Join us live, online at QAHN Heritage Talks for an afternoon filled with some of Irish-Montreal’s finest in history, story-telling, music and dance! Heritage Talks in collaboration with “A Different Tune: Musical Heritage in English-Speaking Quebec” brings you a series of presentations featuring: Fergus Keyes, who will speak about the history of the Black Rock site and bring us up to date on the most recent developments in the building of a monument park; musical performances by Roy McLaren and David Gossage; an Irish-Montreal ghost-story by Donovan King; and an interview with Irish dance instructor Bernadette Short and researcher Rachel Hoffman about Irish dance in Quebec since the 1970s. Do not miss this one-of-a-kind event! Please see the detailed schedule below.
On a cold, blustery night in late February, I headed over to Harley Avenue in the Westhaven section of NDG in Montreal to document what was very much a typical night at the West-Can dance studio. The studio is located next door to the Westhaven Community Centre and famous Snowdon Bakery. There were piles of boots near the front entrance and I was warmly greeted by several of the parents who were there for their children’s rehearsal. Towards the back of the small rehearsal space, more parents were working diligently to sew the last few costumes together for an upcoming performance of the West-Can junior drum and dance troupe at the annual Monnaie-Money Show taking place that weekend.
I’d been invited by West-Can director Melika Forde-Lewis to document the rehearsal. As I began setting up my tripod and audio recorder, an adorable toddler wandered over and took a keen interest in what I was doing and all the levers and buttons she could easily reach. She listened with intrigue as I put my headphones over hear ears and she heard the sounds coming through. Fortunately, she stayed faithfully by my side for much of the evening as a I worked to document the rehearsal.
For me, this small moment gets to the heart of what West-Can feels like: an extended family gathering. Everyone looks out for everyone else. And everyone — parent, sibling, cousin, and performer — helps out in some way or other. This family feeling is built into the organization’s DNA: West-Can was founded in 1978 by a group of recent immigrant families from Trinidad and other Caribbean islands. According to West-Can’s leadership with whom I spoke, these founding families were looking to ease the pangs of homesickness by continuing their rich folk culture (drumming, singing, dance, storytelling, crafts, and food), passing these traditions from one generation to the next in their new home. Today, many of those who participate in and run West-Can are the children and grandchildren of these founding families.
I was caught off guard as the youth performers began their drumming. The room felt electric and I scrambled to setup my gear to capture what was happening. The drummers launched into complex and overlapping rhythms which propelled the dancers who moved with both an ease and a practiced discipline. It’s always difficult to put these moments of music and movement into words; but thankfully, the video and audio I captured seems to convey just a bit of what it was like.
Here are the junior drummers and dancers are doing a full run-through of the performance they had prepared.
I want to thank the West-Can organizers and parents for inviting me out and trusting me to document a small part of what they do. Like many of our project partners, they have been deeply affected by the current Covid-19 crisis which has halted all public gatherings. But they are a resilient and dedicated organization: Within two weeks of Quebec declaring a state of emergency, they were hosting online classes in Afro-Caribbean dance using their Facebook page and the suddenly-popular Zoom conferencing platform. Most recently, they have begun a storytelling series for children based on Caribbean folk tales. West-Can are in the middle of a fundraising campaign with a 50/50 raffle to raise money for the organization and see them through these strange and difficult times. Visit them online and consider participating in or supporting their initiatives. When things get back to normal, you might even consider hiring one of their performance troupes for your public event!
