The Old Chestnuts Song Circle Newsletter
October 1999


v Last Month and Next Month at OCSC! - Jack Cole

The kick-off Circle for year number five has, I think, become the standard by which we will judge all the rest! What an amazing evening! The singing was fantastic as the harmonies drifted from every corner of the room. We had a variety of songs and instruments (two mandolins and a banjo!) and about 35 people, including over a dozen newbies! Many people commented afterwards on what an exceptional night it was, and I can only say "Let's do it again next month!".

Debbie Carroll (Toronto song circle and Woods person) asked me where all the newbies come from. A great question. "Under cabbage leaves" or "the stork brings them" came to mind. But no. So I thought about who was here that night (apologies if I miss anyone). Ways that people came to the Old Chestnuts included:

Speaking of that endeavor, time ran out for us to actually teach the 3 parts, but we did pass out words and sing the song through. Enough so that we may try again another night. I hope everyone enjoyed Nero's Expedition, another holdover from the College.

Thanks to everyone who came, and a hearty welcome to all the new folks. I hope we see you again soon.

Next month's Circle returns to themes, with an easy one - Things seen in the sky. Clouds, airplanes, rainbows, balloons, stars, moons, suns, snow, birds - there are many, many possibilities. Explore them! Learn a new song or dust off an old one, and come on out on October 23rd!

The Circle also has an interesting logistical problem and an opportunity. The 23rd is also the date of the Chestnut Street block party. The street will be closed until 10 PM, but the organizers have kindly offered to move the barricades back to allow access to our house from Frederick. So please park in that short section, or in our driveway, or at the lawyer's office on the corner, or on another street.

Also, GreenWood has been asked to entertain with a mix of concert and singalong. So this is an invitation to come participate, thank the folks for letting us use the road each month, and show Chestnut Street what we do! Anyone who would like to sing or play with us (on or off stage - we will decide as we go along) is invited to come. We will start sometime around 3:30 and go for an hour. This will be followed by a pot luck barbecue at 5 PM to which all are welcome, provided they bring some food item and make a donation for the (supplied) drinks, sausages and hot dogs. Bring chairs, dishes and cutlery, and please let me know if you are participating so I can tell the organizers.

Then at 8 PM the Circle starts, as per usual! Make it an afternoon and evening of song on Chestnut Street!

v Grand River Dulcimer Club - Jean Mills

The Grand River Dulcimer Club is going to happen! Write this date on your calendar, all you dulcimer players: Thursday November 4th. Mark Stutman of Folkway Music (163 Suffolk St. West in Guelph) has offered to host our first meeting in his shop. This is good plan, because Mark is also soon going to be a dealer of MacSpadden dulcimers. If you have an instrument, come along for our introductory jam. If you don't have an instrument, come and talk to Mark about getting one.

Bring a friend. Bring some treats. Coffee and tea will be available. It would be helpful to know who's coming, so please call Jean Mills at 519-763-8092 (Guelph) for information and directions. Anyone who can't make this date, please note: we are not fixed on Thursday night meetings. Future dates will include weekends, so that out-of-towners can more easily take part. And don't forget - we're on the Dulcimer Players News website (! Let's play!

v New Open Stage - The Hill Top Cafe

In September, Dan Hergott (an Old Chestnut from the beginning) began the Hill Top Cafe, a coffee house with an acoustic open stage (and sound system), to "attempt to do something that might have a positive impact in the community". Admission is $2, which includes free coffee (and parking); those who can't afford the cover are admitted free of charge. The Cafe runs the first Saturday of each month at 91 Madison Avenue Kitchener, in the basement of Grace Presbyterian Church. Baked goods and pop are available at the concession booth.

Dan reports that the first two months have gone very well, with 45 people and 6 performers in September, and 35 people and 9 performers in October. Congratulations Dan and Ellen!

v Report From the 1999 Woods! - Jean Mills

It's been over a week since I got home from the Woods, and I've unpacked all my suitcases but one: the little blue bag that contains my Woods treasures. My tape recorder is still tucked in there, complete with the tape of Jean and Christina singing, playing and talking about Newfoundland Christmas traditions, Jeff (recorded under a tree near the dining hall) singing one of his traditional western songs, and Jim performing a ballad from Appalachia (and just how DO you pronounce that word, Jim?). There are sheets of up-the-neck chord progressions from Jean, a collection of whistles and harmonicas wrapped in a receiving blanket, and lyrics and melody lines from various sources scribbled on papers of all description. I have a feeling that I may find some forgotten bits and pieces hidden there among the books and papers. But still I don't want to unpack that bag, because when I do, it will mean this year's Woods will really be over.

It's strange to think you can try to pack five days of music - constantly heard, performed, danced to and discussed music - into a suitcase. And although it's a treasure trove of memories I can look at and listen too, it doesn't come close to capturing the actual Woods experience.

Looking back at the week's schedule, it's hard to believe I experienced so much when there were so many things I had to miss! Newfoundland Traditions with Christina Smith and Jean Hewson taught us a new vocabulary and a whole new appreciation for the pleasures of "tea" (wink, wink!). Christina taught us fiddle techniques and helped me achieve my personal goal of learning some tunes by Newfoundland legend Rufus Guinchard.

