Mercoledi Musicale

I think it is pretty obvious from posts over the past three years that this is a musical Island. I’m not just talking the almost nightly Ceilidhs at various clubs, pubs, and venues though that is a large part of it. Music here goes well beyond Irish/Scott/Maritime traditional. We have jazz clubs, blues clubs, punk bands, retro-rock bands, big bands, folk singers, pop singers, choral ensembles, wind, brass and string ensembles et al. Often the same double bass player you see thumping away at a jazz club also plays in the Mahler #3; one friend is an accomplished jazz saxophonist, a member of a professional women’s vocal ensemble and a classical vocal ensemble. The line between genres is often a very vague one even within the same group.

Last Sunday was the final concert of the season for the Atlantic String Machine a group of musicians who perhaps best represent the meshing (and mashing) of musical styles on the Island. As their name suggests they are a string ensemble comprised of Violin I, Violin II, Viola, Cello and Double Bass. Their composition may be traditional but the compositions can vary anywhere from Monteverdi to Metallica in arrangements by members of the ensemble. All the musicians – Sean Kemp, Karen Graves, Jeffrey Bazzet-Jones, Natalie Williams Calhoun and Adam Hill – have classical training and experience with major international orchestras and ensembles. But they also have the chameleon ability to change shape and colour in their approach to other genres as well as the classical repertoire.

And more often than not a new work will be thrown into the mix. Earlier this season they teamed up with baritone Philippe Sly to present the North American premiere of Jonathan Dove’s song cycle Who Wrote the Book of Love. That same evening they premiered Approaching Winter by Kathy Campbell, a music composition major at UPEI. At Sunday’s concert we heard a new piece by double bassist Adam Hill.

A summer concert at the Indian River Festival at historic St Mary’s Church.
Photo by Darrell Therialt.

They have also provided back up and arrangements for well-known Canadian artists both in concert and on disc. Sunday singer/songwriter Nathan Wiley made a guest appearance to do two numbers that I believe he has record with the ASM for their upcoming album. I’ve always loved Wiley’s Home but in Karen Graves’ arrangement I found a new poignancy. Here it is in a video recorded at the Trailside Music Cafe and Inn back in 2016.

When I was a boy, I had everything
I had silver and gold
I sailed ships with the cowboys
And I'd never grow old
And my father was strong
And my mother was young
Fell asleep in the backseat
'Till we got home
Pick me up take me back where I belong
'Cause I don't know, anymore
I want to go home
And the sea was my country
And the fields were my den
And I'd sail a thousand ships
To get back again
Tell me when did I grow old
Tell me where can I go
To run in the tall grass
And lay in the snow
(repeat chorus)
Where are the railroad tracks
Where are the summers I used to know
When I was a boy, I had everything
I had silver and gold

Nathan Wiley

Somehow this video says so much to me about music on our Island.

May 22 is Buy A Musical Instrument Day – now talk about your serendipity!

A Carol for Christmas – Prologue

“Well what other sort of carols are there?” you may ask?  Well there are all sorts of carols – Advent, Easter or just for general rejoicing.  The word carol appears to have been derived from the French “carole” or possibly the latin “carula” but in either case it meant music to be played and sung during a circular dance at a festive time.   During the 1100s they were particularly popular as dance melodies but were gradually incorporated in to processions of a religious nature or as an accompaniment to the Mystery Plays that were popular throughout Europe.

After having heard the news the Shepherds carol the birth
of the Christ Child in this 12th century manuscript.

In France they became the folk-like noels heard in Provence and the countryside eventually finding their way in the 16th century into the music of Charpentier, Campra and other courtly composers.  In Germany the Lutheran church encouraged music at Christmas and Luther himself wrote several carols for use at Christmastide.  In England many of the carols were written to be sung outside the church as bands of carollers went awassailing from house to house, a tradition which reached back to the pagan times and accounts for the secular sound of so many of the carols that are popular today.

Brady and Tate’s New Version of the Psalms of David
included “While Shepherds Watched”,
the first Christmas carol in an Anglican hymnal.

In the 17th century carols were banned in England by the Puritans as frivolous and an unsuccessful attempt was made to turn December 25th into a fast day.  It was revived as a feast day with  the Restoration of the Monarchy and the reestablishment of the Church of England however it didn’t regain its full significance until the 19th century.  Though many carols and Christmas songs were written the only hymn accepted at Yuletide in the Anglican church in 1700 was “While shepherds watched” when it appeared in a supplement to the New Version of the Psalms of David by Nicholas Brady and Nahum Tate.  It was to be joined by two other carols in 1782 – Wesley’s “Hark the Herald Angels” being one of them.  More carols were introduced in English country churches and by the 1870s had become a part of Christmas services throughout England and the colonies.

A wealth of Christmas text and music was added to Hymns Ancient and Modern in the period from 1850s onward and many of the popular carols we know and love today were composed at that time.  It was also a time when many of the earlier carols were arranged or reset to new tunes often having been translated from the Latin.

A band of children in Yorkshire, carrying greenery as symbols of rebirth, go from house to house singing carols in the tradition of wassail.  In exchange for their song and blessings on the house they would receive food, drink and sometimes small coins.

As I was growing up in the 50s and 60s a few popular standards – Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels and While Shepherds et al – seemed to be the only ones heard.  But during the 70s  I had the good fortune to be introduced to a treasury of Christmas music every week day afternoon by Bob Kerr on his programme Off the Record.  Much of what I enjoy today as music at Christmas I can trace back to his incredible eclectic mix of music for the season that encompassed so many periods, cultures and languages.  At the same time I became involved at St Thomas Anglican Church in Toronto and there discovered  Christmas carols that were part of a vital music tradition in the parish.  

Though I still love the old familiar carols there are so many beautiful songs that sing to the heart of the season and that make my Christmas a rich and happy time.  Over the next few days I’m planning to post a few of my favourites from those less well-known carols.  Hopefully they will bring you as much joy as they do me.

15 dicembre/December – Santa Maria Crocifissa di Rosa

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