Happy Canada Day! Having lived and taught on ‘the rez’ for 4 years, I do understand how the indigenous people of our nation may feel about this 150th celebration. And having lived twice in England because I’m such an Anglophile at heart, I also don’t necessarily agree that having gained our ‘independence’ from Britain is such a perfect condition either, but I did try to throw myself totally into the spirit of the special holiday, and WITHOUT adding anything more to our carbon footprint than was necessary. I don’t really believe in fireworks, anymore, as the damage it does to wildlife is shocking – but we did make some very loud noises of our own, and, as per psalms 98:4, we DID ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord’, as the pastor was with us, and therefore I believe all God’s creatures, great and small, were undisturbed. Oh, that’s not quite true – our singing DID upset Cammie and Chevy a bit last week – more on this later!
Friday June 30th and Saturday July 1st were wonderful days for those of in New Denmark and surrounding rural valleys, who love music. But yesterday, July 2nd was probably the best blog-point my readers will most enjoy, since they can’t actually hear our music (unless it’s later posted on Youtube or we buy and upload the recording that was made…) It has been said in the last week that one of the things the rest of the world likes the most about Canadians is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. And you can start with one of the leaders of our little community, Pastor Ralph Weigold, when you want to examine how to be self-deprecating whilst still making a firm point. How did Chevy’s parade polo wraps from 2 week-ends ago, end up as a stole for the dear pastor yesterday? Read on!
After discovering that we were unable to feel fulfilled (we weren’t joyful enough for the Lord!) with only a small choir singing in unison for just Christmas and Easter in our churches (there are two Lutheran ones here in New Denmark, for which Pastor Ralph is responsible), I went in search of a larger choir that sang in at least 3-part if not 4-part harmony. What fit the bill? Perth/Andover’s Community Choir, led by their indomitable mayor, Marianne Tiessen Bell (who is also in several other musical groups as well as leading the town’s book club, as WELL as leading a campaign as mayor to help the victims of flooding ((due in part to the massive clear-cutting this province gets up to – see my previous post “Taken At the Flood”)) and to put in place a plan to prevent further flooding from doing as much damage!) see latest re: this campaign here: http://globalnews.ca/news/3361542/province-to-review-perth-andover-flood-adaptation-plan/
Richard and I will be joining her choir in the fall, but in the meantime we were awestruck at the power and beauty and passion involved in singing with the 150 Voices Choral group that she was responsible for assembling, under the brilliant direction of Peter McLaughlin of Second Wind Music Centre in Bristol, to the south of Perth. (Peter is a retired music teacher, thus, I believe, the most excellent name of the group). I have known a number of Peters in my lifetime, and not one has ever failed to inspire me to better things, or to motivate me to present the best I have within me. Mr. McLaughlin did not disappoint; I don’t believe I’ve ever sung as strongly, or read the music with such quick and sharp glances so that I could get back to watching him conduct.
While we couldn’t travel down to their regular rehearsals, an all-day workshop was being held for those of us that couldn’t make the other practices. This was on Friday, the day before our big scheduled performance, so Richard, myself and our church’s organist, Sonja Pedersen travelled down to take part in a completely exciting clinic for singers, led by Peter. It was held at the St. Mary of the Angels Catholic church, which had stunning acoustics for us. These two shots were taken by a P/A C C member who was singing in the alto/tenor section. While I’m too far away (in the many sopranos, both 1st and 2nd) to be seen, you will notice Richard, in white, sitting beside the gentleman named Don Kelly in the pale yellow:
We were both surprised to see rather a lot of women singing tenor in this grouping, in fact Richard thought there were more there than in the alto section!
