Concerts Concerts Concerts Jack Cole
The New Year seems to have brought folk
music back in full force! I have a bigger-than-ever listing of
upcoming events at the end of this letter - hope to see some of
you in attendance!
But what has me so excited I might burst
is the very first Old Chestnuts House Concert, which will
happen on April 27!! If you saw them at the Eaglewood Earth Festival,
or heard their version of Northwest Passage (edited by
the CBC!) on the Stan Rogers tribute program, or noticed their
East Coast Music Awards nominations for album and group of the
year, then you already know that you must not miss....Modabo
in concert at 111 Chestnut Street!! This is a real scoop for
us - these three guys from New Brunswick aren't famous in Ontario
yet, but that will happen. Their mixture of voices, guitar,
flute and percussion is heavenly, whether it's an original song
(the CD is great) or a cover of Stan, or CSN or The Beatles.
They're in Ontario to play Harbourfront the first weekend in
April, then moving up to us for the last weekend. Imagine, being
one of about 40 people to sit in the living room and be personally
entertained and chat with them, or one among hundreds at Harbourfront!
Tickets will be going on sale at the next OCSS (yes,
members get first dibs!) for $14, which will include munchies,
and probably a warm-up Song Circle or concert by some members.
I have a couple of other artists considering
offers to play here. If this first concert is a success word
will spread, and we will be able to have events like this
a few times a year. Don't let this amazing opportunity be lost!
News Of The Woods Music and Dance Camp
Many of you will already know of The
Woods, which was the inspiration for the Old Chestnuts
Song Circle. Over a dozen ex-"campers" are members
of the Circle. For those in the Circle who have not been
to camp, I can only say that if you love music and a sense of
community, going to The Woods will be like finding your real home.
You will never want to leave.
The Winter Woods is none too
far away. It happens the first weekend of March at the 5 Oaks
site near Paris, beginning Friday evening and concluding Sunday
afternoon. It is limited to about 40 people and is filling up
fast. The staff for the weekend are Finest Kind (Ann Downey,
Shelley Posen, Ian Robb) and dance caller Lanie Melamed.
Cost is $175, which is all inclusive. Matthew Shuster very kindly
brought a few registration forms to the last Circle; call me (519-578-6298)
or Matthew (416-482-9920) to get one. The deadline (if it's
not already full) is January 31. I have never been to a Winter
Woods, but I'm sure it is a great time and a good way to sample
the experience before hitting the summer camp.
I am delighted to have recently
received info for The Woods '96, held the first weekend in August!!
Here are the people that will be teaching the classes, leading
the workshops, playing the concerts, chairing the song circles,
working at the dances, amazing you with their talent, jokes and
generosity (really folks; the music starts at breakfast and ends
whenever - certainly well after midnight!).
I am assuming that Sue Goldberg,
Eve Goldberg, Judith Laskin and Grit Laskin are once
again the hosts and organizers. They put their hearts and souls
into making sure everyone has a great time. They're always there
behind the scenes (or in front) making things happen. Other staff
(with an indication of their specialties, which may or may
not be what they teach): Becky Hill (amazing dance
caller, storyteller); Pierre Shryer (wonderful dance band
fiddle); Nathan Curry (dance band guitar, fiddle); Cathy
Miller (singer/songwriter); Ken Perlman ('hotshot'
banjo, guitar); Tom Lewis (singer/songwriter, sea songs);
Magpie (Terry & Greg, singer/songwriters, dulcimer,
mandolin, mouth harp, guitar and Woods' favourites). Add to this
some very talented campers, who participate in song circles,
campfires, performance circles and concerts!
On Leading Songs Sue Goldberg
Last time, Jack outlined the guidelines for the song circle and made some suggestions for song leaders. I thought I would add some thoughts to his. I've been leading songs for over 25 years and have picked up some ideas along the way.
One of the most important things is to pick the right kind of songs. I've found that because I love group harmony singing so much, I'm always on the lookout for songs that will work for good group singing. When I look at the ones that are "keepers", the ones people ask for over and over, they share some features. They're simple songs with a lot of repetition and predictable melodies. This is one case where "less is more". An easy chorus or refrain (a single line that repeats at regular intervals, e.g. sea chanties) is always a plus. Other good forms are "echo songs (where the group repeats each line the leader sings); "zipper songs" (where the verse repeats with a new word or phrase each time) and songs where each verse consists of a single line that repeats several times. These are all forms in which anyone can participate after hearing a verse or chorus without having words or music to work from. In general, the more complex a song is, the harder it is to make it work as a singalong. Lots of great songs that "everyone knows" don't work for this reason.
Jack talked about the importance of knowing a song well in order to lead it. I find that the first time I try out any new song as a leader I have some anxiety and I may be shaky. Part of it is whether it will "work", part of it is lack of confidence about whether I know it well enough that my singing can "go on automatic" and I can pay attention to helping the group participate. For me, this has to do with making eye contact, giving cues for rhythm and phrasing, letting people know when I sing alone and when they come in, and generally having part of my brain free to process how it is going and make adjustments. If that sounds like a lot, it is! But after you've done it a few times, it becomes second nature. One way to pick up some of these tricks is to watch good song leaders and notice what they do. A trick I learned from Bob Walser is pointing at myself when I am singing alone and at the group when it's join-in time. Cueing words or phrases in advance is often tricky ( I only do it on one or two songs ) but can be a big help to the joiners.
