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newfoundland music

Music

Theater review: Come From Away, by the Seattle Repertory Theater

Anybody who’s hung around me and/or read my blog for more than five minutes running already knows about my longstanding love of Great Big Sea and of Newfoundland traditional music. With this in mind, it should surprise exactly none of you that I positively adored Come From Away, the new musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, being put on right now at the Seattle Repertory Theater.

A bit of background, first. In Newfoundland parlance, a “Come From Away” is a visitor to the province. The reason this is relevant is because what this play’s about is the story of how the town of Gander, Newfoundland (and several other small surrounding communities) had to play sudden host to 38 planes’ worth of shocked travelers on 9/11. When American airspace was locked down, all those planes, without a place to land, had to lay over in Gander. The musical is all about what happened, how the “plane people” reacted to being in such a remote place, and how the locals rose to the occasion and opened their communities, homes, and hearts to all these incoming people.

And, hands down, I loved this story from start to finish. The cast was amazing. Every single member of the cast flipped seamlessly between playing locals and playing “plane people”, often of multiple nationalities in the case of the latter. Thanks to my long familiarity with Great Big Sea as well as the chance to visit Newfoundland in 2012, I was able to note with pleasure that assorted Newfoundland accents and dialogue were absolutely authentic-sounding to my ears.

Also thanks to my long familiarity with Great Big Sea, I was very happy to hear that Bob Hallett of same was the musical consultant. I had this to say on the matter on Twitter:

Mr. Hallett, bless ‘im, RTed that right up. 😀 Because yeah. All throughout the production, the musicians were back there laying down rhythms that sounded very, very familiar. And the instrumentation was a welcome joy as well, with a fiddler, an accordion, a whistle, a flute, and even a bouzouki. (Which delighted me to hear, and leads me to wonder if this production will now be responsible for helping more than five people in this town, outside the local Irish and Quebecois session crowds, actually know what a bouzouki is!)

Story-wise, dealing with subject matter like 9/11, you can’t help but tread a little carefully. But I feel this production did a splendid job of it, treating it with the gravity it deserved (particularly in the number “Something’s Missing”, in which several of the plane people, getting back to New York, react to the absence of the towers). At the same time they leavened it with a great deal of joy and humor and smaller-scale stories. There are two different relationships talked about in the plot, a straight pairing and a gay one. There’s a friendship that blooms between a teacher with a son who’s a firefighter and one of the locals who tries to reassure her in her worry over whether her son is okay. And amongst the minor characters, one of my favorites is the woman from the SPCA who made it her personal quest to see to all the animals who’d been traveling on the planes along with the people.

There was also welcome diversity amongst the characters represented, even aside from the gay couple (who happen to both be named “Colin”). Props to Caesar Samayoa, who, in addition to his playing one of the two Colins, also played an Egyptian character named Ali who had to react to the mistrust of other plane people as well as the initial nervousness of the locals about his presence. Rodney Hicks was excellent both in the role of a black man thoroughly blown away by how he’s treated in Gander vs. how he’s used to being treated at home (and some of the exchanges he has with the mayor are among the funniest bits in the dialogue), and an African traveler who demonstrates the need for a lot of the locals to figure out fast how to communicate with people who aren’t English speakers.

Similarly, the plot gives space to people of other religions as well. Samayoa’s character Ali, along with two actresses in headscarves, deliver understated yet powerful performances during the number “Prayer”, interwoven with the other Colin (played by Chad Kimball) talking about how he kept flashing back to a hymn he’d remembered from his childhood.

The set design was minimal, yet the cast made it work beautifully. There was a big rotating area in the middle of the stage, which lent a lot of motion to the choreography. Everyone kept nimbly moving chairs and other bits of furniture around to emulate the local Tim Hortons where the Gander folk liked to hang out, assorted planes and schoolbusses, and assorted places all throughout Gander where the plane people sheltered, visited, and did their best to try to absorb the magnitude of what had driven them all to have to land there.