We were introduced to, and practiced such an amazing variety of music, all with Canadian ties: Oscar Peterson’s beautiful and uplifting Hymn to Freedom, Coco Love Alcorn’s (the daughter of jazz musician, Owen Sound’s John Alcorn) The River, which we were ‘allowed’ to ‘jazz/spiritualize’ by throwing in our own harmonies and descants, Klee Wyck, about Emily Carr and her importance to Canadian art (both the latter two had some wonderful drums, incl. native sounds I haven’t heard since ‘the rez’ !), the incomparable Rankin classic “We Rise Again”, fitting as Peter went to uni. with the late Raylene Rankin – this song was also popularized by the also sadly-late Rita MacNeil), and my favourite – our country’s second anthem – “This Is Our Home”. To hear it sung with orchestra, try this link: https://youtube.com/watch?v=rdXGZ4vYKGg although I hope our own recording may be available at some point soon. Having finished the afternoon session we were treated to a smorgasbord of fine dishes, both hot and cold, hosted by the Perth/Andover Choir and the ladies of the St. M. of the A. church. It was massive and delicious. Here’s a shot of Richard and me (in cap) chowing down with a fellow who looked and sounded like Jimmy Stewart. Kinda spooky!
Richard and I had despaired of ever finding anyone with a talent for choosing such amazing and inspiring choral music and of being led by anyone as excellent as Carlisle, Ontario’s own Heather Olaveson, but to our relief, Marianne and Peter have brought us happily back to that wonderful place once more. Unfortunately, due to the month of constant rain we’ve had, the outdoor venue for all this music had to be set aside, and the tent and staging area set up in the arena instead. Let’s just say that the acoustics were NOT what they were in the Catholic church the day before, but they certainly had a lot of microphones hanging from inside the tent to help us project out!
Before the choirs- including this mass choir of 150 voices- were to perform Saturday, however (we had a dress rehearsal from 10-12, so were again in Perth all day July 1st!) Marianne had organized several local instrumental groups to play, for a half-hour each.
First, and to Scottish Mom’s delight, were the Southern Victoria Pipe Band, who also marched in New Denmark’s parade, you may remember from the photos. Second on the program was “Wildwood”, a local band that plays a combination of folk/pop/ and rock-a-billy music. Again, the theme was to be all Canadian connections, so our ears were opened to new pieces for many of us, as well as a taste of the old folk songs that used to resound throughout these northern Appalachians.
Third were the Wednesday Evening Fiddlers who ALSO graced the New Denmark parade a few weeks ago (on a float, rather than marching the 4.5 km as the poor pipers – and poor Chevy and Champ had to do!) And fourthly was an utterly fabulous group from the Sistema program of offering orchestral music to ALL children. Many of these kids playing were from the local ‘rez’, or from lower-income families, and for Mom and myself, having spent decades listening and watching those taught ‘the Suzuki method’, this was a heart-warming experience – to see AND to hear:
Both groups played a variety of Canadian music – the fiddlers some of the ‘good ole tunes’, but the group from Sistema really ‘brought it home’ with some movie connection titles, some rock connections, and adding in a sprinkling of classical and folk to boot!
Unlike Ontario, where people are much more, shall we say, – er- strung like a tightly-tuned fiddle? – here in the Maritimes, people just get up and dance in the aisles or at the base of the stage if they like the music. Either in a male/female couple, or female/female, or in the case of the one lady, far left in fuscia, just clog-it on your own!
