The tiny sign is hard to spot but the building is easy to find.
One thing about song circles and jams is there are a lot of guitars. Not that I have anything against guitars – but there are a lot of them. In a Hespeler heritage building which houses the Brownestone Gastropub you’ll find a music session where the guitars are outnumbered. This is where the Mill Race Folk Society hosts traditional English music sessions. On the afternoon I visited, of the 14 or so players, there were two guitar players surrounded by the sounds of flute, whistle, fiddle, viola, mandolin, mandocello, button accordion, banjo and concertina. It was fun to watch people arrive just to see what instrument would be brought out next.
Like many traditional sessions, the occasional ballad is sung with or without accompaniment, but the majority of the music is instrumental and played as a group. The tunes are played mostly from memory – a few pieces of sheet music and tablets were in evidence.
While there may be some overlap with other British Isles and Celtic folk traditions, according to Brad McEwan (session host and Artistic Director of the Mill Race Festival), the Mill Race English pub session is one of the few events where people can come to play English folk tunes.
The sessions have been happening since the 1980s – even before the first Mill Race Festival – and have had several homes over the years. The Brownestone Gastropub is a relatively new venue, welcoming musicians and listeners the 2nd Sunday of the month. If that isn’t enough for you then you can join the group on the 4th Sunday at the Argyle Arms. For details on these and other traditional music events visit the Mill Race Folk Society website: http://www.millracefolksociety.com/
[British Isles Traditional English Music Sessions, 2-4 pm; 2nd Sunday @ Brownestone Gastropub, 39 Queen St E, Hespeler Village, Cambridge; 4th Sunday @ The Argyle Arms, 210 King St E, Preston, Cambridge]
The Christmas carol sing is a long standing song circle tradition: everyone expected to join in (even if you only know chorus and some of the words to the first verse), inside, outdoors, meticulously planned or spontaneous outburst, accompanied by an organ, school band or a cappella, often with the promise of sweets and warming libations afterwards. The Elora Festival Singers performed their annual Festival of Carols which combines performance pieces with audience participation numbers. The small venue (St. John’s Anglican Church), wonderful acoustics, and exquisite voices made me feel as though I was hovering just over my seat, somewhere in the air where the voices mingled then poured over our ears. Unbelievable experience!
What was your favourite seasonal song this year? A traditional carol with a new twist? A modern Christmas ballad?
To end the year off here is a sweet Christmas song for you:
Tristan Prettyman & Jason Mraz
Whatever your religious or spiritual persuasion I hope you took the opportunity to raise your voice in song or otherwise delighted by aural pleasure. Looking forward to more musical adventures in 2011!
Last night I paid a visit to the weekly Celtic jam in Elora. I remember visiting when it was still being held in the historic Dalby Housewhere it began in 2000. Still hosted by Eva McAuley and Robin Aggus, the event has made a successful transition to its new home at the Shepherd’s Pub and boasts a variety of instruments, many of the musicians switching easily from one to another. One thing I did remember from my last visit is that the players were very proficient and they played fast! So I kept my whistle buried in my bag thinking I’d only bring it out if I felt I could join in – maybe on a slow number – but the minute I sat down, the fiddle player next to me said “you might as well get that flute out!” I was startled enough (how did he know what I was hiding in my bag?) to admit that I was indeed carrying a whistle but I thought I’d wait to see if I played it or not. I eventually brought it out for one tune, played with the assistance of some written music (which did not appear to be anywhere else in the room – all the tunes played from memory) and with the moral support of a couple of musicians joining me in the second go round.
So if you are looking for a place to share some traditional tunes, bring your fiddle, flute, whistle, pipes, concertina, guitar, bodhran, mandolin, harmonica (see a pattern? – use your imagination) to the Shepherd’s Pub on a Friday night.
[Celtic Jam, Shepherd’s Pub, 8 Mill Street West, Elora; every Friday, 9:00 – midnight, no cover]