Category Archives: Music

Gordon Lightfoot Road Trip

I loved Gordon Lightfoot’s music as a teen. I played it on my guitar, knew the words to many of his songs by memory, and remember how terribly excited I was to attend his show at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg in 1969.

The great Canadian singer died on Monday.

Driving out to see friends at their cottage yesterday my husband Dave and I decided to play Gordon Lightfoot songs on the road in his honour.

I had lots of Gordon Lightfoot tunes saved in my music library so I was going to skip over some of the ones that weren’t my favourites to be sure we’d have time to hear songs I love like Pussy Willows Cattails and If You Could Read My Mind before we reached our destination.

Dave however insisted that as a sign of respect for the talent of Gordon Lightfoot we had to listen to each song in order and not leave any out.

I was glad we got to listen to The Pony Man. When I taught elementary school I found this illustrated children’s book about the song and it inspired me to have my students create a book of their own. First I printed out the words to The Pony Man for the kids and we learned to sing all the verses. I played the guitar.

Then I divided up the lines to the song and each child in the class would illustrate a line and I’d collate them to make our own class book of The Pony Man. I did this every year for over a decade. I wish I’d kept those class Pony Man books or at least some of the kids’ marvellous drawings.

When I taught my middle- school students about the Great Lakes we listened to Gordon sing The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and looked at the book The Gulls of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It tells the story of the sinking of a Great Lakes freighter in Lake Superior in 1975.

Spread from the picture book The Canadian Railroad Trilogy illustrated by Ian Wallace

With my high school students I discussed Gordon’s song The Canadian Railroad Trilogy which chronicles the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

A Gordon Lightfoot song that has special meaning for my husband Dave is Black Day in July from the album Did She Mention My Name. The song is about the race riots in Detroit in 1967. People died and thousands of buildings were burned.

Dave’s family had a farm just across the border from Detroit and when they were working out in their tomato fields in July of 1967 they could see the smoke from the burning buildings billowing in the sky.

Many people have their own personal memories and experiences that link their lives in some way to the music of Gordon Lightfoot.

It’s why his music was so popular and the announcement of his death has had an impact on so many Canadians.

Other posts……….

A Different Kind of Folk Festival


Recognition for My Favourite Winnipeg Band

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What’s a Crankie?

Friends invited us to a Crankie Concert on Friday night.

What’s a crankie? It’s an old way of telling stories. You start with a long illustrated paper that is wound onto two spools. The spools are loaded into a box with a viewing window. The paper is then hand-cranked while a story is told or a song is sung.

A woman operates a crankie. This is from a blog post by William Hudson that clearly explains how a crankie is made and how it works.

I remember once making a crankie for a project at school when I was a child.

The concert Friday night featured several music pieces that were accompanied by crankies. Perhaps the most moving was a song performed by an Indigenous singer and drummer named Ray CoCo Stevenson and a musician from Gimli Kael Sauerborn. The song they shared with us was Comes to Light.

Kael Sauerborn and Ray Stevenson perform Comes to Light at the Crescent Fort Rouge Church on Friday night. You can see someone operating the crankie just behind Ray and the image has been projected onto the screen for the audience to see

The song Comes to Light is about the 215 children’s bodies that were found at the Kamloops Residential School in May of 2021. The lyrics recognize how tragic it must be for Indigenous families to learn about something like that. The song extends an offer of support and solidarity.

The lyrics that went with the images in this section of the crankie were……….. Up in the sky, they found a way to glow. Those northern lights I know are giving us the hope we need.

You can read the lyrics, listen to the song and see the crankie that goes with Comes to Light here.

A crankie can be a beautiful way to bring the lyrics of a song to life.

Other posts………

Afternoon Delight

Come From Away- A Musical for Our Time

Ten Things I learned about Carole King

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Filed under Art, Music, Winnipeg

Christmas Music That Saved Our Lives

A question Winnipeg Free Press writer Holly Harris asked musicians from our city in her article about the holidays was what music was special to them during the festive season.

Winnipeg music performer Steve Bell said the Christmas song that was the most meaningful to him was In the Bleak Midwinter based on a poem by Christina Rosetti and set to music by Gustav Holst. 

Élise Lavallée the principal violist, for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra said one of her favourites was River written by Joni Mitchell and sung by Sarah McLachlan.

The Christmas song Lo How a Rose is one our family sings every Christmas. Some of you might know the story of how that hymn saved our family’s life. We were living in Hong Kong in 2004 and our children had come to visit us. We had a hotel in Phuket Thailand booked for a family holiday. We were going to fly out on Christmas Eve and had a snorkelling trip arranged for the 26th.

