The Old Chestnuts Song Circle Newsletter
June 1998

Your Voice: Taking Care of Your Instrument Jean Mills (with tips from Modabo)

We all come to the Old Chestnuts Song Circle because we love to sing, and one of best things about this group is that our voices are welcome, whether weíre a vocal training grad, a long-ago member of the school choir, or just an enthusiastic shower-stall Elvis. But when itís YOUR turn to lead a song, does that inconvenient little frog suddenly leap into your throat? Does your normally perfect intonation start slipping? And why are you so out of breath suddenly?

Itís funny that we buy humidifiers for our guitars, change the strings on our instruments regularly, keep them in a case and practice diligently. Why donít we look after our voices that way?

Here are some comments from Jon Weaver of Modabo about keeping your instrument - a.k.a. your voice - in good working order for each "performance."

The boys of Modabo are not trained singers, although Jon does admit to taking one lesson from tenor extraordinaire Ben Heppner when they were singing in a church choir together. And Michael Doyle went to a day-long vocal workshop about eight years ago. Says Jon: "Thatís the collective extent of our training."

But theyíre not completely without know-how. They all try to do vocal "noises" before a show to warm up the cords. A serious warm-up isnít usually in the plan, but if they have enough time before a performance, theyíll run through some songs.

Also, Jon stays away from milky or creamy drinks before singing (you can add cheese to this list). These foods tend to create phlegm (Jon calls it "gunk") which interferes with the vocal cords and throat.

Because Modabo almost always performs with amplification, they have the advantage of mikes to pick up those hard-to-project upper and lower ranges. But good breathing habits will help with projection too: breathe from the diaphragm and push the air evenly across the vocal cords. Another trick is to learn where your chest voice, middle voice and falsetto are found. This might require the assistance of a vocal coach, however.

A little exercise is a good idea too. Loreena McKennitt told Canadian Musician magazine that on tour, she tries to stay in hotels near good jogging routes. Jon says the Modabo boys donít work out, but each tries to get some form of activity on a daily basis.

So how do these three self-taught singers achieve such a glorious blend of voices? For one thing, theyíre just lucky to have voices that work together, and this is not something that can be taught. "People talk about our vocal blend being something special, but for us, we just like to sing," says Jon. "It gives us a lot of pleasure."

And thatís exactly why weíre members of a song circle: we just like to sing. But if you want to make the most of that instrument you carry inside, try some of these tips. Take a walk every day; you can use the time to rehearse the lyrics of that song youíre trying to learn. Sing or make noises on your way to the song circle. Remember, scales are great for improving intonation. Avoid pizza and chocolate milk for supper that night, and bring along some water laced with lemon juice to fight phlegm.

The voice is an instrument like any other, but itís unique to each one of us. Take care of it. Use it. Sing!

Concerts for the Fall! Jack Cole

Yes, I know itís only the beginning of summer and we have a whole season of festivals and vacations to get through! But I canít miss an opportunity to plug concerts coming in the fall. After all, I wonít get a chance to tell you about them until theyíre over!

On Saturday, September 26 we have Rick Fielding coming for a house concert. You will have seen Rick at festivals, or heard his radio program on CIUT. At one Eaglewood festival I heard him introduced as "The Godfather" of Toronto folk music. Rick is a terrific songwriter, an amazing instrumentalist (on just about every instrument invented) and an all-round nice guy. His music ranges widely from country to blues, but singable folk music is at the core. Iím really looki ng forward to hearing more of Rickís music.

Then on Saturday, October 10 we welcome Eileen McGann back to the Circle. Eileen and David K. played here two years ago, and of course have been back twice as two thirds of Trilogy. They will be playing at the Mill Race and Goderich festivals this year, but if you want to hear the best music in the best setting, come see Eileen in the house (or maybe at a slightly larger venue - to be decided yet).

Last time we combined Eileenís house concert with an afternoon "Harmony Singing" workshop. Great fun! Eileen, David and Rick Fielding are all noted as teachers of music, and they are willing to do workshops while they are here. Possible topics would include song writing, singing, many and various instruments, recordingÖ.if you are interested please let me know as soon as possible! If we can get enough interest one or more can happen!

One more concert note. Eve Goldberg is finishing the recording of her new CD, and sometime before the end of the year (?) we should be hosting her for a house concert, date and location to be determined; but in the meantime you can catch Eve at the Home County festival.