Then came a very scary time: the debut of my little group, the New Denmark Minstrels. As we were the smallest choir we were the first of the local groups to begin the Choral Concert. Yikes! We’ve been rehearsing once a week for the last 10 weeks. However, in that time we’ve gone from 14 who said ‘yes’, to 10 ‘committed and practicing’ to 8 when one soprano and one alto quit for a variety of reasons that change every time I hear them, then back up to 10 (now incl. me, though I was playing piano, guitar and trying to direct as well) when I persuaded Mom/Joy and pastor’s wife Ellen to join the alto section at the last hour (2 weeks prior)… All this upheaval for just 2 songs and in only a 10 week period for full commitment! I heartily thank all those who stuck it out, remembered to show up (some on the correct days, and some not!) practiced over and over, and even while most had to miss SOME of those 10 practices, and a few ‘section’ rehearsals had to be added, we did manage to sing the correct version for at least 65% of the required 3-part harmonies we were attempting! Not TERRIBLE for our first time out, and in a very large venue as well! Especially since only a few of the Minstrels can read music! In our last full rehearsal on Wednesday, we performed both pieces (a Canadian pop-song medley I arranged and the “Ida May” folk song I wrote – about, if you’ve been following this blog, the pioneer gal who settled our farm and raised a family – see Log Cabin Legends posting) IN OUR BARN. Because most barns around here are quonsets, constructed for ‘potato barns’, the echo in there is better than any shower/bathroom in which you’ve ever yodeled. We enjoyed singing with that wonderful arc of tin over us, resonating our harmonies more deeply and sweetly than we could have imagined! However, as stated above, Cammie and Chevy who were ‘in’ due to the weather/flies that afternoon, were NOT the appreciative audience for which we’d hoped. Cammie bleated throughout (trying to join in, said Pastor Ralph, but I think not) and Chevy was kicking madly at the stall wall. I’d like to think it was a large horsefly, but when I went to check I saw nothing… and it started again when we began to sing again!
The pieces included in the medley, both sung and instrumentalized by me on piano as a segue between vocalized melodies were:
Dan Hill’s Sometimes When We Touch, Paul Anka’s My Way (made famous by Mr. Sinatra himself, of course – and the 4 men did a beautiful strong rendition of this one without the ladies adding!) Hagood Hardy’s The Homecoming, Joni Mitchell’s Clouds, Buffy Saint Marie’s Until It’s Time for You to Go, Gene MacClellan/Anne Murray’s Snowbird, and Mom suggested, as we’re from Tillsonburg, a couple of measures of Put Your Hand in the Hand… For the lyrics to Ida May, which I accompanied on a VERY quiet guitar as I only know four or five chords, see below at the bottom of this post.
As the altos preferred to be away from the other groups (I know that feeling from singing alto in Carlisle for 3 years!) and as the sopranos (2 plus me where I could manage it) needed strength so as not to be drowned out by the uber-powerful men, I separated them up along the stage for the medley (3 parts) and had a mic on the sops. It had some rocky moments, but we managed to complete without a break-down! (click on each photo to see in full and enlarged).
The men think they should have their own quartet now, called the Bald Bass/Baritones. I think you can see why; no need to hear them! I made the duo-tang books with our music to look like the Danish flag, with a few swift masking tape tear-offs.
As mentioned above, the average practice attendance out of 10 was 7, due to several funerals in the valley (of course Pastor was needed at those, but being a close-knit community, there were usually a few others who were related to the deceased as well.) However, a good fishing day could also interfere, and of course Joy and Ellen didn’t agree to join us until we were just a few weeks away! But the cutest story of a near-miss was down to Pastor Ralph himself.
Since Chevy and Cammie arrived here, both with illnesses and both losing weight at an alarming rate, our minister has taken as much interest in their respective healths as he does of his human parishioners. So one Friday afternoon nearly all the choir was sitting in our living room-cum-meeting room waiting on two people to show. And one of them was Pastor. After we did some voice warm-ups, we were about to start without them when the phone rang. I ran to answer it, and sure enough, it was the Good Reverend Ralph. “Oh, dear, what’s happened? Nothing too terrible I hope? ” I blurted in to the phone. “No, nothing’s happened”, said Pastor, after a slightly odd and awkward pause. “I was just calling to see how Chevy’s feeling these last few days”. Now it was my turn to pause. Then a big grin came on my face as I realized the enormous coincidence in timing. “Well, Pastor Ralph, I’d be glad to tell you how Chevy is when you arrive over here and get sat on our couch !” I let that sink in and then he laughed. “Oh, good heavens, I forgot what day it is! Be right there!”
Anyway, on Saturday, after the Minstrels had finished Ida May (which went better than the medley, though it’s had much less practice!) and we took a succinct joint bow and scurried down to our seats, the Scotch Colony Choir was up next. They kindly mentioned that it was the Danes in New Denmark who first helped THEIR immigrants to keep from starving in the very ferocious winter of 1873 when they arrived. They got this from the lyrics I wrote in Ida May (printed below), so, as Mom says, I guess the audience heard at least SOME of the words ENUNCIATED correctly. (If you don’t know my mother, she’s HUGE on proper enunciation!)
