Category: music

BSO v. SLSO: a classical music preview of tonight’s classic

Boston, in six, natch.

H/T: Evy Carnat

Toshi Seeger (1922-2013)


Toshi-Aline Ohta Seeger died Tuesday night at her home at Beacon, NY. She was 91. Here’s how her grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, summed up her marriage to America’s most famous folksinger:

“Without my grandmother, there would be no Pete Seeger the way people understand it,” Rodriguez-Seeger said. “That’s not an exaggeration. She kept everything working so that he could focus on the world-saving, civil rights, anti-nukes, Clearwater – all of the projects that my grandfather worked on.”

A few years ago, Pete recorded these thoughts about his wife of 70 years, and her extraordinary family background:

Mark Moss, editor of Sing Out! magazine has a detailed reminiscence on the magazine’s website:

I Love It

It’s been a while since we’ve featured a music video. This one comes from Korean-born, London-based electronic music producer Postino (real name: Junho Lee). I think of it as a mashup of Psy and our old friend Brett Domino, Best viewed full screen.

[Video link]

Director:  Will Kindrick. H/T: the engrossing Stellar blog.

If you’re near Sydney Saturday night…

Consider taking in the annual l’Arche Cape Breton Springfest at the World Trade and Convention Center, Membertou. It’s an evening of stories and songs  by the l’Arche troupe, together with delicious desserts and an auction featuring arts and crafts by l’Arche folks, and goods donated by l’Arche supporters.

L’Arche Cape Breton will share their gift of music and storytelling, while illustrating their incredible zest for life.

An evening to remember for just $15. Tickets at Wentworth Perk and the Cape Breton Curiosity Shop.

If you aren’t familiar with l’Arche, here’s a wee introduction:

Director and videographer: Naomi Cousins; Producer: Mary MacDougall; Artist: Anil Kumar; Musical score: Pius MacIsaac; Cast: Members of l’Arche Cape Breton.

How to make a new town love you

Old Crow Sydney Use-550

When the Rollings Stones played the Halifax Commons in September, 2006, Mick Jagger impressed the crowd by using the term “Haligonian,” and even pronouncing “Newfoundland” correctly. Forty years into his career, the rock superstar still had the professionalism to get every local concert detail exactly right.

I have never seen an effort to sprinkle a touring show with meaningful local references to match what Old Crow Medicine Show frontman Ketch Secor displayed last night at the Nashville-based, alt-bluegrass band’s Membertou show in Sydney.

“It’s intimidating to play the violin in a city that has a 60-foot-high statue of one,” Secor told the crowd. “You see the cop on the corner and you wonder, ‘Does he play the fiddle?’ You get talking with the crossing guard and ask, ‘Do you play the fiddle?’ What about the guy painting lines down the middle of the street, does he play?”

Big Fiddle 2225

“Then you start to wonder, “Do I play the fiddle… well enough?”

(He does. Secor’s pyrotechnic style is a cross between Ashley MacIsaac and the Leahy Family Band.)

Early in the show, Secor described an obviously fictitious drive he claimed to have taken through rural Cape Breton, throwing in half a dozen local place names.

“You got hillbillies up here?” he asked. “Where do they live? Victoria County? Well here’s a song for all the hillbillies out in Victoria County.”

In introducing the George Jones song, “Tennessee Whiskey,” Secor illustrated the Texas crooner’s universal appeal by noting that Scooter Jim, a fixture of downtown Sydney’s streetscape, had been humming a Jones tune earlier that afternoon.

Advance work can’t give you these little telling details. You can only get them by taking the trouble to walk around the city and chat up everyone you meet.

Toward the end of the show, the band played a song with the same verse structure as “We are an Island,” and before you knew it, they had inserted the chorus — words all correct, air slightly askew — into their own song.

We are an island, a rock in the stream
We are a people, as proud as there’s been
In soft summer breeze or in wild winter wind
Home of our hearts, Cape Breton

The crowd, naturally, went berserk, as the refrain repised half a dozen times.

