It can be the highlight of the evening – when the person leading a song or at the mic brings out a song that resonates with everyone. Whether it is a call and response or an easy to learn chorus, something about the song draws people – performers and listeners alike – to join in the spontaneous choral event. What is your favourite sing along number? It could be one you like to lead or one to which you have added your voice. Share the title, the lyrics, or even a link to somewhere we can hear it.
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:
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!
I visited the Corktown Ukulele Jam at the urging of uke playing musical friends. Although the event is just approaching its 2nd anniversary it has a devoted following that results in 60-70 uke players coming together every Wednesday night at the Dominion on Queen.
The evening starts with a one hour workshop, led by Steve McNie, co-founder of the Corktown Uke Jam. Steve is an intense taskmaster and does not tolerate any chatting or “noodling” while he is leading the group through the strumming patterns and chord changes of a new song. He reminded me of a strict high school teacher who had had a bit too much coffee and not enough sleep the night before. But the room of ukulele devotees takes the scolding in stride – the overall ambiance is friendly and laid back, lots of regulars but newcomers are welcome.
There is a break for people to order food, drinks and socialize (desperately needed after being on our best behaviour for Steve!). Next is an open mic – for which you are encouraged to sign up ahead of time on-line (http://www.torontoukes.com/). This part of the evening is usually hosted by David Newland, the other co-founder of the Corktown Uke Jam. Other instruments may make an appearance in a supportive role (there is a regular stand up bass player and Steve provided Edith Piaf accents with his accordion) but the uke takes centre stage. After a few performances, the evening continues with selections from the Jambook: words and chords projected on the screen, a volunteer to lead, and a room full of ukuleles and voices brings it to life.
One regular attendee is Heather Katz, owner of Broadway Music in Orangeville. She’ll often arrive with uke accessories, music books, and could even bring along a uke for you to try if you get in touch ahead of time. This week she gave us a beautiful performance of “Imagine” to honour the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death.
Come early to get a seat as the place often fills up – besides, that will give you time to eat supper there, and the food is good. I’ll leave you with the benediction said by all participants at the end of the evening, ukes held over their hearts:
On earth we strive for earthly things
And suffer sorrows daily.
In heaven, choirs of angels sing
While we play ukulele.
[Corktown Ukulele Jam, Dominion on Queen, 500 Queen St E, Toronto, every Wednesday 8-11 pm]
This month I’d like you to think of someone who really makes a difference at a shared music event. It could be someone who works mostly behind the scenes making the gathering possible, or someone who always finds a way to support and encourage fellow musicians. Or it could be that person with the sense of humour you can always count on to crack everyone up. Here is your chance to celebrate someone without whom your song circle or open stage would just not be what it is.
One of the things that intrigues me about these open musical spaces I have been exploring is how people are drawn to come out and share personal music. There is a wide range of talent and training represented, as well as very different feelings about performing. Some people have finished a draining workday and are bursting to share a song they just wrote while others are using all their courage to take their compositions out of the living room and into a public forum. And there they are – waiting to be a part of the music.
Over the summer I read a couple of books that touch on how we are connected to the creative instinct that draws amateur musicians out of the closet.
In her book, “If You Want to Write”, Brenda Ueland puts forward the idea that everyone has the potential to write, whether poetry, stories, songs; it is a natural impulse present in children that is winnowed out of us as we mature and become more self conscious and preoccupied with the practicalities of day to day living. She urges us to give expression to our imaginations, let the ideas flow without critiquing and censoring ourselves, for the simple joy of knowing ourselves better and participating in the creative process. My favourite chapter is entitled: “Why women who do too much housework should neglect it for their writing”; I wonder how contentious a statement this would have been in 1938 when the book was published? It would be a stretch to claim that I do too much housework but I really love the sentiment.
Brian Levitin (“This is Your Brain on Music”) describes how our brains are hardwired to derive pleasure from music, that we have an inherent ability to understand musical patterns which is then shaped by our cultural milieu. Another interesting point he makes is that it is a recent human development (last 500 yrs) that music has become the realm of the expert: the performer, the rock star, the prodigy. It is likely that music is among the oldest human activities as evidenced by instruments found in ancient archeological sites; in existing societies around the world participatory music and dance are integral parts of celebration, mourning, rites of passage, and story telling. The expectation is that everyone sings, everyone dances to the extent that people speak and people move.
Let’s revive – from our childhood, from our ancestors – this social and expressive activity and make it part of our present.