Marianne Bell also sang (despite having lost most of her voice, bless her, after all the days of singing, organizing, socializing, etc!) with the Scotch Colony choir, pictured here. I’ve never seen people get up and dance to a CHOIR, but they sang so many ‘golden oldies’ that people’s feet were constantly tapping even in their seats!
Then came Marianne’s own Perth/Andover Community Choir, which Richard and I hope to join in the fall. For this Marianne (in white) conducted through some, but also, as in the last pic, played piano much better than I did, for them AND sang. Look how much fun she’s having in that photo!
Lastly came Peter’s own choir that he leads on a regular basis. And of course everyone was sticking very well to the all-Canadian theme and telling some of the histories of the songs as well, which was very enjoyable. That’s Peter in the first photo, at the end of the line following his choir to the stage. I said to many that he reminds me of the 1970s songwriter/singer/comedian/actor Paul Williams – not just his appearance and stature, but his vivacious energy and humour as well. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Williams_(songwriter)
Finally, the great climax of so many months of planning, hours of rehearsing – the 150 Voices mass choir, also led by Peter. Poor Marianne was way up back in the soprano section near me, and could hardly utter a sound by then, but it was so much her own brainchild that I know she still was thrilled. I told her after that she really needs to start planning to solve the peace problem in the world – I KNOW she could do it with just musical organizings such as this! It was incredibly powerful to be singing those amazing anthems and compositions for 4 part harmonies with so many gifted singers!
Now, while I was way in the back, but happily positioned myself to be less squashed in than most, and also so that I could see Peter better, Richard, in his usual way, had somehow managed to wangle a spot RIGHT in front – and in front of Peter as well!
That first photo is JUST the soprano section (both 1st and 2nds), so you can imagine the power of the voices rising and falling, crescendoing and decresendoing as per the music and Peter’s very busy hands. If you look carefully, you can see the big grin on my face, whenever my mouth wasn’t shaped in the appropriate ‘O’.
One of the tenors behind Richard captured him in this shot as well:
This was actually taken at the dress rehearsal that morning, though – which explains the empty seats in ‘the House’!
It was such an honour to sing with this large and strong group. Upon ending with the passionately patriotic “This Is My Home”, there were several pairs of eyes with tears in them, including Peter’s when he talked about his enjoyment in leading such a large and enthusiastic choir. Also, I know that the next day at church, several others in our New Denmark community who also sang with the 150 Voices said it was an experience-of-a-lifetime, and that they were so glad not to have missed out on it!
Too, it was a special event for Mom/Joy, because, though she didn’t sing with the mass choir, her alto contribution to the New Denmark Minstrels meant that she’s had TWO of those once-in-a-lifetime performances on very special days. When she was just in public school in Tillsonburg her school choir sang for the Queen! (HRH’s train simply pulled into the station and the choir sang from the platform, but still, that was a big choral day in Canada for Mom, and now in her senior years she can claim another first and only!)
The last story I must share with you is, of course, the reason for this post’s title. You may have noticed that, to tie us more ‘formally’ together, I gave each of the Minstrels a ‘stole’ to wear of red, with a white-painted New Denmark flag on its right side, and a musical note or two on each. I thought, even if we weren’t always singing together and at the same tempo (the Minstrels need to learn to ‘watch’ and to ‘listen’ to each other!) at least we’d LOOK like we were ‘tied-in together’.