I attended workshops that included Jeff Davis and his cowboy songs, a slow jam with Jim Morrison in the Log Cabin, and some tips on accompaniment from Jean. My schedule was full - and yet I kept hearing about all the other classes and workshops I was missing. Banjo, dulcimer and guitar techniques with Arnie Naiman, Kathy Reid-Naiman, Bob Franke and Eve Goldberg; singing with Jeff Davis and Jean Hewson; clogging with Jim Morrison; and Bob's songwriting class (which turned at least one friend of mine into a zombie!) Then there were workshops that touched on a variety of subjects including performing tips, music for young children, singing harmony, playing banjos and mandolins, guitar building - no wonder the dining room was always buzzing as we shared our experiences across the table.

Community Time gave us the chance to experience together music and stories, sometimes serious, sometimes not. The performance circle at the Log Cabin was a constant source of inspiration, songs and opportunities for paralysing performance anxiety, all in an encouraging, supportive atmosphere.

Free time was, of course, a misnomer. How can there be free time when I had to practise what I had learned that day in fiddle class, plus rehearse with Jack and James for the performance circle, plus learn some accordion from Ellen, Barb and Jane and harmonica from Dave during separate "give-and-gets"? And what about a quick dulcimer jam with Debbie in front of the dining hall? Or a brief but meaningful encounter with the lapping waves of Lake Rosseau and some sun-worshipping on the dock?

And why was it that the sleeping hours just kept getting shorter and shorter? The evening activities seemed to stretch as the week went on: performance circle, concerts by the staff, dancing (in my case, learning to dance) as Jim patiently called and taught the steps. Then late night song circles, instrumental jams, or just hanging out under the stars talking music and many other things (Chaucer comes to mind....)

Sigh. That blue bag is still sitting there. I'm looking at it and thinking not only of what it contains, but also what it doesn't - highlights that may never be matched. Who will ever forget that magical moment involving Christina, Grit and the capricious mike stand? Or Scott, missing in action? Or Ruth Goldberg's 12-step program for boutique shopaholics? Or the Mummer's Play, complete with Tony's Fiery Dragon and Jane's Old Bull? Or being so moved by someone's musical offering at community time, or performance circle, or campers' concert, that the goose bumps rose on your skin? These are Woods treasures too, but they're not packed in my little blue bag.

I've decided to tackle the final unpacking tomorrow - or the next day, or perhaps not at all. Maybe I'll just dip into my treasures whenever I need a Woods fix. Better yet, I'll leave it packed and ready for next year.

v "You'll Never Do Better Than a Drum" Part I - Jack Cole

This year, Celtic College offered something new - an opportunity to build our very own Irish drum, known properly as a bodhran. Three Old Chestnuts decided to take the challenge, and joined a half dozen others on a hot, sunny, Monday morning in early August. In this and subsequent newsletters I would like to tell you how we built a drum, and give you a feel for what it was like to be an instrument builder for a week!

Nathan Curry was our guide. Nathan is a luthier from the Ottawa area, an accomplished teacher of many instruments, and a member of the Pierre Schryer band, among others. He designed the course, and, as we found out later, we were the inaugural students! He must have done a very good job, because everyone came away with a functional drum.

Nathan prepared, and brought, The Kits. In addition to the tuition for the College, this course required an $80 fee for materials, which, over the next 4 days we would magically transform into bodhrans. But we started out with:

  • bits of rope and cloth
  • 1 goat skin
  • stain, glue, and rags
  • lots of hunks of wood
  • a pair of cotton gloves
  • a small hammer and utility knife
  • a few of Nathan's tools - clamps, a plane, a sander

Had the knives and hammers been stones, and the skins been bear instead of goat, I would have felt like Spock trapped in the 1930's. At least he knew what to do with a tricorder when he was done! I have no such expertise with a bodhran.

Nathan also brought daughter Molly and apprentice Emrys, who were invaluable to the process. Thus equipped with a student to teacher ratio of 3:1, we were ready to begin.
[ To be continued.... ]

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

Oct 15 Black Walnut Folk Club, Laurel Room, UW. $3 with Robin and John hosting.
Oct 15 Modabo in Stratford. The boys deserve to be seen twice!! Call 519.275.2138 for tickets.
Oct 16 Modabo, Zion United Church, 32 Weber St. W, Kitchener, 8 PM. Tickets available at Words Worth Books in Waterloo. and maybe workshops!!
Oct 16 Guelph Craft Festival, also the 15th and 17th, various venues. Jean Mills will be playing dulcimer at Studio 23.
Oct 23 Old Chestnuts Song Circle Things seen in the sky. Arrive between 7:30 and 8 PM. See above for info.
Oct 30 Mill Race Fund Raiser, Cambridge Arts Theatre, 8 PM. Northern City Limits, Tsufit, Alistair Brown, Gypsy Jive, Catherine Keenan. $10/$8. 621-7135. The Mill Race suffered serious losses thanks to storms at the festival. They need help!
Nov 6 Mill Race Open Sing at Ernies in Cambridge. $3. Also Dec. 4. 8PM
Nov 6 Hill Top Cafe, 91 Madison Ave. Kitchener. $2. Also Dec. 4. (see above for info)
Nov 6 Guelph Country Dances at Willow Road School and 1st Saturday of most months. (Hmm.this date seems overloaded!!)

v 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. Call 578-6298 for more information. WOW! what a first Circle, and what a great Eileen McGann concert in Toronto last night! Off to an amazing start. Modabo should be the icing on the cake - but why do I think of "McArthur Park"? Do not, repeat NOT, miss this concert!!! Or you too may turn into a Zombie ha ha ha ha ha ha ho ho hee hee ha ha...

Back to Old Chestnuts Home Page.