Our family singing Lo How A Rose in our church in Hong Kong

Then John Lemond the pastor of Tao Fong Shan, our church in Hong Kong asked if our family might sing at the Christmas Eve service. We had been to this service before and knew it was a special evening with attendees from fifteen or more countries sharing their Christmas traditions. We thought our children would enjoy it. So we changed our trip plans and left on Christmas Day. We rebooked our snorkelling excursion for the 27th.

Our family singing Lo How A Rose in 2000

We sang the hymn Lo How A Rose at that church service. We had sung it before as a family.

Our family on the waterfront after the tsunami

The tsunami hit on the 26th and we would have been snorkelling out on the ocean right then had we not changed our plans. Luckily our hotel was high on a hill and wasn’t impacted. Of course we never went snorkelling. Thanks to Lo How A Rose we were safe.

Our son and grandson warming up for family Christmas singing

Yesterday I wrote about our family’s tradition of Christmas stockings. Before we open them we sing three or four Christmas carols. One is always Lo How a Rose.

Other posts……..

Christmas Carol Inspiration

In A Child’s Voice

Solstice Carol

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Filed under Holidays, Music

The Part of the Story That Makes Me Cry

Performance of St. John Passion at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church directed by Kathleen Allan as part of the Winnipeg Baroque Festival

I went to listen to Bach’s St. John Passion yesterday afternoon. An Easter story in October? Yes, it might sound a little strange but this was a concert that was to have been performed on Good Friday in April but had to be postponed due to an impending snowstorm.

October 2 was the date things aligned for the choir members, soloists, instrumentalists, and conductor to reconvene to present the work. My special interest in attending was the fact my daughter-in-law was lending her gorgeous voice to the soprano section of the choir.

Christ on the Cross with Mary and John by Albrecht Altdorfer in 1512

There is a part of the passion story unique to the Gospel of John that always has me in tears and it did yesterday as well. It is when Jesus is near death and the very last thing he does is ask his best friend John to look after his mother.

I think it is so moving and important that Jesus’ final thought wasn’t anything theological or political, no last-minute reflection on his legacy, but rather thoughts of concern and love for his mother and feeling the need to be sure she would be looked after and cared for once he was gone.

The Crucifixion by Gerard David -1510

Perhaps it is because I am getting older and am the mother of sons who may someday need to care for me, or perhaps it is because I am a child currently having to care for a parent, that this scene which is unique to the passion story in John, strikes such a chord with me.

It was the part of the two-thousand-year-old story I heard again yesterday which brought a tear to my eye.

The Crucifixion of Jesus by Wang Suda- 1937- both Jesus’ mother and his friend have their hands over their hearts

Other posts……..

The Family of Jesus Portrayed in a Controversial Way

What Did Jesus Look Like?

Mother Standing

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Filed under Music, Religion

In Praise of Church Organists

My Mom was a church organist for decades. She played for countless weddings, funerals, worship services and choral concerts. I have no photos of her playing the organ and I don’t think there is any record anywhere about her hundreds of hours of volunteering as a church organist.

I do remember hearing Mom play on so many occasions and marvelling at the way she would segue from piece to piece, hymns and classical music intermingled.

Mom often played from memory the music flowing from her mind and heart to her hands and feet on the organ keys and pedals as she brought an added beauty to the moment, but in such a subtle way that the people listening may not have realized the vital role she played in the sacred experience they were having.

I thought of my Mom on our recent cycling trip on Pelee Island when we visited St. Mary’s Church built in the 1860s.

One of the stained glass windows in the church featured an image of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music.

Many famous artists have painted Saint Cecilia holding a whole variety of instruments.

I work at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and we have this 1630 painting of St. Cecilia in our collection by Giuseppe Puglia where St. Cecilia is playing the violin

In this painting by Artemisia Gentile from 1620 the musical saint is playing the lute.

And in this Fanny Paelinck Horgnies painting from 1829 Saint Cecilia plays the harp.

But in the stained glass window in St. Mary’s Church on Pelee Island Saint Cecilia is holding a pipe organ.

A plaque at the bottom of the window explains the reason for the organ. The stained glass window has been installed by the congregation on Pelee Island in appreciation for the long service of their church organist Mrs Mary A. Dixon.

I looked for a picture of Mary Dixon online. I searched for any mention of her ever having lived on Pelee Island or her musical contributions but none could be found. Like my mother, she probably played at countless church celebrations and functions over the years.

Many people do voluntary jobs in churches that don’t land them in the spotlight. They work behind the scenes or in my mother’s case, and Mary Dixon’s case, behind the organ keys, to add beauty and meaning and inspiration to worship experiences and the celebrations of life’s milestones.

Their contributions are worth noting and remembering.

Other posts………..

My Mom’s Mennonite Hymnal

An Artist’s Date For My Mom

Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore


Filed under Art, Music, Religion

Getting A Glimpse Into The Country Music World

I’d never read a book by best-selling author James Patterson before but listening to an interview with him and his latest famous collaborator Dolly Parton tickled my curiosity enough that I bought the book they wrote together Run Rose Run.