Given my commentary about the music above, though, it’ll also surprise none of you that my favorite number was absolutely “Screech In”, wherein the locals realize they need to help their visitors blow off some steam fast, or else things are going to get ugly. So there’s a great big lively dance number set in a bar, wherein four of the plane people get to be “screeched in”–and for those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a Newfoundland custom wherein you get named an honorary Newfoundlander if you do all the steps. There’s kissing of cod involved, not to mention the actual screech–which is rum. It’s delightful. And one of the reasons I really need to get back to Newfoundland is to be properly screeched in on Newfoundland soil!

It was during that bit, though, where we got the emotional turning points of the plotlines involving the aforementioned couples–set off against music that damn near made me leap out of my chair. They did “Heave Away”, you guys! I have this song. Three recordings of it, in fact, by the Fables (my second favorite Newfoundland band after Great Big Sea), the Punters, and the Bombadils. I had to sing along at least a little on the choruses!

And oh, there’s a lot more I could go into detail about. But I will satisfy myself with calling out two more of my favorite humor bits. One was the quick representations of assorted mayors of Newfoundland communities by holding up prop mustaches and hats in front of actor Joel Hatch, who was playing all of the mayors in question. And the other was the joke about “do you know why Newfoundlanders are so terrible at knock knock jokes?” (Answer: “Here, let me demonstrate for you! I’ll be a Newfoundlander.” “Knock knock!” “C’mon in, the door’s open!”)

And massive, massive props to actress Jenn Colella. She played Beverly, one of the pilots of the planes, and her character was powerful and authoritative and absolutely riveting; she gets a great number to herself, “Me and the Sky”, talking about her history becoming one of the first female captains with American Airlines, and her reactions to hearing about how one of the pilots on one of the downed planes was a guy she’d just seen back in London. Props as well to her comedic talents as she also played one of the locals of Gander, notable by her propensity to keep fantasizing about assorted men amongst the plane people. ;D

All in all: very, very grateful that Dara and I were able to score standby tickets for this show. I’m told that the remaining shows in the Seattle area are sold out, but I have got to say to any locals who read me: if you can see this show, by all means, do so! I left very happy indeed, and doubly pleased that I was able to stop in the theater shop beforehand and grab one of the CDs on sale (Manhattan Island Sessions, by Caitlin Warbelow, the stage band’s fiddle player), as well as a copy of The Day the World Came to Town, the book detailing the real-life events on which this musical is based. Very, very much looking forward to diving into both of these!

Many congratulations to all hands involved with this show!

Great Big Sea, Music

I am a folk music resource!

Well, for a small number of bands, anyway! Because apparently this is the week for people to hit my site trying to find out about the instruments played by my favorite groups.

Yesterday somebody came by with the search term ‘what mouth instruments do le vent du nord play?’ Answer: just one! Réjean Brunet plays the mouth harp. You can hear it all over a lot of their songs and you can see it in various live videos. Like this one! The mouth harp shows up in the second song in this vid, “Au bord de la fontaine”, which kicks in around the 6:57 mark. Though I heartily endorse watching the first song, “Lanlaire”, too!

And today’s search term is ‘what flutes do great big sea use’. Answer: none! Séan McCann and Bob Hallett play whistles–Séan plays a small tin whistle but only on “Run Run Away”, and Bob breaks out the big low whistle for things like “Boston and St. John’s”. Behold the whistle in action!

To those of you who came by looking, in case you see this post, I hope this is helpful!

Music

Newfoundland tunes hunt for the weekend

Lest y’all think I am neglecting the Newfoundland side of my musical fandom, let me assure you all that this is NOT the case. I have been playing the ever-lovin’ daylights out of the awesome live “Little Beggarman” track on the GBS XX box set, in no small part because it ends with two jigs that exemplify how Bob Hallett dances around the edge of setting his own fiddle on fire every time you turn him loose on tunes. (There were REASONS my original jamming group used to say that we could never play all the same notes Bob did. Because if anybody but Bob did it, we’d be opening portals to hell and there’d be fire and mayhem and monsters. And even worse, badly played notes.)

BUT, because I have the wacky mad ambition of seeing if I can maybe learn to play those tunes too (because apparently I just gotta open that hellmouth), I actually asked Mr. Hallett on Twitter which tunes they were to see if I could find ’em! This is what he said:

Right From the Mouth of Bob

Right From the Mouth of Bob

With that to go on, I’ve been prowling around thesession.org today as well as YouTube, trying to see if I can hunt down the tunes in question. I am learning several vital things as a result!

