The Old Chestnuts Song Circle Newsletter
March 1998

Quartette in Concert, Feb. 4, Guelph Jean Mills

Two years ago, when I first heard Quartette in concert, the foursome of Sylvia Tyson, the late Colleen Peterson, Cindy Church and Caitlin Handford had just released their second CD and were on a roll. And why not, with all that great songwriting, tight harmony and polished stage presence in one neat package. But strangely enough, even with a legend such as Tyson or a rising star like Church on stage, I felt it was Peterson who was the soul of the group. When she sang, I remember, the audience relaxed into their seats and let that beautiful voice work its magic. When Colleen died, I wondered how anyone could fill her place.

Be assured that the new Quartette is still rolling, and with the addition of Elora musician (and former member of Tamarack) Gwen Swick, they are taking a slightly new direction as well. There is less Nashville-influenced country (which was probably Peterson's songwriting contribution) and a little more contemporary folk, blues and New Country. This concert featured mostly selections from the groups two CDs, "Quartette" and "Work of the Heart," but there were some terrific new numbers from Gwen Swick who showed herself to have a quirky, self-deprecating sense of humour, such as in the memorable "Pink China Pig." In fact, each performer had a chance to strut her own particular brand of stuff: Caitlin Handford performed the swingy blues number "Inspiration", written by her husband Chris Whiteley, Cindy Church let her gospel roots show in "I Come To the Garden", and Sylvia Tyson showed off her prowess on the button accordian with "Spring of 45". She also closed off the last set with a sing-along to one of her old hits, "River Road". But perhaps the best moment of the evening was Gwen Swick leading the others in a stunning, four-part rendition of the Welsh hymn, "All Through the Night." This is a new Quartette, and their next CD should be terrific.

As someone who lives for harmony, I was in heaven. The four very different voices are strong alone, even stronger together. The songwriting and song choices reveal the eclectic backgrounds and abilities of these accomplished performers. And, on a sentimental note, when they let loose on Peterson's "Cowboys and Rodeos", you would swear Colleen was right in there singing along.

An exciting, satisfying concert, made even better by the Quartette tradition of slipping into the lobby afterwards to mingle with the audience. Sylvia and my husband, Dale, swapped tales about growing up in Chatham, and Gwen told us with a smirk how little the foursome actually gets to practice together. We went home happy, and when that new CD comes out, we'll be first in line.

Modabo in Kitchener!

The performers are booked, the hall has been rented and tickets are selling for Modabo on April 18. The Round Room at Zion United is a truly wonderful venue for folk music. And for anyone who may have been uncomfortable with the large crowd for the Trilogy concert, I have committed to selling nearly 25% fewer tickets for Modabo. Also, we are eliminating the munchies at break, so the congestion will be reduced. I hope this helps!

Tickets are still available. Call us at 578-6298 to reserve, or drop by Readers' Ink Bookshop on University Ave. in Waterloo to pick them up. A few Song Circle members have them too. I recommend that you buy your tickets early; the KW Record and possibly two area radio stations will be doing features on Modabo before the concert.

I know that a few of you still don't know this Modabo of which I speak. They gave the first house concert we ever had, two years ago. Demand was so great that we brought them back for two concerts last year, and this year we need a bigger place. They have multiple nominations for the East Coast Music awards for group and album of the year. They were featured on the awards ceremony this year (albeit with a lousy sound system!). Modabo is three of the nicest guys from New Brunswick you would ever happen to meet. They play guitar and flute, and harmonize like crazy. They do mostly original folk/pop songs, but also cover everything from The Water Is Wide to Stan Rogers to rock and roll standards. They put on a high energy, very fun show, that begs for the audience to join right in. Modabo is like Lays chips - one Modabo show is never enough.

February and Future Song Circles Jack Cole

Boats. Who knew that it would be such an uplifting theme? Sure, many of the ones we sang about sank, but they put such darn good tunes to them! We had your Edmund Fitzgeralds, Mary Ellen Carters, Titanics and Marco Polos and dozens of others. 33 people, and we made it around 3 times! Welcome to the 4 newbies, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

BIG NEWS! At 8:30 PM, March 18 I want everyone to tune your radios to CKWR, 98.5 FM. Doug Gibson, host of Songs from the Wood, has invited the Old Chestnuts into the studio to do a live, 90 minute song circle. I asked for volunteers in February, and then went and recruited. So half a dozen of us will be leading a singalong on the radio! Most of the songs will no doubt be familiar to members, so pull your chairs up, dim the lights, break out the Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake and sing along!

March's real Song Circle returns to one of my favourite themes. I'm looking for songs about Canadian symbols - things that you think of as Canadian. Beavers, canoes, maple leaves, Tim Horton's coffee - you get the idea. Don't tell the BQ!

April's Song Circle will be canceled due to the Modabo concert, leaving May as the final circle until the fall, and house concerts may postpone those as well. Stay tuned for exciting info!

Buying a New Guitar Jack Cole

As many of you know, I am the proud owner of a new Taylor guitar. Very proud. And you may also know that I agonized over the decision for months. In the midst of that torment, I received advice from several of the people that have generously shared so much of their music with us over the past two years. I thought readers might enjoy a sampling of comments.