It is about a young woman named AnnieLee Keyes who goes to Nashville to try and become a star. She is befriended by Ruthanna a former country music icon who has become a recluse and Ethan Blake a handsome singer and songwriter AnnieLee meets in a bar. Fiesty and independent AnnieLee is running from a past with dark secrets that are only revealed at the end of the novel.

Dolly Parton has recorded an album of new songs she wrote to go with the novel.

I read Run Rose Run for two days when we had horrible weather and I was pretty much trapped inside our condo. It was perfect escapist fare. The character development is a little thin and things work out in a rather predictable fashion but I learned quite a bit about the country music world. Even though I’m not really a country music aficionado I enjoyed listening to some of the catchy tunes on the album Dolly Parton has released to go with the book. The songs follow the plot of the story and one wonders if they won’t form the soundtrack if the book is ever made into a film.

With friends at a Dolly Parton concert in Winnipeg

I have a lot of respect for Dolly Parton. A friend arranged a girls’ night out once when Dolly gave a concert in Winnipeg. I so enjoyed Dolly’s high energy performance and it was at the concert I learned more about the important work Dolly has done in the area of children’s literacy. Her Imagination Library has donated nearly 180 million books to young children in five different countries.

Dolly Parton and James Patterson in their interview with CBS

Dolly Parton and James Patterson’s novel provided me with a look into the country music world which I knew little about. It’s good for me to expand my reading and listening horizons. Run Rose Run did just that.

Other posts……..

Dolly Patron or Parton?

Selfie with Willie Nelson

The Perfect Novel For Me

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A Place For Us

Actress Rita Morino in the role of Valentina a pharmacy owner in the 2021 version of West Side Story sings A Place For Us in the film.

We watched the new Stephen Spielberg movie version of West Side Story yesterday. One of the songs it features is called A Place For Us and some of its lyrics really made me think.

We’ll find a new way of living
We’ll find a way of forgiving 

Those words were written by Stephen Sondheim who died last November. He wrote them in 1957. The lyrics are full of hope that the people of the world will find new ways to live harmoniously with each other and that those who have different ideas and beliefs will learn to get along and forgive each other.

Victims of the 1957 flu epidemic being cared for in a makeshift hospital in a sports arena in Sweden.

1957 was the year of the Asian flu pandemic thought to have caused as many as two million deaths worldwide. A vaccine was developed to prevent the spread of the flu but there was a great deal of controversy about whether having the vaccine should be voluntary or not. The World Health Organization debated whether strict public health measures would be effective and how costly they might be.

In 2022 we are still in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that has already killed over 6 million people around the globe. The pandemic has created a wide rift between those who chose to believe in the science of vaccines and the need for public health measures to reduce the spread of the virus and those who disagree with the legitimacy of those efforts.

Will those disparate camps learn to forgive and live with each other as the lyrics of A Place For Us suggest?

A member of the Little Rock Nine trying to enter a public high school in 1957

In 1957 a group of nine black students who came to be known as the Little Rock Nine tried to enter an all-white high school in Little Rock Arkansas as a test of a new Supreme Court ruling that made segregation of public schools unconstitutional. Their entrance was blocked by the Arkansas National Guard and only after President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to escort the group of nine were they able to enter the school.

In 2022 the United States is in the midst of what some academics call a time of racial reckoning. In 2020 nearly 20 million people participated in Black Lives Matter demonstrations after the death of George Floyd to bring attention to the systemic racism that still exists in the United States. Many conservative lawmakers in the United States are currently working to ban the teaching of anti-racism topics and materials in public school classrooms.

Will these disparate camps learn to forgive and live with each other as the lyrics of A Place For Us suggest?

I could give many other examples of parallels between 1957 and today that show we still have a long way to go before we come to ‘the place’ Stephen Sondheim wrote about in the lyrics for his West Side Story song.

A Place For Us has become a popular hit over and over again as famous artists have done cover versions of it like The Supremes in 1965, Barbara Streisand in 1985 and Phil Collins in 1996. Perhaps as we are reminded yet again in this 2022 Rita Morino version that we need to find new ways to live together and forgive each other we will be inspired anew to try to do so.

Other posts………..

Come From Away- A Musical For Our Time

Center Stage in Oklahoma

Be Inspired

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There’s Something About This Book

Have you heard of concert pianist Yuja Wang or musicologist Jada Watson? I hadn’t till I purchased an eye-catching new book called The ABCs of Women in Music.

The illustrator Haeon Grace Kang once served as the artist in residence at my church and her stunning portraits of each of the 26 female musicians featured in the book are so unique and appealing. The text was written by Anneli Loepp Thiessen.

