March 2002 * Volume 7, Number 5

v Merrick Jarrett Tribute - Jack Cole

So, does everyone have the idea yet? This concert will R-O-C-K. And I mean that in the folkie kinda' way. If you're a fan of traditional folk music, or of Merrick himself, or of raising money to help victims of cancer and their families, there is nowhere you should be on April 28 except in Waterloo.

Here's the lineup so far (some still TBD):

I count at least ten dulcimer players - how incredible is that!

The concert will include 2 long sets of music, munchies, door prizes, a singalong, a social hour, hardly any speeches and a very rare opportunity to see and hear some of the founding members of the Canadian folk music tradition and the people they've inspired. I honestly can't imagine where or when such a lineup will ever be seen again.

The concert runs from 2 to 5 PM, at Waterloo North Mennonite Church. Call or write for more information (see below).

v OCSC Last Month and This - Jack Cole

As palindrome hype reached a fever pitch on February 20, the Old Chestnuts were already well ahead of the game, preparing songs with a number theme.

On the stats side, we had about 30 singers. An unwanted "first" was narrowly averted, when a newbie showed up at the last minute, all the way from New York City!

Songs were sung about "Number 37", "Wild in the 60s", "1917", and more. James won the Integer Prize, for the song whose chorus lists the numbers from 20 to 0...backwards. The surprising absence of "16 Tons", "45 Years", "12 Days of Christmas" and (thankfully) "The 5 Constipated Men" means that there is still life in the theme for some other month!

But not in March. Amanda Growden has suggested a theme that fixes an unintentional slight to non-sentient lifeforms. No, not politicians - plants. So cultivate choruses about vegetables, germinate tunes about trees, pick poems about flowers and fruits! Bring on "Lemon Tree" and "Wildwood Flower" and the big zucchini who was a meanie!

Looking ahead to April, the Circle will be held the night before the Merrick Jarrett Tribute concert, and the performers have all been invited to come sing with us. Most, I'm sure, will have other commitments, but I know a few will attend. So I am seriously taking reservations for the night of April 27. Tell me early!

See you March 23!

v Grand River Folk Conspiracy - Jack Cole

It took a few months to make it happen, but a Wednesday night in February brought the first meeting of the "Grand River Folk Conspiracy". About half of the 16 invited organizations - all with connections to folk music and dance in the area - made it to the Golden Kiwi in Cambridge.

The goal of the night was to talk about how we can help each other, co-operate and cross-promote more, and reach new audiences for our events. By the end of the evening we had resolved to:

  • a combined electronic calendar, hosted by the Mill Race and formatted for easy printing, to be available at all of our events
  • a `clearing house' eMail list, to keep each other informed about potential events, to help us manage conflicts
  • include each other's information in mailings and newsletters of our own.

It's a small start, but a good omen for building community among the folkies in the area, which should eventually lead to more and better musical opportunities! Watch for the first edition of the Grand River Folk News soon!

v The Natural Instrument - Sue Goldberg

[When this newsletter first began, we featured a couple of Sue's articles about the joy of singing. I am absolutely delighted to continue them now! Some have previously appeared elsewhere. - jc]
Beyond the Shower

For those who love to sing, and want to do it beyond the shower, without the agonies of performance anxiety, group singing is a godsend. Buried in the anonymity of a group, you can sing away to your heart's content and not shudder as the world listens to your vocal disasters. But singing together is much more than a security blanket for the faint hearted. It's an activity for sharing the joy of making sounds together...of getting on the same wavelength (harmonically speaking) with others.

Many activities can serve this purpose. In choirs, members learn and sing assigned parts under the direction of a leader. Regular rehearsals and commitment to performing is expected. Some choirs are very serious, limit membership, expect sight-singing skills, and audition potential members. (No hope for the faint- hearted here!) Others are more recreational and accept whoever wants to sing for the fun of it. There is also informal group singing in the folk communities of many cities and towns.

At The Woods Music and Dance Camp, I was introduced to song circles, a format in which participants take regular turns (going round the circle) to lead a song, request a song, or "pass". They differ from less formal groups in having a rule for deciding whose turn it is. This forestalls those competitive sing-alongs in which the person who jumps in with the fastest start chooses the material and is heard. "Jump-in" groups can be fun and have a wonderful spontaneity. They can also be frustrating. There may be long "runs" of music that isn't to your liking. Short of putting yourself on the line, you can't change that. Potential singers become preoccupied with getting heard and think about what they will sing rather than participating in the ongoing music. But here, those who yearn to sing along without notice readily find a niche. (One less competitor!)

The idea of the song circle format is that each person is entitled to at least one satisfying musical experience during the evening. My favourite kind of song circle focuses on harmony opportunities, either unaccompanied or with minimal instrumentation. A group like this develops a shared repertoire of appropriate songs. It can be served well by a few strong song leaders. The ability to pick out songs that lend themselves to harmony singing is treasured. Members who are less confident of their ability to lead songs may ask more skilled leaders to help. (This is a great way to get started leading songs.) People who attend expect to sing along & grow restless if there is too much solo singing. Ample opportunities to sing in comfort here!

Some song circles focus on opportunities for solo singing with a supportive audience. In such circles everyone is expected to learn new songs. Opportunities for others to join are welcomed, but not expected. While "passing" is an option, there may be a sense that repeated passes violate the social expectations. This setting is a good spot for people who do want to develop performing skills and are intimidated by more public events such as open stages.

