The Old Chestnuts Song Circle Newsletter

February 1998

Maryhill Fiddle Jamboree Jean Mills

Because we Song Circle types are so committed to singing and sharing traditional and contemporary songs, we might forget sometimes that there are many other forms of traditional music alive and well all around us. In Eastern Ontario and western Quebec, the fiddle rules; every little town has its fiddle club. That doesn't mean there's a Natalie McMaster on every corner, but any gathering will produce at least a dozen fiddlers of all ages, ready to provide music for dancing.

On the Sunday after our last song circle, Dale and I took our kids (Elspeth, 7 and Tristan, 2) to the Maryhill Fiddle Jamboree, a gathering held every fourth Sunday afternoon in the Knights of Columbus Hall just outside Maryhill. We arrived late and the hall was full, but we managed to find seats on the edge of the dance floor, perfect for seeing both the stage and the dancers. Across from us were a couple who introduced themselves as Wilfred and Mary, who had driven up from Hamilton for the afternoon. The evening before they'd been at a fiddle jamboree in St. Catharines. They told us about three or four other fiddle clubs that hold monthly gatherings some of them conflicting with each other, which made it difficult for diehards like Wilfred to choose! They thought nothing of driving all over southwestern Ontario to attend a gathering such as the one in Maryhill, and judging from the number of people who stopped by to say hello, they were part of a fiddle circuit. Wilf, originally from Cape Breton, was quite a hot dancer too!

The jamboree works like this: there's one invited performer who does half hour sets throughout the afternoon. On this day, this was James Bickle, a super young fiddler whom I had never heard of, but who seemed to be well known to the crowd. (Does anybody know who he is? He was terrific!) As people arrive at the hall, there's a sign-up sheet at the door, and anyone who wants to perform is invited to sign up. "Perform" may mean playing fiddle, harmonica, steel guitar, bass, piano, drums, rhythm guitar, autoharp or it may mean singing, stepdancing or calling a square dance. There's a sort of rotating band that takes turns up on the stage. I remember once being at a jamboree and having the MC plead from the microphone "Is there a piano player in the house?" Honest! It makes for an interesting assortment of entertainment, but the single requirement is that the music has to be good for dancing, because the dance floor was packed with couples, ladies, children, everyone waltzing, two-stepping and gay-Gordoning with sometimes more enthusiasm than skill! During the hour and 20 minutes that we were there, we heard James Bickle play a set and a half, a lady with an autoharp sing (backed up by the band ), a family (grandfather, and three adult children backing him up) play three fiddle songs, an older Scottish gentleman play fiddle and then harmonica, and saw a young woman step dance a reel on the special stepdance floor, and nearly broke the special floor in front of the stage.

For the Mills family it was an hour or so of chatting to other people who love fiddle, dancing with the kids (Elspeth's waltz is coming along, thank-you, but Tristan can only dance if Mommy's holding him), making trips to the kitchen for snacks and drinks, and spending many long moments in front of the stage with two kids who couldn't keep their eyes off the performers and their instruments . And ours weren't the only kids there, I'm happy to say.

This is traditional music in action, and a perfect example of how the tradition gets passed on. Isn't it great?

Modabo: Coming April 18!

Just a quick note to confirm that Modabo will be performing for us on Saturday, April 18, 1998. I have requested Zion United Church (Weber St. in Kitchener), and expect confirmation this week. I hope to have tickets on sale by February 20 at $12 for adults and $10 for ages 12 and under. Call anytime to reserve (578-6298)!

January and Future Song Circles Jack Cole

I would have to rate January's Circle as one of the best in our nearly 3 years. The music was lots of fun, and there was certainly variety as many people did very well with the topic of "first" songs. We also set a record attendance, as 44 people squeezed into our room!! Despite the crowding nearly everyone stayed until the end - only twice round the circle by 11:30! Among the 15 newbies were folks from Woodstock and Brantford - welcome to everyone. Space prevents me from elaborating, but it was a good night.

February's topic: songs with boats. Why? Beats me!