As in Halifax, a series of encore tunes ended with a letter-perfect a capella rendition of “Barrett’s Privateers.”

Attention young musicians: Want to make an impression on the road? Take a few notes from Old Crow’s fakebook.

This is Ground Control to Mister Chris


Credits for the first music video ever produced in space include guitar and tenor vocals by Chris Hadfield (recorded on the International Space Station), plus terrestrial video production by Hadfield’s son Evan and TV producer Andrew Tidby, music production and mixing by music producer Joe Corcoran, with piano arrangements by Canadian singer-songwriter Emm Gryner. “Space Oddity” was written by David Bowie and first performed by him in 1969, when Hadfield was 10 years old.

Who knows what this may inspire in the next generation of space enthusiasts.

A video tour of Nova Scotia’s grandest old theatre

Here’s a nice touch: As part of the promotion for the Savoy Theatre’s forthcoming production of Les Misérables (May 24 to 29), the Cape Breton Post and Seaside Communications have put together a video describing the Savoy’s fascinating history and architecture:

The narrator, Steve “Beak” MacDonald, pretty much grew up with the Savoy. His parents, Scotchie and Mary Marsh MacDonald, were major supporters of the theatre when it hosted Rotary Club musicals in the 1960s and ’70s. Actors, musicians, and crew members associated with the productions were often billeted in the MacDonalds’ home on Sydney’s Wentworth Park.

Here’s an image of the theatre entrance from decades gone by:

Savoy Theatre-old-500

Video production by Jason LeFrense and Brandon Ferguson of Seaside. (Disclosure: Seaside is a client and Beak is a friend.)

Cape Breton’s musical tribute to Rita



From the opening strains of “Home I’ll Be,” played as a haunting slow air by Ashley MacIsaac, to the final chords of the same Rita MacNeil tune sung by the large ensemble of musicians  who gathered last night in her honor, the tribute concert organized by Joella Foulds and Max MacDonald was magnificent.

A few highlights:

No one plays Cape Breton fiddle better than Ashley MacIsaac, and the slow air displays the instrument’s greatest emotive power.

One tends to think first of Rita’s lyrics, but the concert brought home the power and grace of her melodies.

Bette MacDonald was hilarious as always, but Maynard Morrison’s comic performance was a tour-de-force. He has simply never been funnier than he was last night.

Video clips of Rita assembled by Shot-on-Site’s Darcy Campbell were alternately poignant and funny. Perhaps the best was excerpted from a Trailer Park Boys episode in which the denizens of Sunnyvale hijacked Rita’s tour bus, and forced the band to harvest marijuana, at gunpoint, in the dark. “Here’s a nice one dear.” Rita declared sweetly, passing a particularly lush frond to Ricky.

Doris Mason may be Nova Scotia’s most under-appreciated musician (“Not by me,” I hear 10,000 fans responding), and after Rita, she may have the best set of pipes. Matt Minglewood joined her in a rendition of “The Valley of Strathlorne” that was the best I’ve heard.

Matt’s vocal range and power are breathtaking. “Couldn’t you just spread him on a cracker and eat him,” Bette asked at one point, before turning back to Matt and adding, “Wait out in the truck dear, I’ll be right there.”

North Sydney native* Kim Dunnwho played keyboards in Rita’s last tour band, talked movingly of Rita’s generosity in sharing her stage with younger, less prominent musicians. His performance of “Inspiration” illustrated the point. It’s a song he wrote that Rita loved, and often asked him to sing on stage. Dunn, who now works out of Halifax, was a standout throughout the evening.

The Men of the Deeps made their thrilling signature entrance — from the back of the hall, in the dark, helmet lamps lit — as Doris sang a rousing gospel version of “Watch Over Me.” Once assembled on stage, they broke into “Coal Town Road.” A fellow performer told me several days after the show the Men were visibly shaken on by their loss.