Now, the only red fabric I had around the house when I got this last-minute brain-wave was left over from what I cut Chevy’s red polo wraps from, for the Founders’ Day parade. And the cat had been sitting on THAT for a few weeks, all day long! So it was full of cat hair, and Chevy’s two bandages had manure stains and horse hair and dried sweat all over them. And when I cut up the remainder of the fabric, there just wasn’t enough for all of us, so I did have to use the polo wraps as well. (I cut the ends of the other strips on the diagonal for a ‘finished look’, but didn’t want to cut the two polos because I might need them on Chevy again! So that meant that Richard and our minister, the tallest two, would have the dubious honour of wearing those as they were standing in the back and theirs could hang longer and not have the diagonal cut!) Well, of course I washed all the strips, and hung them on the line to dry. But as we all know, that isn’t enough to get rid of animal hair! So, on Friday morning before we left for all-day rehearsal, I meticulously vacuumed and Scotch-taped each strip, front and back. Then painted them with the flag and notes.
On Saturday, no one complained about wearing them, which rather shocked me – they were all very compliant! And I DID chuckle with them over their stoles’ origins, and the amount of work it took to get them acceptable, but I’m not sure Pastor Ralph Weigold heard me…
Because – yesterday morning in church he appeared coming down the aisle at a PARISH SUNDAY GATHERING (both N.D. congregations combined) wearing Chevy’s bandages AROUND HIS NECK on top of his lovely vestments and his green silk stole! Now, I know he likes our horse, and considers him worthy of his prayers and concern, etc. But I really just made those strips for a 7-minute performance at an outdoor event with most people in shorts and T-shirts! Yikes! I was squirming in my pew, which of course got my hand wrapped by Mother Dearest. But Pastor wore Chevy’s leg wrap through the entire formal service, communion and all, saying that he was proud of how well the New Denmark Minstrels had done on their debut performance, AND that he was proud to be a Canadian, still celebrating that on July 2nd as well. Good for him. God bless him!
And now, as promised, here’s the lyrics to “Ida May”, dedicated to her daughter, Phyllis MacDonald (which I announced to the crowd on Saturday, but apparently she and her son, Bliss didn’t make it, so Richard and I may go over there and sing the 2-part harmony duet to her one day) . In the last verse, the word “Bliss” is mentioned as a tip-of-the-hat to Ida’s grandson. And the last spoken words, which Pastor Ralph himself read aloud, refer to “Feel Us” (the ghosts) which was as close to “Phyllis” as I could get within the context of the poetry/rhyme. (for the same reason I used 1870, although most N.D.ers came here in 1872 – it fit the meter/rhythm of the line much better!) .
"Ida May" - lyrics to original folk-song by J. Johnson, music written 1989, originally performed as "Katherine Fields" at Murphys Point Provincial Park My Danish name is Rasmussen But they call me Ida May My family came to Canada Which is where they now will stay. In 18 hundred and seventy We settled all the land In mountains high and valleys low Where the dark blue forests spanned spoken- man: Ida May, you'll marry me? I've cleared the land for you. woman: Oh, dear man, I'll marry you! Tho' I'm but 16, 'tis true! In a little cabin on Bluebell Road I moved in with my John 5 children came, we built more rooms And the years were quickly gone. I planted lilacs and apple trees We lived for fam-i-ly And then came the time I got too sick I was only thirty-three. spoken- girl: Mommy, Mommy -don't send me away! I don't WANT to live with Aunt! woman: child, go now, be at peace. to keep you all - I can't! But I gave my children all my love Before I passed away So young was I, so old a soul For my name was Ida May! *************************** refrain: Ida May! Ida May! Haunt me on a summer's day In the orchard where I play... Haunt my memory, Ida May! *************************** A hundred years have passed us by Since I left my girlhood thrills And went to start my home and farm In New Denmark's rolling hills. My life was short upon the earth But I float up here in BLISS I look down on my legacies And my breeze blows them a kiss. spoken-You are here, the ghosts of all we loved. Forevermore... FEEL US, children; feel us sing, The ghosts of those before... ****************************************************************** Here are Bliss and Phyllis. (Remember Ida May's story is at the Log Cabin Legends post, and another entitled Log Cabin Legends, Part II: Phyllis. Just type those tag words or titles into this blog's search engine and both posts should come up for you to read and enjoy!) HAPPY CANADA DAY!