Finding a good key is really important, not just for yourself, but for everyone else. One reason people may not join in is that the melody is too high or too low. (This can be a perfect time for harmonies if you're a harmony type, but we need voices on melody too.) Of course it is important for the leader to be comfortable in the chosen range. If your voice is naturally very high or very low this can be a problem. As someone who grew up singing soprano, I find that in order to lead songs, I have to stick to the bottom of my range. In general, male and female voices want to sing about half an octave apart and if you have both in the group, which most song circles do, you have to compromise somewhere in between! When you do find a good key for a song, make sure you find out what it is so you can pick it next time...or ask if you're not playing an instrument yourself.
Which brings me to instruments...a strong rhythm from an accompanying guitar, banjo etc. can help to keep the group together, but instruments can also get in the way. If you're leading the song, having to concentrate on your instrumental work can detract from the vocal music or the process of leading. If the instrumental work is too busy or ornate, other people too begin to lose their concentration on singing. You may want to have some "official" instrumental breaks in a song, but during the singing time, the instrumental work needs to be simple, simple, simple (the "less is more" principle again) to support but not detract from the main activity. This is one of the reasons I love a capella singing so much...it frees you from having to think about this kind of balancing act. It also frees you harmonically. If an instrument is playing chords, it establishes the harmonic structure of the song. This can be good for helping new harmony singers develop a sense to find their notes, but it also limits the choices that the experienced harmony singers can make.
One of the things that has kept the
Toronto Song Circle going so long is a dedicated core of people
who continually keep their ears open for good songs, make it their
business to learn them and are prepared to lead them. I hope
the Old Chestnuts are well on their way to developing a similar
core. It isn't always an easy task, but it IS a rewarding one!
About this newsletter......
In the boring details section....you may recall that last month I made a plea to those who receive this letter by mail, for help paying the postage. I am happy to report that the following showed appreciation by contributing:
Yep, that's it. Thanks, Chuck (and
to be perfectly fair, Germaine too, who mailed out the second
newsletter). I am sorry to say
that for many of you this will be the last issue
that will arrive in your mailbox. You can still change
January And Future Song Circles
The January Song Circle was attended
by twenty, including, yet again, some new members. The continual
growth is really encouraging. The hilights for me were Merrick
leading us in singing an Australian lullaby to an almost asleep
Amanda, and Amanda again, singing Bicycle Built For Two....and
soloing brightly on the "I'll be damned" line! The
adults did okay too. I was a bit in awe having Merrick, Sue and
Beverlie all there at once; they carry among them so much of the
folk tradition. It was a huge complement to us all when
Merrick said that this Circle is among the best in his 50 years
experience as part of the folk scene.
The February 24th Circle will be at
111 Chestnut Street. In response to underwhelming demand there
will be no topic for February, but if there was to be a topic,
I suppose that love songs would be appropriate. Either that,
or songs about leaping ("Buffalo Jump"?). Just a reminder
of the house rules - no smoking, no perfume and no corn products
please. This will be the first night with no conflict with Ernie's,
so I'm expecting a few more people; come at 7:30 for choice seats!
Rumour has it that a banjo or two will be turning up in February
("What do you call a banjo player with a pager? An optimist.").
I would like to encourage the mandolin and fiddle players out
there (you know who you are!) to make it to OCSS in February,
and we'll maybe get some picking in after the sing alongs are
done. "Slow jam", anyone? March and beyond Circles
will be the 4th Saturday of the month.
The Steve Goodman Anthology: No Big Surprise Steve Goodman Rating: $42 (2 discs)
It's been over 10 years since we lost
Steve to leukemia. I recently dug out some vinyl and made a tape
because I missed his music so much. Then I was given this
disc and booklet package. Now I know just how much I missed.
Yes, City of New Orleans is there, and The Dutchman
and Chicken Cordon Blues, but there's so much more.
Reading the book and listening to the Live disc (there's also
a Studio disc) shows the character of the man. He was funny,
gracious, a peerless entertainer and terrific songwriter. And
he loved baseball; there are 3 baseball songs, including A
Dying Cub Fan's Last Request. Living music lovers should
request this album - it's inspirational, diverse and damn fine.
Upcoming Events (please let me know about any that you feel are appropriate for next time!)
Jan 20/96 Black Walnut Folk Club, Victoria Park (also Feb 17, Mar 16). 8:00, $3.
Jan 26/96 OCSS member Beverlie Robertson and husband Charlie at UW Grad Club for a night of blues. 9:00, no cover.
Jan 27/96 Penny Lang, Theatre on the Grand, Fergus
Jan 27/96 Cate Friesen and Katherine Wheatley, Zion United Church, Kitchener (tickets at Readers Ink)
Feb 2/96 Ashley MacIsaac, Lulu's. With The Mahones. Feb 3/96 Irish Descendants, University of Guelph, War Mem. Hall
Feb 3/96 Garnet Rogers, Zion United Church, Kitchener (Readers Ink) Feb 24/96 Old Chestnut's Song Circle. Also March 23.
Mar 2/96 Ani DeFranco, University of Guelph, Peter Clark Hall Mar 9/96 Judy Small, Zion United Church, Kitchener
Apr 13/96 The Whitely Brothers, Theatre on the Grand, Fergus Apr 20/96 Heather Bishop, Zion United Church, Kitchener
Apr 27/96 Modabo, Old Chestnut's House Concert Series (number 1 of 1, so far!)