Celtic College (Part 3) Jack Cole

My report on Goderich's Celtic College (CC) concludes with a comparison with The Woods Music and Dance Camp. Let me begin by saying that both are wonderful, enriching experiences, and I intend to return to each many times in the future. (Information below is preliminary.)

On Recording…(Part 1) Jack Cooper

Hi, folks. My name is Jack Cooper and I have been coming out to the Song Circle on and off (but mostly on) since its inception. I am also one of the coordinators of the Black Walnut Folk Club. Last year I completed a CD of original songs that I had been working on for a few years. Ever since then, Jack has asked me if I would mind sharing my thoughts about the process of making a CD. Nicely, at first. Then he started hounding me. Day and night. The midnight calls at home were bad enough, but then my invalid mother started receiving those anonymous ransom notes using more fonts than Wired magazine stating, "GIVE ME MY ARTICLE, OR YOUR BOY WILL BE BANISHED TO BLUES JAMS". That was too much for my poor mother to bear (her knowing how I feel about the blues- I couldn't perform a blues lick at gunpoint, even if my woman just left me for the postman, my dog died and I just polished off my last bottle of Jim Beam from my jail cell) so through her urging, I decided to get cracking. Who said folkies were harmless?

1) Why Record? There are many options available now for recording and producing one or several hundred CD's. In fact, the technology is so available and accessible, the questions of how or where become much less relevant than why. Why do you want to produce a CD, and what do you wish to accomplish? Answering these fundamental questions will determine to a large extent how much time and money you wish to invest in recording, where to record and how many copies to produce.

My personal objectives weren't quite clear at first. I wanted to produce a professional caliber, fully arranged recording demonstrating primarily my writing and arrangement abilities. My secondary motive, which muddied things a bit, was that I also wanted a saleable product to recoup some of the recording costs. I would use the demo primarily to send for reviews, contests, and auditions. I would also have CD's on hand to sell at performances.

For either objective, it seemed clear that I would need a quantity of CD's on hand. It was clear to me that I wanted to spend that time necessary on recording to be happy with the arrangements and production.

2) Choosing a Studio There are several local, relatively inexpensive, home based studios to choose from in the region. One can usually find out about them through word of mouth, by asking people who have recorded, talking to folks at jams, festivals, concerts, etc. I recorded with Ron Roy at Threshold Sound in Kitchener. At the time I started recording, Ron had just assembled some serious recording equipment and was looking for business. I had heard a demo of Lindsay Stewart, another local songwriter, that had been recorded by Ron. I was impressed by the sound and arrangements, and decided to give recording a go.

Another factor important to me was that Ron is an excellent guitar player, and capable of adding studio caliber guitar and bass parts. Ron also programmed drum tracks and could construct inventive arrangements using the keyboard. These extra things can be very important, depending on the amount of instrumentation you want to use. If you are looking to record primarily "live" instead of "over dubbed", and need to find other musicians, another factor when choosing a studio is how capable the studio is of finding musicians to play. Will you be charged extra for hiring other musicians, or will the musicians used be doing in for the love of it, or as a favour for something else?

[ Next - Jack records! And if he doesn't, I know where he lives! ]

Some Events in The Area

Feb 7 Mill Race Folk Club, Open singaround at Ernie's Tavern, Cambridge, 8-12 PM. Also March 7.

Feb 20 Black Walnut Folk Club, University of Waterloo, Laurel Room. 8 PM. $3. I'm hosting!! Please come out! Also March 20.

Feb 22 Cuckoo's Nest Folk Club, London. Cooper & Nelson, $10. 519-673-0334

Feb 28 Mill Race Folk Club fund raiser, Cambridge Arts Theatre, 730 PM, 622-1175, 624-1175. Ken Brown, Janice Crewe, etc $10

Feb 28 Old Chestnuts Song Circle, Chestnut St, Kitchener. Call 578-6298 for info. Also March 28. 7:30 to get ready, 8:00 start.

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. It makes a HUGE difference. Hope to see you at BWFC & OCSC, and especially at Modabo; should be a great concert. Call 578-6298 for more information!!!

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