Category Archives: Marie-Lynn Hammond

Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com

Writing Beyond My Means

Some people live beyond their means. I write beyond my means. What I’m saying is that I write songs that are sometimes too complicated for me to easily perform.

I recently went into the studio with a really accomplished pianist, Marilyn Lerner. She was my first-ever piano player, just a kid fresh out of music school, but who’d been taking piano lessons since she was tiny. She moved on into jazz and improvisational music and new music, but her playing is always full of heart and emotion. (Listen at http://www.marilynlerner.com)

But me, well, I’m not a schooled musician. I had three years of violin as a kid, which I begged for, because my parents were both tone deaf and music wasn’t a big deal in our home. And that was it for my formal musical education.

In my early 20s, having learned some chords on guitar, I ended up in a folky band called Stringband (http://is.gd/YKqX0M). A few years later I took a summer course at the Royal Conservatory for grades 1 & 2 theory – I figured it might improve my songwriting. But in the band we mostly worked things out by ear, and all that theory ended up out the window. So a few years later I took some piano lessons. I wrote some pretty cool songs on the piano, but I couldn’t really play the thing because I’m about as coordinated as a jellyfish.

Now for me, it’s all about the lyrics, and I often write complex songs with irregular structures and throw in extra bars and odd chords — whatever the words and story dictate. But then when it comes time to perform them, well, I can’t count beats worth a damn, especially while I’m singing.

So recording with someone like Marilyn who can sight read and who’s got a chart (written out by my producer, definitely not by this musical illiterate!), while I have only a lyric sheet with little chicken tracks in pen on it, the tracks representing the number of beats between lines or places where the words are actually a pickup, or need to be stressed – well, it can get embarrassing when I screw up. Which I did fairly often the night we recorded together, in part because the song is also very new, so it’s not burned into my brain yet.

So that’s what I mean by writing beyond my means. The only thing that saves me is that Marilyn and other schooled musicians I’ve worked with really like those complicated, quirky songs of mine, and seem to find the patience to deal with my musical ignorance.

And for that, like others who live beyond their means, I owe them a huge debt!

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Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com

 

 

 

 

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Unique Festival in York Region

                                                  

Brenda Muller is a woman with a vision – and someone who turns her visions into realities. The upcoming Blue Bridge Festival, June 3-5, is her brainchild. She’s also the founder and artistic director of the Ardeleana Trio, a York Region music-scene gem for over 20 years. Brenda herself is a classically trained cellist, but her own songs and music, like the festival itself, draw on a whole slew of other influences.

Taking place this year in Georgina, Newmarket, and Unionville, the Blue Bridge Festival combines various genres of music – from classical to jazz to roots & folk and more — for example, the Toronto Chinese Orchestra — with poetry and children’s workshops, for an unusual creative mix. Many (or most) of the performers either live in, or hail from, York Region, so this festival really is a celebration of where we live.

The gala concert Saturday night at Newmarket’s Trinity United Church is worth noting. It features an orchestra made up of both young music students and older professionals, plus an adult community choir, performing works by Brahms and Haydn. “The mix of generations is really a lot of fun,” says Brenda Muller. And of course a great learning experience for all.

Oh – and William Lyon Mackenzie will make an appearance at the festival too. Played by singer-songwriter and children’s performer Magoo, he’ll give you a tour of Newmarket’s Main Street from his own historical perspective, because Newmarket was a hotbed of foment during the Upper Canada Rebellion.

And yes, yours truly is one of the Blue Bridge artists. I’ll be performing Friday evening in Georgina Pioneer Village, and playing Saturday afternoon in Newmarket at Books Cafe & Things, 208 Main St. S., along with other musicians and poets. The poets and I are already trading poems and song lyrics to create some thematic links in the show – not for us a mere random jumble of pieces, oh no! – though we are leaving room for sudden flashes of improvisation and creative juxtaposition… 

Click here for tickets, schedule, venues and more. Come on out and be moved, amused, inspired and entertained by the eclectic artistic riches in your own York Region backyard!

Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. http://www.marielynnhammond.com

Research for a Song, Part 2

Back in February I posted about doing research for a song I’m writing about the Sharon Temple, and the breakaway Quaker sect that built it (it was completed in 1829).

First draft
At that point I had just sent my first draft to John McIntyre, a fellow Yorkscene blogger who’s also the curator at the Temple, with questions about certain phrases and historical details. The song is narrated by the last surviving member of the sect, Emily McArthur (1837-1924). One of the really interesting exchanges John and I had concerned the song’s chorus:

Oh we made a joyful sound, and we dressed in colours gay
We were neighbour helping neighbour in the truest Christian way
Sons and daughters standing equal in Jehovah’s holy sight
We were the Children of Peace, we were the children of light

Dilemma
Originally I wanted the last line to be “We were the children of light, we were the Children of Peace,” because the sect called themselves the Children of Peace and that’s the title of the song. But “peace” is hard to rhyme: “fleece,” “grease,” “geese” – none of those were going to work, obviously! “Increase” or “cease” seemed the best bets, but I couldn’t come up with lines using those words that made sense in context.