I love the diversity of the women musicians whose stories are introduced.

There are musicians from different cultural and racial backgrounds who work with many different genres of music from country to jazz to classical and pop.

There are musicians from the past and musicians from the present. Some are composers, other singers, others play a variety of instruments and others are music producers.

My youngest granddaughter is only sixteen months old but she LOVES the pictures in this book. We don’t read all the text together yet. I just say the names of each woman and she looks carefully at their portraits. Something about the way they are illustrated so graphically and colourfully really captivates her attention.

My attention is drawn by learning interesting things about so many female musicians some I haven’t heard of before.

The book can be purchased right now from GIA Publications and on their website you can listen to music recordings by many of the musicians featured in the book. The book is also available for pre-order at McNally Robinson Booksellers and on Amazon.

I bought the copy I currently have for our church library but I have ordered two more- one for each of my granddaughters. I hope they will grow up to be women who love music as much as all the women featured in The ABC’s of Women in Music.

Other posts………

Musicians Photographed World Wide

Musical Instrument Museum

A Different Kind of Folk Festival

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The Courage To Go On

On Saturday night I went to a concert and heard one of the Prairie Voices choirs sing an incredibly moving piece of music called A Silence Haunts Me composed by Jake Runestad with lyrics by Todd Ross.

Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament

The piece was inspired by a letter the famous composer Ludwig van Beethoven wrote to his brothers in the fall of 1802. Beethoven was staying in a place called Heiligenstadt at the time, so the letter has come to be known as the Heiligenstadt Testament. Beethoven never sent the letter and it was discovered among his private papers after he died.

A 19th century postcard shows Beethoven walking during his stay in Heiligenstadt

In the letter Beethoven expresses his growing despair over the fact that he is going deaf. He admits he is contemplating suicide. We know that Beethoven somehow managed to overcome his hopelessness and lived for another quarter century composing all kinds of symphonies, sonatas, chamber music, an opera, masses, folk songs, minuets, canons and concertos.

The title A Silence Haunts Me comes from these lines

A  silence haunts me
They ask me 

Do you hear the shepherd singing faroff soft 

They ask me 

Do you hear a distant fluting dancing joyously aloft  

No…I think  so…  No…I think so…  No

A section of A Silence Haunts Me that moved me deeply is when Beethoven cries out to God and asks why God is being silent and not answering his pleas for help.

The last lines of the piece Hear me and be well were repeated in sign language by the choir on Saturday night again and again- first the whole choir signing, and then with each repetition more choir members ceasing to sign and dropping their heads until one lone singer signed Hear me and be well into the hushed silence of the performance venue.

It was mesmerizing and poignant.

This was the first choral concert I had attended since the pandemic began so I felt the words Hear me and be well had an extra layer of meaning as the listeners contemplated how we and our loved ones can be well despite the fact the pandemic is not over and will continue to present us with challenges the way Beethoven’s hearing loss challenged him.

Other posts……..

A Lovely Evening in Dubrovnik

Crying Is Required

Choir Connections

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Neil Young, Spotify and The Shopping Mall Geese

Neil Young photo from Wiki-Media

On February 3 a letter to the editor in the Winnipeg Free Press from Kim Trethart criticized musicians like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell for removing their music from Spotify because the service also streams a podcast hosted by Josh Rogan. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell say Rogan is spreading misinformation about COVID-19. Rogan has also been accused of making inappropriate racial comments.

Trethart’s letter to the editor says that artists like Young and Mitchell who have sold their catalogue of music no longer have the right to dictate how it is used. A subsequent letter from Dan Donahue points out that Trethart is wrong. Even after artists sell their creative work they still maintain the legal authority to dictate how, when and where it is used.

My husband Dave looking at Michael’s Snow’s sculpture

I know Donahue is right because of some geese in a shopping mall. My husband Dave and I once took a guided tour of the Eaton Centre in Toronto. Our guide pointed out an art installation called Flight Stop. Created by Michael Snow it shows a flock of migrating Canada geese.

Our guide told us the geese represent a landmark judicial decision that allows artists to retain the right to dictate how their creative work is used. Back in 1982, the Eaton’s Centre decided to put red bows on all the geese in Michael Snow’s sculpture for Christmas. He objected saying the bows distorted the integrity of his work.

Photo of Michael Snow from Wikimedia Commons

When the shopping centre refused to remove the bows immediately he took them to court winning an injunction that required the removal of the bows. Although the shopping centre had bought Mr Snow’s geese sculpture he still had the right to dictate how that creative work was displayed.

Just as Mr Snow had the right to make decisions about how his creative work was used Neil Young and a growing number of musical artists have a right to make a similar decision about their work.

Other posts………

Red Bows For Michael’s Geese

Eating With the Stars

Music Snobs

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Filed under Art, COVID-19 Diary, Music