Date: Saturday, April 25, 2020 Location: Online using Zoom (www.zoom.us) Time: 2:00 – 4:00 pm
Description: Have you ever wanted to play fiddle? If you have an internet connection, a fiddle, and a bit of spare time on your hands, then Brysonville Revisited and the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network invite you to a free online beginner fiddle workshop with renowned fiddler Laura Risk on April 25, 2020. Our goal is to help inspire the next generation of Chateauguay Valley fiddlers, an important part of our region’s cultural heritage. For over two decades, fiddler Laura Risk has been immersed in the fiddle music of Quebec and Scotland and has performed and taught at festivals and music camps all over North America as well as in Europe and Australia. She also holds a PhD in musicology from McGill and currently teaches at the University of Toronto. This workshop will be aimed at beginners who have some experience with the instrument but wish to hone their fiddle style. If you know how to hold the instrument and can play a few easy melodies, this workshop will be perfect for you. Laura will teach a few simple tunes used for local dances while focusing on bowing, timing, ornamentation, rhythm, and technique. This event will take place online with the popular and easy-to-use the Zoom video conference calling platform which can be accessed from laptops, smartphones, and tablets (www.zoom.us). We will provide each participants instructions on how to connect to Zoom and join the online lesson.
During the mid-workshop break, we will be joined online by local fiddler and pianist, John and Connie Wilson who are steeped in the fiddle music of the Valley. They will share tunes played at old-time barn dances and the stories behind them.
Please Note: Participants must register beforehand and are expected to have a violin and bow in playable condition. Registration is limited to a maximum of eight students. To register call Bruce Barr at 905-984-1316 or email Glenn Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About: The event is part of a collaboration between the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network (QAHN) and Brysonville Revisited as part of QAHN’s “A Different Tune” project. Generously funded by Canadian Heritage, this province-wide initiative is exploring, documenting, and strengthening musical heritage in Quebec’s English-speaking communities. We also with to thank the Chateauguay Valley Community Information Services for their assistance promoting this event.
Today’s post features a guest co-author, Gern f. Vlcheck, a musician, songwriter, storyteller, and author whom I’ve known for fifteen years. Gern moved to Montreal from Ontario in the early 1990s as a long-distance trucker. Before long, he was deeply involved in Montreal’s vibrant post-Referendum music and culture scene, fronting the well-known indie rock band The United Steelworkers of Montreal in the mid-2000s. He has also been a favourite bartender at Grumpy’s bar on Bishop Street (having been voted Montreal’s best bartender multiple times in the popular CultMTL event, “Best of Montreal”). His latest project, The Vlcheks, is a three-piece electric folk band that he fronts with Randall Anderson on bass and Mike Kennedy on drums. All three musicians have been deeply involved in Montreal’s folk and roots music scene, especially through the old-time country and bluegrass jam that takes place at Grumpy’s every Thursday night. Randall is also a renowned visual artist and Mike is a luthier who makes stunning custom acoustic guitars.
Gern’s songwriting is deeply shaped by the places he has lived, worked, and travelled – in particular the working class histories of Quebecers and Canadians. His band The Vlcheks are currently releasing one video a week as part of a 10-week music video series called “Up Against the Wall.” The first song they released last week, “The Bridge,” tells of an important yet often forgotten story in our province’s history: of the workers – many of them from the Mohawk community of Kahnawake – who were killed while building the Quebec Bridge in the early 20th century. Here is their video:
I asked Gern to provide a bit of context for how he came to write this song and his songwriting approach. Here is what he had to say.
I first crossed the Pierre Laporte bridge many years ago travelling in a band van as I was touring with the alt-country band the United Steel Workers of Montreal. Approaching Quebec from Highway 20 on the south side of the St. Lawrence river, the bridge sort of sweeps you up towards Quebec City. Its only remarkable tribute is directly to the east by a couple hundred feet, The Quebec Bridge. I remember the striking design, a multiple diamond shaped cantilever affair that harkens back to Scotland and the Firth of Fourth Bridge which had very much caught my attention years ago in a different part of my life, a different point of travel. The Quebec Bridge with its similar angles and its ornateness struck me as out of the ordinary. Its beauty seemed to do one thing very well and that was to show that its sister bridge, The Pierre LaPorte, which we were traveling on, was considerably under beautified to say the least.