SO! Call 578-6298 to reserve tickets to these great events!

The Winter Songfest Bruce Kellam

[ In the ending of Winter and the beginning of Spring, the Wood folks gather to make music to welcome the season. A handful of Old Chestnuts were sprinkled in their midst...]

It was a rainy weekend in Musicville but nobody's spirit was dampened (as near as I could tell). The Winter Songfest was a wonderful getaway for a singer/guitar player like myself. I mean, really, what's better than a weekend spent playing and singing with like-minded people?... O.K., maybe there are a few things better, but not too many that I can think of.

For those who haven't been there, a short description. The setting - Five Oaks Conference Centre near Paris - was quite beautiful, very private and perfect for singing up a storm. I arrived Friday night around 6:00 p.m. and was greeted by the other Songfesters, mostly Toronto Song Circle folks. We settled into our rooms, had dinner and then proceeded to pull out the various instruments and sing (in a circle, of course). The songs were many and various (I started off with Barrett's Privat eers and it was soon clear that they knew the song well - the chorus was, to put it mildly, vigorous). I think we packed it in about midnight on Friday.

That made 8:30 breakfast on Saturday seem pretty early (some people skipped it, of course). After breakfast there were a variety of activities happening in addition to music. I went for a walk to visit the campgrounds down the hill - a nostalgia excursion, since Five Oaks was where I went to camp when I was a kid. Somehow it didn't look quite the same (it hasn't been that long, has it?).

People did various things on Saturday besides music -e.g. scrabble, knitting, reading, photography. There were workshops for harmonica and harmony singing and a practice for the "Dance Band" for Saturday night. Yes, we did have a dance on Saturday night. English "Contra" dancing, it was called - led by Janice Mark from London. I heartily recommend it, if you get the chance - a great time was had by the dancers. Saturday night finished with a song circle that lasted (the last few of us) u ntil 1:00 a.m.

And again, most of us were up for breakfast by 8:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. The food, by the way, was plentiful and nutritious, and, in some cases, intriguing - especially the bean soup. My personal favourite, however, was Cheryl Shuster's chocolate cake that she brought from home.

In summary, good food, friendly talented people, beautiful setting, very enjoyable music and lots of interesting instruments to look at (especially the Grit Laskin super guitars - with all due respect to the less flashy models also present). I'd do it again and I'd recommend it to you too!

May and Future Song Circles Jack Cole

We closed out the season with a couple of dozen people (including 2 first timers) and a theme of Favourites From the Year. A difficult topic, as it turned out, because not everyone keeps tabs on these things. The idea was to get a few requests, and that we did. It was nice to hear great songs reprised including a few originals. The song list to date is at the end of this newsletter - weíve handed out over 150 songs so far! Lots to request from!

Due to the concerts in the fall, the next circle wonít be until October 24, and even that should be confirmed just in case. But with house concerts, music camps and festivals the summer should fly!

Notes From the Far East John Hennessy

There's a flaky theory that many people are attached to their homelands by a sort of emotional elastic band. The further away you move, the tighter the band gets. It's true. After two months in Asia I find myself longing for Ireland (real home), England (where I was born) or Canada (adopted home). The fact that the Japanese have a word for "the emotional home" (furusato) just makes it worse! Now maybe it's just my mind giving up or maybe it's the time of man, but I'm starting to hear Irish and Scots music over here.

The first time I went into a record store, at night in the teeming streets of Taipei I was ready for culture shock. Masses of kids buying Chinese pop music. Signs in a typography that I cannot hope to comprehend. Yet something was familiar. Over the loudspeakers I could hear a woman's voice singing "Amazing Grace". I don't know who it was, but she was Irish or American. Those of you who know me might remember that Grace is my wife's name. Instant relief! But wait, there's more.

The next track they played was instantly recognizable as Davey Spillane, the Eric Clapton of the Irish pipes. Now as I wander into stores or sit in taxis, I hear songs and tunes that are Chinese, but the phrasing and structure are unmistakably Celtic; more so than many of the "Celtic Rock" bands we have in the Maritimes.

Maybe I'm losing it, maybe it's real (reel?)......

Merrick Jarrett: A Life in Folk Music Jean Mills

The scene: a crowded living room of an old Kitchener home. About fifty people, old and young, are sitting on chairs and couches and piano benches, standing in doorways, leaning against walls. Guitars are cradled on laps; over there is an autoharp; in the corner are a couple of dulcimers. All those strings vibrating, along with so many voices raised in song, toes tapping, hands clapping - the whole room resonates. Is this by any chance a party for Merr ick?

