several other events. I was worried, and I'm sure Dan and Ellen were too. But it turned out fine as we had 18 people comfortably arranged in their basement. The first theme night didn't pan out - only a couple of winter songs and Dougie MacLean was barely heard at all - but that won't stop me from asking again!! Hand outs included Lightfoot's "Song for A Winter's Night", two of Ed's original songs, "Pass It On" (thanks Sue) and Dan's "500 Miles" - no, not the old chestnut about the train, but by the Proclaimers (wow!). (My first index of songs so far is enclosed.) A munchie standard was set that will be hard to match! (nobody wanted to leave the food to return to the music after break!) Thanks to the hosts!

The next circle will be held on the previously announced date - Saturday January 6, 1996. It will be back at 111 Chestnut St. (just off Frederick, 578-6298), from 7:30 to 11:30 PM. Please remember: no smoking or perfumes. Please bring songs (15 - 20 copies), instruments and voices. This time (being New Years) I would like to hear as many songs as possible about new things - years, romances, toys, lives, cars, guitars, outlooks. It's not required - just a way of stimulating the creative flow - see more about this below.

The subject of future dates was brought up at the end of the December Circle. James apparently had more requests for a different night, and so we will be moving to a new night, beginning in February! I hope that this means that all of the dedicated Ernie's people can join us in 1996. Old Chestnuts #5 will be on our new regular date - the fourth Saturday of the month, February 24 1996. Location and theme to be announced.

About Song Circles

Now that we've been at this for a few months I thought I'd remind people about how it works. I've summarized some points below, most stolen from a document prepared by a member of another song circle.

- Group singing is often folk music, but can really be any style. Don't feel restricted. The group likes variety!

- Musical instruments generally remain in the background. Accapella is a good option to explore.

- There is no pressure to lead a song or sing alone. Listeners and chorus singers are more than welcome.

- The singaround is "play, pass or request". This we will do until break. After break it may vary.

- If you choose to play, please consider some things. Realize that you are teaching or leading the song. Come prepared for that: know the song comfortably well; maybe bring copies; maybe teach the chorus first. Let the rest of the group know what to expect: join in right away, just on choruses, last chorus twice, verse 3 women only, etc.; are other instruments welcome and if so when, etc. Otherwise we'll feel free to jump in any time!

- if you don't want to play yet, or aren't a player, there is nothing wrong with passing! Don't feel obligated to play or request something when your turn comes. In fact, people who have spent lots of time preparing songs or who have a special request in mind will appreciate thoughtful passes.

- Requests are of three types. You can request a particular person for a particular song; they may decline for whatever reason, no coercion allowed! You can request that the group sing a song, which you should be prepared to lead. This is like "playing", but acknowledging that some help is needed. Finally, you can put out a request for a song to the room; anyone who knows the song comfortably well can volunteer to lead it. This should be the exception, reserved for a song that you really want to hear but can't lead yourself. If no one is comfortable leading the song - try again. Or someone may volunteer to prepare it for next time. In all cases of requests, try to notice if either the song or the person has been overworked recently - everybody gets weary of the some thing.

- If there's a theme, consider using it. The intention of the theme is to inspire people to learn new songs, or to teach some that might be buried deep in their repertoire. It also helps people focus when choosing songs, rather than wondering what to do this month.

- all ages are welcome, but kids (and adults) should be mature enough to follow the format and customs

- Respect the music. Enter and leave the room quietly. Once a song begins pay attention.

- Respect the leader. The leader sets the pitch (maybe with help), speed, phrasing, style etc. Watch the leader for cues. Let the leader do the song their way. If you liked what they did, SAY SO! Encouragement helps everyone.

- Respect the audience. Well prepared or well taught songs are appreciated. People like to participate - welcome it. Avoid playing or singing so loudly that you can't hear the next person - that's too loud. Exercise judgment and restraint with instruments and percussion. Sing harmony if you can; if you can't there's lots of room in the chorus!

- Support the host. Periodically bring a snack or a beverage to share. Come early or stay late to set up or clean up. Buy the host expensive vacations or sport utility vehicles. Offer to help with mailings or photocopies.


At the risk of riling people who will (undoubtedly) disagree with me, I'd like to offer brief reviews of recently acquired CDs. I do this for four reasons: it helps fill the newsletter; it may inspire some of you to write your own reviews (see reason #1); I can justify buying more CDs to Lori (who has a legitimate argument - my CDs are now starting to encroach on her pottery space); if this newsletter gets big enough, someday artists will actually give me CDs to review in it - WOW! One rule: I won't review anybody I know - that's too much pressure. I've assigned a rating to each album (fool me!), which is how much I would pay for the CD. Okay, here goes. And I do lend CDs for second opinions, which I would be happy to include here too.

The Last Battle Bill Gallaher & Jake Galbraithe Rating: $25

Bill and Jake are from Vancouver Island. The 14 simple songs are mostly historical: Louis Riel, settling the west, train robbers, World War I, Newfoundland sealers, Silkies and so on. History may be dry bread to some, but it's a wonderful album about interesting people and times. "Augustus and Catherine" from the November circle is from this CD and there are several more great chorus songs. If you love history or Canadiana you must have this album. If you don't, you'll probably still like it. (I'm hoping to have these guys for a house concert in the summer).

Quartette Quartette (Cindy Church, Colleen Peterson, Sylvia Tyson, Caitlin Hanford) Rating: $14

This album has been heavily recommended on the Internet 'cdnfolk' list lately, so I thought I'd give it a try. My first impression was the same as when I saw Quartette live - great voices, good songs, but too 'country' for me. However, I must say that the more I listen to it, the more I like it. Certainly I'm a long-time fan of Colleen and Sylvia, and the song writing (which is mostly their own), like the harmony, is really good. If you like harmony and country music that borders on folk (each member has her own style) then this is a good bet.

Upcoming Events (please let me know about any that you feel are appropriate for next time!)

Dec 16/95 Black Walnut Folk Club, Victoria Park, Kitchener. Proceeds to the food bank.

Dec 26/95 Eileen McGann, Cathy Miller. 2000 Years of Christmas, CBC radio (AM?), noon 'til two.

Dec 31/95 New Year's Eve at Kitchener city hall. Local folk performers at the bonfire by the clock tower.

Jan 6/95 Old Chestnuts Song Circle, 111 Chestnut St. (also Feb 24/95)

Jan 20/95 Black Walnut Folk Club, Victoria Park (also Feb 17/95)