It was the similarities to the Firth of Forth and the dressing down of the Pierre LaPorte that stuck with me and found me at home later researching this wonderful find of architecture. The first searches I did clarified to me that it was simply known as The Quebec Bridge which centres it in history for me. One hundred years ago, one did not need to name a bridge that remarkably spanned the entire St. Lawrence in one bound after a King or a Queen or a dead politician; it was a feat and was enough to refer to it by the fact it crossed the river at Quebec. Early into my research I found that its most interesting feature was the story of how it was built: three times in fact, and the 88 folks that died building it and the many others who greatly suffered way back in the early 1900s for a mathematical mistake and a company’s hubris.
This song, as with a lot of the songs I have written, is dedicated to the workers. In this case to the workers who, on two separate occasions, fell and were crushed or drowned as they did their day-to-day work just trying to make a living. As I delved deeper into this story, I found out that many of the men who died building this bridge had come from Kahnawake, a Mohawk reserve just south of Montreal. It was the thought of one small community loosing forty members in one fell swoop that inspired me to write this song. The devastating fact that many families lost multiple members in a single event is a lot for one small community to take.
I was assisted in my research by Kahnawake resident and photographer Dave Bush, as well as The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, Canadian Society for Civil Engineering, and the Montreal Ironworkers Local. There are several decent documentaries about the construction and failure of this bridge and quite a few good articles about it. And yet it was a challenge to get a complete list of all who died in the accident; getting the Mohawk names right for the video was, I thought, necessary to properly pay homage to these workers.
I’m proud of this song and found it to be an interesting culmination of efforts, probably the most-researched song of my career. I recorded “The Bridge” with my band, The Vlcheks, and it is being released on YouTube as the first video track of our new video album, Up Against the Wall. We will be releasing one video every Wednesday at noon for a total of ten videos over the next ten weeks.
You can follow the Vlcheks and their “Up Against the Wall Series” on their Facebook page and YouTube channel. I want to thank Gern for taking the time to contribute this song and his reflections to this project.
These are difficult times for all of us. For those of us working in the culture and heritage sector, this means rethinking public gatherings for the time being. At QAHN, in an effort to do our part to limit the risk of spreading of COVID-19, all public events scheduled for this project in 2020 are postponed until further notice.
Between last October and the beginning of this month, performers, organizers, and community groups across the province generously shared their time and talents with the Different Tune project, inviting me into their communities to document the ways they come together as a community through musical culture and dance. Their enthusiasm sharing their music, insights, and ideas was truly heartwarming. You can expect much more of this content to appear here, on our Facebook page, and our YouTube channel in the months ahead.
We are still committed to celebrating, documenting, and sharing the sounds and stories of musical culture in our communities throughout these difficult times. Rest assured we will comply with all public health directives and precautions to protect the well-being of everyone involved in this project—and that includes you, our audience, most of all.
Last November, the communities of Valcartier and Shannon north of Quebec City welcomed this project to their area with an impromptu afternoon of music featuring a host of local musicians, set dancers, and listeners. I was lucky enough to capture some of the music on video. In honour of St. Patrick’s Day festivities this coming weekend, and with the people in Shannon getting into high gear to bring you their traditional Shannon Irish Show (now in its fifth decade), I wanted to share with you two Irish songs I recorded as part of this project’s archival collection.
First, we have Larry Hamilton, a strong-voiced singer from Shannon who grew up hearing his uncles Tim and Elmer singing many of the songs he still sings today. Here is Larry singing the old Irish comic song and tongue-twister, “Clancy’s Wooden Wedding.”
Next up, we have a song from Jimmy Kelly, a fine singer and fiddler whose music was featured on the 2010 Prix Mnémo award-winning album, Ireland in Quebec/L’Irlande au Québec, with Valcartier’s late accordionist Keith Corrigan. Jimmy has a vast repertoire of unaccompanied ballads from Quebec and New England lumber camps as well as an almost inexhaustible collection of Irish comic songs – usually of the slightly more risqué variety. After some cajoling Jimmy told us, through a song, why “The Women are Better than Men.”