Merrick Jarrett, folk music guru, ageless leprechaun, seated at the top of this circle of revelers, is in full swing. And why not - this is a party in his honour, organized and attended by some of the people whom he has touched, influenced, guided and inspired in his many roles as performer, teacher and friend.

In fact, there were a few things to celebrate that night. Merrick had just been awarded the Porcupine Award in the category of Folk Builders by Rick Fielding of The Acoustic Workshop radio program (CIUT). This award, one of the series of Great North Wind Porcupine Awards originated by Steve Fruitman of CIUT at the University of Toronto, recognizes "the fine efforts of certain persons who have promoted, influenced and educated from behind the scenes" to make life for folk musicians better . It only takes a quick read of Merrickís self-published memoir to realize what a pioneer he has been in the world of Canadian folk music and to appreciate the extent of his contribution.

And that was another reason why a houseful of people had gathered to celebrate: Merrick had just released "My Life In Folk Music," his autobiographical account of "how to succeed, more or less, on five guitar chords, four keys, a capo, and a lot of nerve." Full of self-deprecating humor and glimpses of folk legends large and small, "My Life In Folk Music" is a delightful anecdotal journey through a lifetime of music. It documents Merrickís budding career as a cowboy/country and western s inger, his transformation to traditional folksinger, his experiences with the folk revival, clubs and festivals, as well as his years as an instructor of folk music at the University of Waterloo. It is a testament to the influences that shaped his own life as a musician, influences that he passed on to countless others -

Countless others: some of whom sang and clapped and strummed the night away in that crowded Kitchener living room. When the closing came, and Merrick spoke his heartfelt thanks, there was a strong feeling that the music could have gone on till the sun came up, and beyond.

Bill Gallaher Songbook

I know that many, many of you are fans of Bill Gallaher's music. I've been talking with Bill over the past few months, while he's been working on a couple of book projects (which means not too many news songs! Rats!). One is his memoirs (more about this some other time) and another is a songbook of his music.

Producing and publishing such a work is always expensive, and this is where Old Chestnuts can help. I am offering to help Bill pre-sell copies of his songbook. Here's the deal. The book will contain about 30 songs (words and lead sheets) and several photos. Bill is hoping to have it done by the end of September, but he can't guarantee that. It will have a spiral spine so that it lays flat when opened and will cost $20 (taxes included), or about 66 cents a song!

We have done this before, helping presell CDs for Modabo and Eve Goldberg. (I'm STILL waiting for my Shari Ulrich album that I "pre-bought" last summer!) I think everyone realizes that September may turn into December, and the $20 could creep up a little! But just imagine what Christmas presents these will make for the folkies in your life! And for yourself! And you will be doing something concrete to help a very deserving songwriter spread the music. PLUS, I will twist Bill's arm to get him to autograph all of the pre-sale copies. Maybe Jake, Maureen and Mike too!

One more incentive. When Bill and Harmony Road are back next time (1999?) people who participate in this offer will get first chance at concert tickets. I know, that's blackmail. But it's GOOD blackmail! So, if you're interested, send me $20 and I'll put together an order. We should get this all together for the end of the summer to help Bill with expenses. Let's see if we can't sell 30 copies!!

Some Events in The Area (as space permits!)

Jun 19 Black Walnut Folk Club, University of Waterloo, Laurel Room. 8 PM. $3. The BWFC head poobahs host!

Jun XX Mary Ann Epp concert (9:00) and "Singing Lesson #1" (7:30), various locations June 22-25, $6 each, $10 for both. 742-2955


About this newsletter.....

Itís emailed if I have your address. Itís available at OCSC and BWFC get togethers. Also available by regular mail, but for that I request a few stamped envelopes or a contribution to postage. Call 578-6298 for more information!!! Thanks to Jean, Bruce and John for WIONDERFUL articles! So the season winds down; what a mixed up year! Highlights: all the concerts; 22-4 4 people!; great newsletter articles and more great songs! But time to relax now!!

Summer Festival Information

Hereís information about nearby festivals, scrounged from various sources. I make no promises to accuracy, but it should be pretty good!! I have listed some performers that I find particularly noteworthy - apologies if I have left out a favourite. Prices are minimum weekend ticket.