Other gatherings are primarily instrumental jams where the singer taking a turn calls out t "This is in G," and a mixture of instruments play together on most songs. The leader may call for specific instrumental breaks (e.g. "let's have a mandolin break here" " fiddles now"). In these groups people are encouraged to bring instruments and to play in keys that most instruments can handle with ease. Singing takes a "back seat" to the instrumental work. These are good places to develop instrumental skills and learn new licks and tricks from more skilled players. But since the instruments overpower the singers, you can sing along, confident that you won't be noticed!

The now-defunct Toronto Singer's Club, had a format which was a cross between an open stage and a song circle. Like an open stage, the emphasis was on performing and each individual or group could sing up to three songs. Unlike an open stage, there was no sound system and the group sat in a semi-circle around a spot designated as the "stage." Most people who came took a turn and sang (although some regularly came to listen), mostly solo material. Singers varied greatly in their skills and aspirations. While singing such a setting requires exposing yourself to a real audience, you also gain confidence by hearing other people with limited skills make the attempt and get a warm response. (If they'll listen to her, they'll listen to me too! )

These variations on the theme provide different degrees of anonymity and exposure. Song circles may mix these activities. When you go round the circle and take turns, the nature of the evening depends on the mix of attendees and their needs. So if you are looking for opportunities to sing with others, there are many options for creating them. Whichever you choose, keep singing!

v Lorne Brown - Merrick Jarrett

[ Lorne will be MC for the Merrick Jarrett concert. Here's an introduction to Lorne, by MJ himself. ]

A while ago, when Lorne took over as editor of the "Folk Music Bulletin', as well as carrying on his work as editor of "Appleseed Quarterly", he said to me "Do you think I'm crazy?". I said "In one word, yes". Editing one high-quality magazine, a "bible" for story tellers across the country, is a job in itself.and to take on a similar job for "The Bulletin" for us folkies, to me was madness.

From my own experience as an editor, & at the same time being a librarian & involved in traditional folk music, I could appreciate the work and time factors involved. It is a sad time for all of us now, to see Lorne give up not one, but both editorial jobs, and we will be the poorer for it.

I did not meet Lorne until a few years ago. When we were living in Toronto, and I was involved in the local folk music scene, my friends had told me about this great story teller, pretty good on dulcimer and banjo, who had a song for every occasion; and that we should get together some time, and I am ashamed to admit that I never followed it up.

It was not until a story telling festival in Baden did I get to meet Loren. We got talking and we decided we would do something together. So Lorne, Beverlie Robertson in Waterloo, and I put together a program of primarily traditional balladry, and presented it first to the story tellers in Baden, and then again as a public concert in Elora. Working with two such complete and consummate professionals was a joy for me, and I was delighted when later Lorne asked me to join him for a couple of programs in Toronto, one of which was a presentation of traditional Christmas carols and the stories behind them. Listening to this master story teller and musician weaving his stories in and out of the carols was, for all of us, something very rare and unusual. Truly an unforgettable experience.

Lorne's formation of "The Ballad Project" is another of his accomplishments. This group of talented singers and performers, all of whom love the medieval ballads, meet regularly under his direction. My wife and I have been delighted to attend, and the pleasure of sitting in Lorne and Jean's beautiful garden on a pleasant summer evening, as we go around the circle contributing ballads, is something to be treasured. Sharing ballads from centuries ago, and re-reading Lorne's great ballad edition of "Appleseed Quarterly", makes all of us, story tellers and ballad singers, realize how much we are indebted to this great editor.

I know that I speak on behalf of many readers and friends when I say "A good job, well done!" and we are sorry to see you go. Your sharp and incisive editorial contributions will be greatly missed. But no doubt, since you can't keep a good man down, we will be hearing from you again.

v Some Events in The Area (as space permits!)

Mar 15 Black Walnut Folk Club, Mill-Courtland Centre. $3. Open mic. With host - ME! (Third Friday of each month)
Mar 16 Mill Race Concert, Anne Lederman at the Galt Room, 13 Main Street Grill. April 20: County Vaudeville
Mar 23 Old Chestnuts Song Circle. 578-6298. Non-sentient lifeforms. 111 Chestnut St. 8 PM
Mar 24 Mill Race Trad Sessions, Cambridge, Golden Kiwi, 4:30. Also April 7, 21, and so on.
Apr 2 Fairport Convention, London Palace Theatre, $29.50 473-2099
Apr 4 Grand River Dulcimer Club, Folkway Music, Guelph. $3
Apr 6 Mill Race Folk Club open singaround at Ernies, Queen Street, Cambridge. (First Saturday of each month)
Apr 6 Archie Fisher, Button Factory, Waterloo, 886-4577. Apr 12 Nonie Crete and friends.
Apr 13 Hill Top Live, 8:00 pm, Fathers House Cafe, 89 King N. Waterloo

v About this newsletter..... It's emailed if I have your address. It's on the Web at and 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 or write for more information. If you are getting this by mail and have eMail, please let me know! Thanks again to Sue and Merrick for filling this issue. Who wants to review a concert?? Or an album?? Congratulations to Eileen McGann and David Francey (and Maria Dunn, Penny Lang, April Vertch) for their Juno nominations! Be watching April 14!!! I want everyone to know that I predicted EM & DF nominations (and have witnesses!)

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