One of the nice things about this project has been the ways people have come forth to share their ideas and expertise. This past December, I received an email from researcher Noel Thomas who wanted to share an project he produced in 2018, a podcast mini-series about Montreal’s jazz history.
This miniseries is part of the larger Historians Recount podcast project, which Thomas co-produced with with other researchers, including our own organization’s (QAHN) Dr. Dorothy Williams—Canada’s foremost scholar of the history of Quebec’s Black community. You can access the four episodes at this link.
Montreal’s historic Black community in little Burgundy was the epicentre for jazz culture in Canada between the 1920s and 1970s with a healthy roster of venues like the legendary Rockhead’s Paradise. The memory of jazz music is still strong in the neighbourhood: giant murals on in the neighbourhood pay hommage to two of Canada’s foremost pianists, Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones who were both raised in the neighbourhood. Dr. Oliver Jones remains an active community member who is often seen attending neighbourhood events and supporting community initiatives; his annual golf tournament, for example, raises money for the Union United Church (Canada’s oldest Black congregation), Tyndale St-Georges Community Centre, and other organizations. A third massive mural pays hommage to Oscar’s sister, Daisy Peterson-Sweeney, who taught countless young musicians in the neighbourhood, including her brother and Oliver Jones. Daisy also helped found the Montreal Black Community Youth Choir (now known as the Montreal Jubilation Choir). Many feel she was as equally gifted as her brother.
Podcast producer Noel Thomas – originally from New York – arrived in Montreal near the tail-end of Montreal’s jazz heyday in the 1960s. He was captivated but what he saw and heard in the jazz scene. Over the years, he made recordings and conducted scores of interviews with our city’s jazz stalwarts. His podcast series weaves compelling interviews, narration, and music to tell the story of jazz in Montreal. I want to thank Noel for reaching out to our project. His mini-series helps tell of a vibrant and pivotal time in Montreal’s cultural history and of the essential contributions made by Quebec’s Black English-speaking community.
On December 20th, videographer Gordon Hashimoto and I headed down to the Caribbean Paradise restaurant on Newman Boulevard in Ville LaSalle to check out “Gift to You” – a youth hip-hop concert showcasing local high school and CEGEP performers. I’d learned about the concert a few days earlier from the Community Contact, a weekly paper serving Montreal’s Black and Caribbean communities. In a full-page spread, I saw that a familiar name was helping the students produce the show: Todd Smith. Todd is a colleague of a good friend and former bandmate. I’ll have a lot more to say about Todd in the future. But for now, you need to know that he is a hip-hop songwriter; radio DJ; community leader; event producer; and, since 2012, a youth mentor working within the Lester B. Pearson school board as an integration aide. A significant part of his work has involved mentoring elementary and high school youth in LaSalle and Verdun through music, dance, and self expression.
Today’s post will share a few of the videos from each performer at the concert. I caught up with Todd in an off-air studio at radio station CKVL 101.1 FM in Ville Lasalle where he gave me the backstory of this concert and his work with each of the youth performers. What follows is an edited version of our interview. (At the end of the post, there’s a link to a YouTube playlist with all the videos which Gordon Hashimoto helped produce)
Glenn: Let’s talk about the Gift to You concert. What’s the backstory? How did that come about?
Todd: That was a crazy concert and even crazier how it came about. Two months earlier, the show wasn’t even an idea in our minds yet. Tebby J and JX were the headliners for the show. I’ve known Tebby since he was eight years old at Orchard Elementary writing poems to girls. Always a gentleman. And he would always ask me my advice on his poems. As he got older he stayed connected with me. He plays football for the LaSalle Warriors, him and JX. Because that’s another thing about me, it’s not just the music that’s important to me. It’s really showing these kids, I’m there for you for whatever you’re doing, whether you’re playing football, hockey, soccer, or are a scholar. And Tebby is 16, turning 17 soon. Same for JX. I would see the two of them on the football field.