On Recording…. Jack Cooper (Part 2 of 3)

[In Part 1 Jack talked about motivation to record, and choosing a studio]

3) The Recording Process

Recording at a local, small studio is a different experience from a large, commercial studio in at least one respect: instead of dealing with many people (called, engineers, arrangers, producers, mixers, assistants, etc.) you are typically dealing with one person wearing many hats. It is important that you are able to share some creative vision with the person doing the recording, because you will be spending a lot of time with him/her, and investing a fair chunk of energy and money. The person who is recording you is typically acting as both engineer and full or co-producer. Production usually refers to decisions made during the recording process, and is a role often shared with the musician hiring the studio. Engineering is the process of capturing the music on tape. Mixing is the process of blending the recorded tracks into a final mix capture on stereo tracks.

There are two major conceptual approaches people use when recording. The first is a live, off the floor approach where all the musicians play simultaneously, and are all recorded with one or more microphones on the available tracks. The second in an over dubbed approach, where the individual parts are recorded one at a time on top of whatever has been recorded. In reality, most producers use a combined approach. It is important to know (as a producer) which approach works best for you. Do you want a quirky, spontaneous recording? Do you want a meticulous recording, with every part well polished and blended? Do you want just a simple guitar and voice demo?

There are many factors that will determine whether a live or over dubbed approach is best. Some of the factors include what approach the Engineer/Producer is most comfortable with, what caliber of musicianship is available for recording, whether a drum machine or live drummer is required, and finally how the music is to be arranged.

Ron and I used an over dubbed approach for recording for several reasons. First, I am not a studio caliber guitar player, so Ron over dubbed my basic parts with cleaner and more intricate parts. Second, we used a drum machine for almost every song. Third, I had a lot of strong ideas for intricate arrangements and harmonies, and wanted to produce a full, layered sound. Also, I didn't have the musicians available to play the arrangements I wanted, so I over dubbed a lot of synthesized horn and string parts on the basic tracks.

I did most of my own arranging of vocal and synthesized parts on my songs. I did this by listening to the basic tracks, and constructing arrangements for the background vocals and other parts. There was very little improvisation in the studio. Improvising multi-part harmonies can be hazardous unless the singers have sung together before and know each other's tricks and how to communicate. I wrote out musical notation for one of the singers, because they learned best by reading their part. The rest of the singers learnt best by hearing me sing what I had in mind. Ron played guitar solos with no input from me other than where to put them, and what kind of feeling or texture I was aiming for. I had a friend, Sam, play piano parts using the synthesizer for a few songs. Editing the piano parts was one of the more tedious and time-consuming tasks of recording. This wasn't because of the caliber of Sam's playing; this was because of the process of superimposing a "live" part onto a song regulated by a click-track and drum machine. Funny things happen to certain notes when a part is "quantized" to fit a specific tempo. We had to edit all the funny-sounding things (moving individual notes forward or backwards by milliseconds) and once the part was quantized, we applied a "naturalizing" effect to make the part sound less mechanical. All these effects were part of the sequencing software that was used to record the synthesized parts. Because Sam's parts were often non-trivial, it took a while to edit them. By contrast, since my piano playing is relatively simple, it took less time to clean up my keyboard parts.

It would have been ideal to have worked out the basic arrangements before I went in to record the song. This would have saved a lot of studio time. I would have been able to do this by playing around with a four track recorder and a synthesizer. I had neither at the time, plus hearing the basic drum and guitar tracks were able to give me more specific arrangement ideas.

I spent in excess of 300 hours recording, spread out over a few years. A live recording would have cut the amount of time (and cost) significantly, but I would not have had the same flexibility to sculpt and arrange the parts.

[Next month - the Joy of Mixing!]

For Information....

Last month I neglected to pass on the Web addresses for more information about Celtic College or The Woods Music and Dance Camp, so here they are. Happy surfing!

Some Events in The Area

Mar 20 Black Walnut Folk Club, University of Waterloo Laurel Room. 8 PM. $3. Dan & Jack are hosts (?). Also April 17.
Mar 21 Beverlie Roberson and friends, St. Jacob's Schoolhouse, Stories & Songs.
Mar 27 Beverlie Robertson and friends, Leyander's in Elora, Old Time Music, concert and buffet.
Mar 28 Old Chestnuts Song Circle, Kitchener. Call 578-6298 for info. Also May 23. 7:30 to get ready, 8:00 start.
Apr 4 Mill Race Folk Club Open singaround at Ernie's Tavern, Cambridge
Apr 5 Misa Criolla (a Latin Folk Opera), Emmanuel United Church, 7:30 PM, $2-$7, tickets at Twelfth Night. Choir + friends. Apr 18 MODABO at Zion United Church, $12 & $10.

About this newsletter..... It's emailed if I have your address. It's 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. Thanks to Jack and Jean for their articles this month and to Margaret for helping setup. Hope to see you at Modabo; should be a great concert. Call 578-6298 for more information!!!

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