Mariposa July 4 Bracebridge (705) 645-3037 $ 15

Moxy Früvous, Lennie Gallant, Eric Nagler, Glen Reid, Joe Charron


Celtic Continuum Jul 11-12 Collingwood 705-444-7750 $ 10

Music + workshops by craftspeople.


Home County July 17-19 London 519-432-4310 Free

My favourite, and not yet missed festival celebrates 25 years! 150 craft vendors and 7 stages. Cathy Miller, Eve Goldberg, Michael Smith, Tanglefoot, Ken Whiteley, Dawnbreakers, Heather Bishop, Dixie Flyers, Friends of Fiddlerís Green, Paul Hann, Dick Knechtel, Tom Lewis, Tamarack, Brent Titcombe, Kathryn Wheatley See you there!!


All Folks Festival July 18 Kingston (613) 389-4779 Free

Two stages, open stage, workshops. Moxy Fruvous, Lawrence Gowan


Hillside Festival July 24-26 Guelph 519-763-6396 $50

Eclectic festival at Guelph Lake. Stephen Fearing and many varied perfromers. Robert Atyeo, Bruce Cockburn, Stephen Fearing


Blue Skies Festival Jul 31- Aug 2 Clarendon (Ottawa) 613-279-3260 $ ??

One of the ones that people rave about. 600 camping and 400 day passes. Lineup includes David Essig.


Mill Race Festival Aug 1 Cambridge 519-621-7135 Free

In beautiful, downtown Cambridge; music, dancing & FUN. Eileen McGann, Simon Mayor & Hilary James, Banish Misfortune, Mary Anderson. Also, a Friday night kick-off at the Golden Kiwi & Black Badger. See you there!


Earth, Air, Fire & Water Aug 7-9 Goderich 519-524-8221 $ 28

Festival follows Celtic College. Artisan, Paperboys, Hillary James & Simon Mayor, Loretto Reid & Brian Taheny, Pierre Schryer, Ken Brown & Ken Perlman, Eileen McGann, Christina Smith & Jean Hewson, Bobby Watt. See you there too!


Festival of Friends Aug 7-9 Hamilton 905-525-6644 Free

In Gage Park - always a fabulous lineup, but beware that some performers come only for their main stage show. Doug McArthur, David Essig.


Scottish Festival Aug 7-9 Fergus 519-787-0099 $ Individual events

Lots of fun celtic stuff: Barra McNeils, MacKeel, John Allan Cameron


Summerfolk Aug 13-16 Owen Sound 519-371-2995 $ 50?

Artisan, Dee Carstensen, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, Cate Friesen, Moxy Fruvous, Guy Davis, Tom Paxton, Karen Savoca, Martin Sexton, Chris Thile


Eaglewood Earth Aug 28-30 Pefferlaw 416-481-5506 $ 30?

My other favourite festival, Ďcause of the intimate atmosphere. Sneezy Waters, Katherine Wheatley, Enoch Kent, Alistair Brown, Rachel Kane, Heartbreak Hill, Doug McArthur, Hobnail, and a host of others.


Bayside Folk Festival Aug 21-23 Penetanguishene 705-549-2150 $ ??

Formerly the Songs of Sail - I guess the "sea" theme didnít hold. Features a Friday night cruise concert.


Ottawa Folk Festival Aug 28-30 Guess. 613-520-2772 $ Free ??

Arlo Guthrie, Ferron, Fred Eaglesmith, Roy Forbes, David Essig, Moxy Fruvous, Vance Gilbert, Connie Kaldor, Martin Sexton. In Britannia park.


Wye March Festival Sep 19-20 Midland 705-526-7809 $15+$15 (concert)

Environment festival in a beautiful setting. Modabo! See you there!


Octoberfolk Oct 3 Brantford 800-265-0710 / 519-759-7676 $20

Back for their 3rd year, with indoor workshops and concerts in the evening. Brant Park Inn. Laura Smith, Stephen Fearing, Eileen McGann, John Prince & a Piece of the Rock, Katherine Wheatley, Mark Haines & Tom Leighton, Rick Fines, Harvey Andrews.


...and Peterborough (Aug 29-30, 705-876-0502), Morrisburg (3 dates, 613- 543-3704), Perth (Jul 24-26, 613-264-1190). And donít forget The Woods, August 18-23 (although as of this writing there are fewer than 7 places left!).


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