Tag Archives: folk music

Research for a Song—Full Circle

A while back I wrote about composing a song that tells the story of the beautiful Sharon Temple, a national historic site in York Region. In the first post I explained what inspired me to write it (a visit to the Temple last summer) and how I found my way into the narrative. In the second I detailed some of my writing challenges—and serendipitous surprises—in telling the fascinating story of the sect, the Children of Peace, that built the temple.

In those posts I talked primarily about crafting the lyrics. But I also had to figure out what kind of music I should set those lyrics to.

Music played a key role in worship for the Children of Peace. Luckily the temple has published a booklet containing invaluable information on the sect’s music, plus the notation for all 20 tunes from the temple’s original barrel organ. So I started with one of the hymn tunes coded into the organ called “Egypt,” which has a suitably haunting, minor-key quality. It became my inspiration for the verses (I even used the same key, G minor), but I wrote a more joyous, major-key, hymn-like tune for my chorus, since the chorus begins:

“Oh we made a joyful sound, and we dressed in colours gay

We were neighbour helping neighbour in the truest Christian way…”

According to the booklet, the Children of Peace also put together “one of the earliest, if not the first, civilian band in Canada” that included instruments ranging from cellos to flutes to French horn. I’ll be going into the studio soon to record the song, and my piano player can’t wait to arrange some parts for these instruments.

And now my story of the writing of the song has come full circle: I’ll be revisiting the temple to perform the song there on Friday September 9. Every year the Sharon Temple holds an “Illumination,” when the building is lit up with only candles and lanterns. The program includes music, a speaker, and something called “our traditional Illumination cake,” served at the end of the evening. This year I’m honoured to be providing the music. Cost is $25 and it goes toward helping restore this historical gem (the building, not me).

Hope you can make it and hear the official premiere of my new song—it will be a truly moving experience for me to sing it in the very place whose history it recounts and whose music it echoes.

………………..

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

Share

Advertisements

Mariposa Folk Festival

This past weekend I performed at the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia. And I had a great time. I heard everything from the Idlers, a Newfoundland band playing ska and reggae, to Adonis Puentes, a fabulous Cuban singer, to Elisapie Isaac, an Inuit from Northern Quebec who sings in French, English, and Inuktitut, to Yeshe, a world traveller who plays instruments from all over the globe.

 Now if you don’t know about folk festivals, or if you think you’re not a folk fan and are therefore put off by the idea, there’s something you need to know. Over the past 20 years or so, these festivals have changed. They’re no longer a series of WASPy folks earnestly strumming acoustic guitars and singing mournful, lengthy ballads about Scottish maidens dying on the moors.

 Now it’s true that Mariposa did feature a fair number of white, North American singer-songwriter types (me included) – though given that this is Canada, at least 4 of the Canadian acts played in French, or in French and English (me included). But there were even more acts that represented or melded all sorts of genres and influences, such as rock, blues, bluegrass, classical, jazz, country, world music, spoken word, and more.

 That’s because the definition of folk music, and folk music itself,  has become pretty elastic. As Louis Armstrong once observed, “All music is folk music; I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song.” Sure, there are still some traditionalists out there who won’t listen to anything that involves a drum kit or an amp or that wasn’t written by Anonymous, but for the rest of us, there’s plenty of variety at these festivals, which is what makes them a delight.

 So next time you hear about a folk festival happening not far from you – and there are lots in Ontario in the summer: see http://www.northernjourney.com/cdnfolk/canfest.html for a list – even if you don’t think of yourself as a folkie, take a chance and check one out!

…………………..

 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

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!

………………………..

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.