One, wow, Rufus Guinchard was a splendid fiddle player. Look him up on YouTube. There are several (static) vids of various recordings of his and there is delicious, delicious fiddle goodness to be had there. I will have to see if I can track down these recordings.

Two, the man apparently was a profilic composer of tunes. I’ve found several on thesession.org that I have promptly added to my tunebook there, and at least a couple of these tunes sound vaguely familiar from various recordings I’ve got of Newfoundland trad groups–less Great Big Sea and more Irish Descendants and Dardanelles.

Three, whoa hey there’s an entire channel of videos of Newfoundland tunes, done by a guy playing them on the flute. Why HELLO THERE Relevance To My Interests!

And, in my pokings around, I have identified two tunes that may be candidates for the first of the two in the recording, since they sound like they’re in the right key (which is to say, A Dorian). If what Bob’s playing is indeed either of these tunes, he’s putting his own style all over them–they don’t match up completely so it’s a bit hard to tell. But the overall up-and-down flow of the melody seems similar, even if the A and B parts sound like they’re flipped around from what thesession.org has in the transcriptions.

If any other GBS fans out there are also tunes-inclined and can read music, check these out? Sydney Pittman’s Tune and Father’s Jig, either of these sound to anyone like they might be the ones? Sydney Pittman’s sounds slightly like more of a match to me and I have in fact just winged that very question back to Mr. Hallett on Twitter. We shall see what he says!

Still working on tracking down tune #2, too, which sounds like it might kick down into D major, but if it does it’s got a B part that goes minor-y. I need to peer through the rest of the Rufus Guinchard jigs I’m finding on thesession.org and see if any of those match up.

ETA: Whoa hey, Mr. Hallett just confirmed on Twitter, yes, Sydney Pittman’s is the first of the two tunes! AWRIGHT! Now I just need to find the second one!

Music

Musical adventures at Folklife!

Those of you local to the Seattle area know that Memorial Day weekend is Folklife, and userinfosolarbird and I being well, us, of course we’re hitting the festival as much as possible this weekend!

Yesterday’s adventures started off with an Irish session, apparently the first one at Folklife in four years, and which turned out to be hosted by a flute player named Ming Chen. (He was an excellent flute player, it must be noted.) I saw oodles of flute players besides him as well, and each and every one of them had more Serious Business flutes than my Norouet–which only strengthens my resolve to save up for a Serious Business flute from Casey Burns.

Ming described the session as being intended to welcome newbies who aren’t necessarily brave enough to lead a tune in session, and/or who know only a few tunes, in which category I definitely qualify. So I said HI I’M ANNA and told everybody I knew “Blarney Pilgrim” and “Morrison’s” and “Swallowtail”, and got encouraged to try to play something. So I started playing, which was all very well and good except for the part where I was aiming for “Blarney Pilgrim” and what popped out of my fingers instead was “6/8 d’André Alain”! Because um hi yeah, guess what tune’s stuck at the top of my queue of Jigs I Know In D. *^_^*;;

I went “oh shit sorry” and everybody was understanding (Ming found me later on Facebook and said ‘yeah this happens to all of us’, hee, which is reassuring), and I asked for somebody else to start “Blarney” since I was sure I’d remember it once I heard it. Which I did. “Morrison’s” was also played, which I kept up with more or less. And “Swallowtail Jig”, which I also knew. We did NOT do a couple of the other tunes I know–“Road to Lisdoonvarna” or “Banish Misfortune”. But I did more or less recognize “Butterfly Jig” from it having been played in the now-defunct Renton session. And I tried to actively listen to unfamiliar tunes as well to see if I could at least TRY to piece together any of them by ear. It was hard since everybody blazed through about eighty million tunes.

Several familiar faces were in attendance as well, Jason and Miki and Marilyn from the Renton session as well as Valerie and her husband from the current Quebec session I was going to. Saying hi to all of them was definitely satisfying!