So fast forward to this year and Tebby becomes the student council president at LCCHS (LaSalle Community Comprehensive High School). And his teacher asked him who should DJ the school dance. And he suggested me. I get a call from his teacher asking whether I would be interested and I said, “Of course, I’d love to.” But before this, Tebby and JX are telling me that they are making their own music. So I say, “Let me hear your music.” It blew my mind. Just fantastic songs and I said to myself, “Ok, these guys have something.” So I suggested that they perform their own songs at the dance as well. “Perform your tracks. Your tracks are ready.” The night of the dance, the gym is going crazy. I have my DJ with me and the kids are wiling out. JX at one point grabs the mic and starts running around the gym while rapping his song. Everyone there starts following him around the gym. So it was that night last September that I said to myself, “We have to take this further. We have to do another show. We gotta showcase these kids.”
GP: You mentioned knowing JX through Tebby J, was he someone you knew through the youth programs at the schools?
TS: I worked with his older brother. JX was in Grade 7 at this time. But I always followed him too because he has so much charisma and flair. You saw this at the show. He’s a natural star. But really I got to know him through the Lasalle Warriors. He was voted fastest running back in Quebec. He was breaking records playing football. But he only started doing music a year ago.
TS: Yeah. So, that’s when I started talking to him. I was giving him props about his football and he said, “You know, the joke is Mr. Todd, I don’t even have the heart for football.” I said, “You’re the best in Quebec though, bro.” “I know, but that’s not my passion.” I asked, “What is your passion?” He answered, “Music. I always fooled with it but started doing it seriously a year ago.” So, I said, “Alright, you gotta hang with me, man. You gotta stay close. We gotta build.” So, that’s what happened. By the time that school dance came around, I was already close with JX.
TS: JX’s cousin was on the show as well, YVNG FINXSSA (pronounced “Young Finessa”). He’s the producer. So, he makes most of their beats. But JX and Tebby J, they’re actually solo artists. They’re not officially a group. But because they’re friends who grew up together and play football, they end up always doing music together.
GP: In terms of the music we’re hearing behind everything, was that all produced by YVNG FINXSSA?
TS: They had a couple songs produced by other young guys in Montreal and one or two songs were beats they found online. But most of their stuff is originals and all young producers. FINXSSA is a first year student at Dawson with Jess Malka too. So, is Wan, the other performer. These guys are like 18, 19 but making some serious music.
GP: Did Wan come up through your program as well?
TS: Wan went to LCCHS when I worked there in 2015 but I didn’t get to meet him. But he remembers me there and he ends up being very good friends with Tebby and JX. That’s how he came on the show. They were like, “We’re gonna call our boy, Wan. He’s a sick rapper.” So, I was like, “Sure, bring him on.” So, I met him at Dawson. I didn’t know him or FINXSSA before. But these guys were working together and Tebby says, “We’re bringing our boys in.” And I was all for it, man.
GP: Talk about Jess Malka. How did you get to know her?
TS: This story still touches me to this day. So, Jess Malka was a student at Beurling Academy while I was working there. I was actually working with two other incredible artists who were her friends. And I could always see Jess was trying to come around us and be where we were when I was working with them. If I was in the gym talking in the corner about music, I noticed she’d be in the gym just a bit further. So, I said, “What’s up with this, girl?” But she never would talk to me. So, finally, I went up to her, said, “How are you doing? My name’s Todd, I’m one of the aides here.” She’s like, “Yeah, I see you all the time. You open the gym at lunch for the kids.” I said, “What are you into? You’re always around but what’s up?” And she goes, “Not much, I play football, this-and-that.” I said, “You do any music?” because I always ask kids that. So, tells me, “Yeah, actually I write songs and I sing.” I was like, “Really?”