There were so many standout performances, so many reminders of the concentrated musical talent on this island. The collective impact was a deeper impression of, and fondness for, Rita’s music and character. Proceeds from the concert will fund the Rita MacNeil Memorial Music Scholarship for students attending Cape Breton University’s new music degree program, to which you can add your donation here.

* Thanks to Angus MacDougall for pointing this out.

Bach and a wooden Japanese cell phone

What really goes on in the woods?

See the making-of video here.

H/T: Dave Harris

When Janet met Rita

The late Janet Moore, the founder of l’Arche Cape Breton who was profiled here on her death in 2010, was a huge fan of Rita MacNeil. Janet’s friend Mary MacDougall arranged for the two to meet at Rita’s Tea Room on her 60th birthday, in 2007.

Jenn Power, Atlantic Regional Co-ordinator for l’Arche (and my daughter-in-law) described the event on her blog.

Those of us who love Janet were more than a little apprehensive as we prepared for the celebration. Janet is getting old, and showing her age. As with so many people with Down Syndrome, dementia is slowly creeping in and stealing Janet’s peace, her humour, her independence, her ability to enjoy life. Intense emotion can overwhelm her, and this day would surely be filled with that. Having to keep to a rigid schedule, once something she demanded and loved, can now leave her in tears. So we crossed our fingers, surrounded Janet with people she knows and who know her, and off we went.

Janet-Moore-with-Rita- 275The brilliant sun over the blue waters of the Bras d’Or as we drove through Eskasoni and East Bay seemed to be a good omen. We arrived at the Tearoom in good spirits, having sung along with Rita on the CD player the whole drive down. With a friend on each arm, Janet plodded up the ramp into the Tearoom….

Before long, Janet caught sight of Rita. She squinted up her eyes, as she often does to help her focus, and tilted her head slightly to one side as she worked to connect what she must have imagined was a mirage with what evidently was becoming a reality. As everything clicked into place, she quietly, and with a sense of disbelief and wonder, exclaimed, “Rita!” In a manner fitting her age and the occasion, Janet slowly walked toward her idol, looked closely into Rita’s face to make sure she wasn’t dreaming, then gently wrapped her arms around Rita’s shoulders, placed her head on Rita’s chest, and smiled. This smile did not dim or fade once during the two hours we spent with Rita at lunch!

The lunch was lovely. Rita was an absolute gem, making small talk with our strange crew of friends. She had no trouble joining in Janet’s typical teasing – “chicken legs”, “old hen”, “you’re cracking up.” Although Janet simply would not stand for anyone to call Rita an old hen!

Several times during lunch, Janet would gaze at the photo of Rita on the CD she clutched in her hand (a CD, incidentally, that Rita had given her, signed, as a birthday gift) and then look up at Rita, in the flesh, sitting right next to her at the table. This seemed to be a wonder that Janet could barely comprehend. And then she would tune into the music coming over the speakers, which was (of course) Rita MacNeil. She would look up at the speakers, at her CD, then again toward her host, in absolute amazement. This woman was even more incredible that Janet had imagined!

After a delicious lunch, and what seemed like endless hugs, we prepared to leave. I linked Janet over to the guest book, where her shaking hand and deteriorating vision made it virtually impossible for her to write much. But she did her best, telling me she had written her name and “I love you, Rita.” And on that note, we left to drive home.

I believe that we discover what is holy, sacred, mysterious, through our relationships with others, and those few hours with Janet were filled with holiness and mystery – and not just the mystery of how Rita could be sitting at our table and singing on the PA at the same time! But that visit to the Tearoom with Janet brought me back to what is means to live a life of gratitude, to be present to each moment, to embrace my own vulnerability and allow it to bring me closer to others instead of isolate me from them.

Incidentally, Rita, unbidden, picked up the tab for Janet and the 10 l’Arche friends she brought along for the birthday celebration. Quite a lady.

« Older Posts