And speaking of my Quebec session crowd, there was later on the great satisfaction of seeing La Famille Leger perform, immediately followed by a group called Podorythmie–which contains no fewer than four of the session crowd. Between both performances there were four, count ’em, four different stepdancers (Dejah with her family, and the three others with the Podorythmie group), and Podorythmie brought along a crankie as well since Sue Truman and Dejah both are really big into those. (If you don’t know what a crankie is, click over to The Crankie Factory, where Sue Truman will tell you all about this old art form!)

Today, Dara and I actually opted to go down for the evening on the grounds that our aforementioned session pal Miki has joined Piper Stock Hill (Facebook link–they don’t have an off-Facebook or off-Myspace website), Seattle’s only band dedicated to the music of Newfoundland. It pleases me DEEPLY that we have such a band, and so Dara and I kinda had to make a point to stop and see them.

Plus, we’d never been down to Folklife during the evening and we wanted to see what it was like. Survey says: a bit more relaxed and groovy, with a thinner crowd. Dara and I scoped out the various craft tents to kill time, at which point we came across a booth FULL OF FLUTES AND WHISTLES. I immediately had to stop, because I’d been highly curious about whether I could play a better whistle, well, better, than the cheap toy one I have now. This particular flute maker had flutes and whistles made out of carbon fiber, in fact, and ZOMG they were pretty.

I was quite impressed by the D whistle they had, and did in fact note that I was able to play it significantly more cleanly than the toy one I’ve got. And I might well have walked off with that whistle as a purchase if I hadn’t then picked up their A flute. Which immediately informed me HI I WANT TO BE YOUR NEW SECONDARY SESSION INSTRUMENT SO YOU CAN PLAY THINGS IN A.

So I went “OKAY!” and promptly bought it. Internets, meet my new flute, shown next to my piccolo for scale!

I Do Not In Fact Have Enough Flutes Yet

I Do Not In Fact Have Enough Flutes Yet

After that, Dara and I wandered around some more and wound up finding another bouzouki player–which necessitated stopping to say hi, because HOLY CRAP SOMEBODY ELSE IN SEATTLE WHO KNOWS WHAT A BOUZOUKI IS. And, like we do because we’re US, we wound up improv-busking a bit of Great Big Sea. I destroyed not one but TWO different thin picks banging on Ti-Jéan, reminding myself to my chagrin that when playing ANYTHING by Great Big Sea, um, yeah, I need the medium picks. I think we can declare this guitar well and throughly broken in now, anyway. And that set us up with the perfect frame of mind to go see Piper Stock Hill have their act!

Last but not least, there was Piper Stock Hill! We’d seen them perform at Folklife before, but this time they had Miki! And this time we stopped to say hi to their leader singer after, so that a) I could buy their CD, and b) I could identify myself and Dara as raving Great Big Sea fangirls. We had a lovely conversation with said lead singer and his wife, and his wife particularly charmed me when she was trying to remember Alan Doyle’s name and couldn’t, so she did a hair flip instead. Because OH MY YES, that’s a gesture universally understood by ALL raving Great Big Sea fans. ;D

So all in all, a great time at Folklife so far! We’re going back down tomorrow for the French-Canadian jam/session that the Legers will be hosting. Maybe we’ll see some of you there!

Great Big Sea, Music

A Great Big Pile of Great Big Sea!

Great Big Sea’s Facebook account announced this morning that the the CBC Radio 3 account on YouTube posted a whole MESS of videos from a concert this past November in Ontario.

Really. GOOD. Videos. Like this one of “River Driver”. Jesus Jumping CHRIST on a pogo stick, the bass on Murray in this. +50 to the sound engineers who worked this show, because I have never swooned so hard at the harmony mix on this song.

And there’s MORE OH MY GOD MORE. Enough that I must really hope that this is potential future DVD footage, because I would buy the HELL out of this.

It’s an entire MINI-CONCERT! Enjoy this, if you’re starting the three-day weekend here in the States!

Music

The roundup post of All the Musics!

Internets, I came back from this vacation with a grand spanking total of 13, count ’em, 13 CDs! Most of these were bought in Newfoundland, but considering that Quebec threw me discs by Bernard Simard et Compagnie (and any band that includes Olivier Demers is by definition GODDAMN RELEVANT TO MY INTERESTS) AND three out of the five members of the Charbonniers, it must be said that Quebec put up a damn good fight.