About three days later, I came to her art class and she showed me a song she wrote on her phone. And I said, “Wow, this looks really good. Would you mind singing this for me?” and I asked her teacher, “Can I step out of the class with Jess just for a minute?” So, we went in the hallway, just by the doorway, and she sings this song to me, Glenn, and I stood there. It felt like ten minutes but it was probably a good strong minute and I was like, “Wow, you wrote that?” She goes, “Yeah, I wrote that last night. Do you like it?” I said, “Jess, do I like it? This is a hit. I love it!” Her voice, her delivery, her cadence, her words – she’s a natural songwriter. The way she sang it in the hallway, I felt like I was at a show. This is a voice of gold, man. She already knew I was working with her two friends in the studio and she says, “I’m dying to come to the studio with you guys.” So, I said, “Come to the studio.” So, that ended up being my new trio, the three kids from Beurling. From that point on, Jess was hooked. She met my studio guy and started booking sessions on her own and has recorded about ten songs in less than four months. On fire, man.
GP: Tell me about Deshaund. That was a real treat.
TS: Man, Deshaund’s story, I only met him – our show was December 20th. I met Deshaund in November. So, I work with one of the behavior techs at LCCHS, Joanne Graham. Joanne does great work with the kids too and she went to the spring concert at LCCHS last year. Deshaund was in Grade 7 or 8. He was a new kid to the school, no one really knew about him. He’s quiet, very shy. But he put himself in the spring concert. So, he gets on the stage and he does a beatbox, like “The Human Beatbox” from Fat Boys. I wasn’t at the show but Joanne called me all excited from this show, “Todd, you gotta meet this kid! He’s bringing back beatboxing, like back in the day!” I say, “Joanne, slow down. Who?” She said, “This kid, Deshaund. He’s sick! He’s beatboxing. The kids are going crazy, you gotta meet him!”
So, it took me a few months with my schedule but I finally got a day to come see him in November last year. Joanne introduces us. So, I said, “Ms. Joanne told me all about you and what you do. It’s crazy! Who taught you that? Because young guys don’t know beatboxing” He says, “Oh my uncle, my father, they’re musicians. And they said if I want to beatbox go look up the Fat Boys on YouTube. They were doing the real human beatboxing so I learned from listening to them more and watching their videos.” And he’s perfected the art of beatboxing, man. And he came to the show and the rest is history. He’s part of the family now [laughs].
TS: So, once we all knew that we’re gonna do this show, I said “If we’re down, we gotta get serious. We gotta print tickets. We gotta make a flyer.” All that was done within about three weeks and these guys were on it. I took all the pictures of them and had my guy build the flyer, make the tickets and print them out. The tickets were a mini-version of the flyer. So, I remember the night I met the students at Caribbean Paradise and I said, “Alright guys, the flyers are ready and I got the tickets.” I gave them everything and their mouths dropped. I remember Tebby saying to me, “Mr. Todd, my face is on the ticket!” I said, “I know. You don’t like it?” He goes, “I love it.” But he’s like, “My face is on the ticket!” [laughs]. “I know, bro. This is serious.”
And what really floored them, Glenn, and I’m glad you got a copy of this, I reached out to Egbert Gaye at the Community Contact and he said, “Send me a little something and I’m gonna do something for you.” I get the Community Contact two weeks later. And we’re on the front page of this thing! It floored these students. Front page and full write-up about all of them. And they’re like, “Wow, we’re on the front page of a Montreal paper” They’re freaking out. So, just that, it put them at a higher level and made them realize, “Wow we are special. And we’re worth something and we have talent and we gotta take this serious.” It just put something in them to see that.
They named the show. I asked them, “Guys, what do you wanna call the show?” “Ahh gift …. A gift … Gift to You.” I said “Why that name?” thinking that, “Yeah, you are gonna share your gift to the people.” But they said it out of their mouth: “Us performing, we feel that we’re blessed and we wanna share our gift to the people. So, whoever is going to come watch us, this is our gift to them. So, Gift to You.” My goodness, it was outstanding.
GP: Can you talk about the importance of the Caribbean Paradise restaurant in the community?