And I wasn’t going to resort to half-rhymes, the way a lot of current songwriters do – rhyming the vowel but not the consonant, e.g., teach/peace or meet/peace. For one thing, I was writing in the voice of an old woman who was telling her story around 1915, and writers of that era stuck to exact rhymes. And secondly, I generally do too in song lyrics, because I love the musicality of echoing the same sounds.

Solution
So I reluctantly put “Children of Peace” first and ended with “children of light,” a phrase that referenced the Quaker concept of the “Inner Light.” Putting that phrase in the mouth of my narrator was definitely poetic licence, or so I thought, though it sure was easier to rhyme!

But when I told John McIntyre, rather apologetically, about my difficulty rhyming “peace” and how I’d made up the phrase “children of light,”  he wrote back: “Actually, they seem to have experimented with this name [Children of Light] for a while in the early days. You must have sensed that!”

Research payoff
Wow! I thought. It was almost as if I’d been channelling Emily McArthur herself.  Or maybe it was just a lucky accident. But I figure it’s got more to do with the hours of research I put in, immersing myself in that time and the world of the Children of Peace – to the point that, as John said, I could “sense” or intuit things about them that rang true.

Unexpected ending
And here’s the kicker: When I’d finished the last verse, suddenly two more lines seemed to write themselves. In them, Emily says, re the departed members of the sect –

Oh may I join them once again when my soul finds its release
We were the children of light, we were the Children of Peace

So the song ends with the name of the sect now, and with the song’s title. A lovely, satisfying surprise!

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Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction.

Succeeding or Surviving in Music? YOU Decide…

Marie-Lynn Hammond

By: Marie-Lynn Hammond

York Region just has its first big arts conference, Arts Exposed, and I sat on a panel called “Succeeding in the Music Business.” I joked that I really ought to have been in one called “Surviving in the Music Business,” because that’s how I generally think of my career.

 But one of the other panelists pointed out that success is relative, and we know there’s only so much room at the top for the Neil Youngs, K’naans, Shania Twains and Celine Dions. So for most of us working musicians, he said, we’ll pay the rent, create some music we’re proud of, and have a core group of fans who stick with us. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

 (And, being Canadian, we’ll also get to travel thousands of kms through snow and blizzards to play to the other five people who were crazy enough to head out into the storm to hear us play. But I digress…)

 And I suppose the same goes for the other arts as well. We can’t all be geniuses — or, in the case of Justin Bieber, lucky. But many of us can make an okay, or even very decent, living as artistic creators.

 I’m currently recording a new CD, and I know it won’t get commercial airplay. I did three shows last month, to a total of probably less than 200 people. But I got an encore at each show (including a standing ovation – at an informal house concert, no less!), and I knew that I had taken those folks on a journey with my songs, from laughter to tears and back again. So am I successful? Well, I was those nights, for those audiences.

 But, okay, I’ve never gotten rich from my music. I’m far from a household word. Heck, I’m not even a hallway-closet word. Still, when I was a shy, miserable teen secretly making up songs in my bedroom, with no encouragement and no sense of whether I could even sing in tune, if someone had told me that I’d eventually have a listing in the Encylopedia of Music in Canada (http://is.gd/oclkan),  I’d have told them they were nuts. So given that, I guess I have succeeded. Like I said, it’s all relative.

 So what about you? What’s your definition of success in the music business? Join in and share your thoughts!

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Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com

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A Concert in Your Living Room?

Marie-Lynn Hammond

By Marie-Lynn Hammond

This past Sunday I and two musician friends played a concert, had a fabulous time, and even made a bit of money – all without tickets, posters, hall rental, noisy bar patrons, or big, complicated sound equipment. How’d we manage that?

It’s a House Concert!
Because the show took place in a private home – it’s called a house concert. In the last few years the media have discovered them; I’ve seen articles in major newspapers and heard a radio doc about the phenomenon. But they’ve been around much longer than that. I played my first house concert with my old band, Stringband, in Thunder Bay, around 1981 or 1982.

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York Region Musicians at Winterfolk!

Marie-Lynn Hammond

By: Marie-Lynn Hammond

Four musicians from the region will be showcased at Winterfolk, the roots/folk/blues fest in downtown TO, on Sunday, 20 February, at 1 p.m. at the Black Swan pub, 154 Danforth. Details here. It’s a FREE, not-for-profit festival, happening all week long in various venues on the Danforth, though donations are certainly welcome to help pay the musicians.

The Performers

And yes, I’m one of the four performers showcasing, so as a typically modest, self-effacing Canadian (other than Don Cherry, that is), I sincerely apologize for what may seem like shameless self-promotion, something we really just don’t approve of, do we?!

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Research for a Song?

Marie-Lynn Hammond

By: Marie-Lynn Hammond

Yes, I’m doing research for a song. Because not all songs are about the writer’s navel-gazing feelings, or about love, that bottomless pit of inspiration (and too often cliché) for songwriters.

I love writing songs on unusual topics and songs that tell stories. If they tell a Canadian story, even better. So I’m now writing one about the Sharon Temple (www.sharontemple.ca), a unique heritage site in the north of York Region.

The temple, completed in 1832, was built by a fascinating sect called the Children of Peace. You could say they were the first hippies: they valued peace, social justice and equality; they lived together cooperatively in one village; they held feasts where everyone shared food; they wore colourful clothing when they marched in processions; and music and song were a big part of their worship.

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