Behold, the musical awesomeness!

Picked up at Memoire et Racines:

  • Au fil du temps, by Bernard Simard et Compagnie. Because see previous commentary re: GODDAMN RELEVANT TO MY INTERESTS. M. Simard is of course a former member of Le Vent du Nord, but even more excitingly, Olivier Demers is also in this group! And not only Olivier–they’ve ALSO got André Brunet of De Temps Antan, and I’m almost certain it’s not legal in Canada OR the US to have that much awesome fiddle in one band! To round ’em out, they’ve got Frédéric Beauséjour who I recognized from La Voleé d’Castors, and a final gentleman whose name I don’t know yet but who made a HELL of an impression on Dara and me for amazing saxophone solos during their stage show!
  • L’album blanche, by Les Mononcles. Because THESE guys include Michel Bordeleau, André Marchand, and Normand Miron, who of course I already love from the Charbonniers! The CD vendor at the festival told me this album was essentially those gentlemen only with instruments, and I said, “SOLD!” They’ve got a fourth musician with them on a standup bass and I am very, VERY excited about listening to this one. Also, yes, I see what they did there with the album title. Ha!

From the Archambault in downtown Montreal, the one which happened to be right by our hotel and which proved to be an awesome store of awesomeness full of ALL THE THINGS I MIGHT EVER HOPE TO BUY:

  • Trésors du Québec en musique, by Les Frères Brunet. Because the Brunet boys, occupying as they do two of my favorite Quebec bands, need a fighting chance to see if they can yank my musical affections away from the Beaudrys. 😀
  • Le galarneau, by Genticorum! Because as previously expressed here on this blog, the Genticorum boys are awesome, and this was the only album of theirs that I didn’t have yet!

Bought at Le Pays de la Sagouine in New Brunswick:

  • On y va!!! by Reveil, so that I could do a proper comparison of Acadian music with Quebecois! This was one of the albums recommended to me by the nice lady at the shop who was encouraging when I stumbled my way through explaining, in French, that “J’aime la musique traditionelle” and “J’apprends un peu francais!”

Bought from O’Brien’s Music while Dara and I were wandering around St. John’s on the 2nd:

  • Dance and Sing, by the Navigators. Because they’d been recommended and I can’t get them on the US iTunes store!
  • The self-titled The Forgotten Bouzouki, which appears to be about Greek bouzouki music, not Irish, but it’s important to be in touch with where the bouzouki originally came from! Plus the album looked potentially awesome.
  • The Eastern Light, by the Dardanelles. Who were already on my radar as recommended, so I was going to buy them anyway–but I was all the more glad I did after they put on a hell of a show at the festival in St. John’s! Important side note: this album DOES appear to be available on the US iTunes store, for those of you who don’t actually live in Newfoundland and/or can’t order it from O’Brien’s!

Bought from Fred’s Records while Dara and I were wandering around St. John’s on the 2nd:

  • Live at O’Reilly’s Vol. 1, by Shanneyganock. These guys were already on my radar, but this particular album came recommended, so I nabbed it while I had the chance!
  • What a Time!, by Ryan’s Fancy. This is a double-album, forty-year retrospective look at Ryan’s Fancy, who have of course also already been on my radar as a seminal influence for Great Big Sea. Looking forward to giving this one a listen, quite a bit!

Bought on George Street:

  • Rise Again: Volume 1, by the Irish Descendants. Nabbed this one after Dara and I were having dinner on George Street last night in a pub called Kelly’s, where we stumbled across an unexpected solo act by Con O’Brien of the Irish Descendants! MAN, that gent can sing, and he was quite amiable to me and Dara when we came up to chat and get the album!

Nabbed from the Fred’s table at the NFLD folk festival:

  • The self-titled A Crowd of Bold Sharemen, because Fergus O’Byrne from this group led a participatory workshop that Dara participated in, and he closed it off with a damn fine rendition of “General Taylor”.
  • Mosaïk, by Vishtèn. Because people keep telling me I need to listen to this group, and since they showed up at the festival and gave an excellent workshop on Acadian (chair-based) step-dancing, and then gave an excellent concert, and well, YEAH.