TS: Hugely important. Yeah, so, I want to shout out Dan and Babita. They are the husband and wife owners of that place. They’ve been there about 35 to 40 years. And they’re a staple in the community in LaSalle. They’re booked Friday and Saturday every week. Older folks’ stuff, younger folks’ stuff, West Indian stuff, Polish stuff, weddings, shows, birthdays, baby showers. They are just open to anybody, no matter who you are, where you come from, what culture, what nationality, “come on in, and we’re gonna treat you like gold.” It’s amazing man. And the food is amazing.
It’s always a bit awkward to walk into a room full of strangers and start setting up tripods and recording gear. In early December, I was in West Quebec for a week, mostly driving up and down a short stretch of the Route 105 along the Gatineau River between Chelsea and Wakefield where there is a vibrant local music and arts scene. But on the Friday afternoon, I took a very circuitous detour to Shawville in the Pontiac region, first heading north along the Gatineau River through Low and Kazabazua and then west and south through the Pontiac backcountry arriving in town just as the sun had set on this Ottawa River community. As part of the larger Ottawa Valley region, the Pontiac is renowned for its older traditions of fiddle music, step dancing, and unaccompanied ballads like “The Chapeau Boys.” But I’d never spent much time on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River.
In the weeks prior, I had been corresponding with Robert Wills, a musician from the area about the weekly “Hooley in the Hall” that happens every Friday night at Saint Paul’s Anglican church hall in Shawville. Mostly, I’d wanted to know if it would be okay to bring my recording gear and document the event for this project’s archival collection. Robert assured me the musicians were no strangers to being recorded, especially in the age of the smartphone camera, and there should be no problem. Robert described the event as an unpretentious and relaxed gathering of mostly amateur musicians who like to jam once a week and, despite his assurances, I still worried my gear might bring an awkward formality and make the musicians self-conscious.
I arrived half an hour early to introduce myself to musicians and organizers and ask their permission to record. As always, I let performers know that I’m happy to turn off the recorders when they perform. But the first two people I spoke to were totally unphased by my request and the volunteer emcee for the evening, Gerald Storing, even suggested what he figured would be the best place to put my video tripod. However, not all the musicians had arrived and I still figured there was a chance my gear would irk someone – performer or audience member.
I crossed the hall to set up my audio gear alongside the other wall, finding a place near the piano that wouldn’t obstruct the audience’s view. As I am setting up the audio recorder on the tripod, I see a woman walking quickly towards me in the corner of my eye. I can tell she has something to say and I prepare myself for a possibly tense encounter. I couldn’t have been more wrong and what the woman asked me, I think, says a lot about the spirit of the Hooley and what it means to the people there:
Could you please hurry setting up your equipment? That little girl over there is about to sing and we want you to record her.
Later in the evening, I was invited up to the mic to explain the project and why I wanted to record the Hooley. I reiterated to everyone that I wouldn’t share any of the video or audio without the explicit consent of the performers. One of the musicians nearby commented quizzically, “But why wouldn’t you share our music online? Everyone else would?”
The Hooley is all about sharing. It is the sort of event that breaks down typical barriers to participating in music in our communities. Anyone can be in this band. Most of the musicians sit huddled in a long line facing the audience at the foot of the stage; a few others sit facing them in the first row of the audience, in this way, blurring the typical distinction between audience and performer. Some have brought along their own small amps. There is only one person on stage — the man on the electric drum set, presumably because he needs the extra space. Everyone plays together all night and simply does their best to support whoever is leading each song or tune. After each performance, Gerald, the emcee sets up the mic for the next musician and passes them a few words of encouragement. Audience and fellow musicians sing along as enthusiastically as they like. And when the music stops, everyone claps, including the other musicians.
The Hooley is the kind of place where a child feels comfortable taking the mic and singing alternate verses of a country song with her mother; where a college-aged electric bass player practices laying down the bottom the whole evening; where older fiddle players get the whole room clapping to a traditional jig or reel. And no one thinks twice when a teenage girl seated next to her guitar teacher, launches into somewhat lyrically suggestive country hits like “Girl Crush” and “Love Me Like You Used To”; the other musicians, many of them her parents’ age or older follow the chords and a few even quietly join in on the refrain. You can tell that everyone there—audience and performer—are there to support and encourage her.
To my mind, the Hooley’s openness—to styles, instruments, eras, and ages— provides an example of how amateur music making can bring communities together. Being there that first Friday night in December, I had the sense that the bonds of community were being reinforced in real-time through the music. Chris Judd is a farmer and longtime community leader in the Pontiac. He is one of the people who started the Hooley and below I’ve asked him to share, in his own words, what the Hooley is all about.
“Hooley in the Hall” What is a Hooley? If you look Hooley up in a dictionary or on Google you will get many varied definitions. A Hooley could be a description of a drunken brawl; “brouhaha”; or just an old Irish word for a party, get-together, or celebration—usually with some lively music and singing and a place for friends to gather!
For several years many of us have traveled miles to music festivals from Chichester to Cape Breton and have discovered that some of the best music is played after the big organised event is over. When a group of impromptu musicians just sit in a circle and have fun taking turns playing whatever they really want to, the real music comes out! We often remembered our parents talking about house parties (every week at a different kitchen) where folks young and old would gather, talk, dance, and either play or listen to music provided by local musicians. These were occasions where young up-and-coming musicians could play or dance and also learn from the more experienced. There was usually a light lunch and tea or coffee (or more) that came with the kitchen party.
Most musical parties are now held in bars or other areas where under-age musicians cannot join in. This is where the idea of a “Hooley in the hall” came from. The church council of the local Anglican Church agreed to open the hall to a community musical get together on Friday nights. The ladies even agreed to provide a few drinks and light munchies; (so far I cannot persuade my wife to bake cookies or squares though).
The “Hooley” has been ongoing each Friday night since October 2015. There are usually twelve to twenty musicians and singers each Friday night. There have been twenty five different musicians, step dancers, and singers having fun together and entertaining an audience of appreciative music lovers that ranged from five or six to sixty people! There have been instruments as simple as a Jews harp and a tambourine to guitars, fiddles, and piano. Besides great musicians, step dancers, and singers that sing everything from blues to bluegrass, roots to hymns, old country songs to songs written locally and performed by local song writer-musicians. More than 160 musicians aged from eight to eighty have played the “Hooley” and so far there have been only a very appreciative audience, never run out of coffee, and NO brawls!
I’ll be giving a free workshop at Concordia’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS) this coming Monday, January 20, 2019 from 6 – 8 pm. The Centre is located on the 10th floor of the Webster Library building on DeMaisonneuve Blvd.
This workshop will discuss archival theories and practices rooted in my experiences digitizing, creating, and sharing audiovisual heritage in Quebec’s English-speaking minority communities since 2010. I will introduce the idea of “proactive archiving” and look at projects that myself and other researchers and community activists have undertaken in order to engage communities through archival materials. Proactive archival projects envision archives and their collections not simply as passive repositories of “raw” research materials awaiting discovery, but rather as an active resource for contemporary cultural life in the communities whose culture is represented in the collections. This will be an interactive workshop so please feel free to bring and share your own experiences and ideas about how we might make archiving a more proactive force in our communities.
About Me: I’m a multi-instrumentalist and PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at Memorial University (St. John’s, Newfoundland), living once again in Montreal. For the past decade I’ve has worked with the English-speaking minority of the Gaspé Coast to archive and make use of the musical heritage that community members shared through their personal home recordings made between the late 1950s and the early 2000s. This work resulted in two community-oriented blogs (websites) where this music is shared and discussed, and an ethnographic CD co-produced with fiddler and musicologist Laura Risk and the Douglas Community Centre in the eastern Gaspésie. My current project, “A Different Tune,” is sponsored by the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network (QAHN) and funded by Canadian Heritage. With the help of COHDS and a host of community partner organizations, I’m currently applying and adapting my proactive archival practices to work with other English-speaking communities in Quebec to similarly document, share, and strengthen community musical heritage. This work is motivated by my conviction that musical culture is a vital resource in the vitality and development of our communities.