He had a sign on his guitar that said This Machine Kills Fascists. He was a writer and a radio personality. Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg and many other great musicians have acknowledged his influence on their music.
Those are some of the new things I learned about Woody Guthrie when I attended the Winnipeg Fringe Festival show Woody Sed. Before hearing the very talented Thomas Jones take on the personas of almost twenty different characters from the music icon’s life I only knew Woody Guthrie was Arlo Guthrie’s father and that he had written the song This Land is Your Land.
From the excellent play Woody Sed I learned Woody had a tumultuous life. He inherited Huntington’s Disease from his mother and passed it on to two of his children. He lost a sister and a daughter in separate fires and his father was also injured in a fire. Due in part to his disease and his need to wander and try new things none of his three marriages lasted. He fought in World War II. He was often penniless and homeless and spent the last decade of his life in health care institutions.
Despite his troubled personal life Woody is considered one of the most significant figures in American folk music. A quote from Woody Guthrie that Thomas Jones repeated numerous times throughout his fringe show was “Take it easy but take it.” I am not sure in what context Woody said this, perhaps in a song he wrote, but to me it means ‘Don’t give in to fear and anxiety. Live life to the fullest.’
The Guess Who on the Wall
Connecting With Burton Cummings
All That Jazz in Kansas City
Filed under Music, Theatre
This week people have been celebrating the 20 year anniversary of Harry Potter. It reminded me of an article I wrote about the Harry Potter books in 2000. It was by debut column as a regular writer for the Faith Page of the Winnipeg Free Press.
I wrote about two events in Toronto’s Skydome. On October 23, 2000 J.K. Rowling read excerpts from her book Harry Potter to 20,000 school children in the Skydome and on October 25, 2000 singer Eminem played a show there to a packed house of enthusiastic teenagers. Many religious groups had been criticizing both Rowling and Eminem. The year my column debuted, Eminem and JK Rowling were two of pop cultures most famous icons.
Religious groups were accusing Rowling of championing witchcraft and Eminem was being taken to task because his songs often promoted violent acts towards women. In my column I suggested the Rowling books should not cause concern for parents but they would do well to read the frightening and disturbing Eminem lyrics and then decide whether they might be suitable for their children.
The main point of my article was that parents had a responsiblity to be informed about the books and recordings that engaged their children, and be willing to discuss the content of that literature and music with their kids. That’s as true today in 2017 as it was when my column was written in 2000.
Why Are Adults Reading Teen Fiction?
A Little Inspiration From the James Taylor Concert
Lynch Family and Lead Belly
I’ll Fly Away, Keep on the Sunny Side, The Cat Came Back, Red River Valley and In the Sweet Bye and Bye were just a few of the favorites performed by the Festival Band on Sunday. My husband Dave was part of a blues band that provided entertainment for our church’s community picnic.
500 invitations had been distributed to people in the neigborhood and so the band had a good sized audience to listen to the tunes they had been practicing for many weeks. One night they even rehearsed in our condo so I got a sneak preview. Dave played guitar and harmonica and lent his fine bass voice to the group.
The band wasn’t the only entertainment. We had face painters, a bouncy castle, shuffle board, a magician, balloon animal making and a bubble blowing station. The weather was fine. There were hot dogs, salads, icecream and of course…….. what no reputable Mennonite church picnic can do without……. watermelon and rollkuchen.
I’ve already heard calls for more performances by the Festival Band. Who knows? Dave may just be on his way to another career to add to the ever growing list of jobs he’s been exploring in his retirement.
Fun Evening in Toronto
A Little Shameless Family Promotion
Filed under Music, Religion
The Canadian Senate may soon kill a bill that alters our national anthem to make it more gender inclusive.
The bill introduced in the House of Commons by the late Liberal MP Mauril Belanger and passed by a majority vote, would change the phrase ‘in all thy sons command’ in O Canada to ‘in all of us command.’ The bill is awaiting Senate approval to become law. Senator Don Plett and some of his colleagues may prevent that from happening. Plett has introduced an amendment to the bill that would return the contentious phrase in the song to its original 1908 wording ‘thou dost in us command’.
The wording Plett is championing is also gender inclusive but here’s the problem. If the Senate amends the bill it has to go back to the House of Commons to be voted on again. Since Mr. Belanger has died members will have to agree unanimously to let another MP sponsor the bill. Some members may refuse to agree because they don’t want to change the words of the anthem. Thus the bill will die.
Plett is aware this could happen but won’t withdraw his amendment. He says he isn’t comfortable tinkering with the song’s language even though the Toronto Star reports the anthem’s words have been altered many times in the past. I wonder if those who oppose making the anthem gender inclusive would feel the same way if the phrase in question said ‘in all our daughters’ command.’
Statue at the Manitoba Legislature that recognizes the famous five who fought to have women recognized as persons in Canada
In a Senate speech Plett claimed our anthem shouldn’t change because it reminds us of where we came from. The current version which uses the word ‘sons’ to refer to Canadian citizens does remind us of the past when women weren’t persons in Canada. They were their husbands’ and fathers’ property. They couldn’t vote and their contributions went largely unrecognized. Mr. Plett is right. It is very important to remember where we came from. We come from a time when women were victims of all kinds of abuse because they had fewer human rights than men.
Anyone watching the new television version of Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s chilling story The Handmaid’s Tale will recognize just how vital it is not to take for granted what women have gained in their fight for equality. Atwood’s tale reminds us there is great peril in forgetting the negative ramifications of patriarchy, not only for women but also for society as a whole. I wonder if Mr. Plett and his colleagues are thinking we need to maintain the sexist version of our national anthem so we remember those terrible times and continue to fight for equality? Somehow I doubt it. There is a time for looking back at the past but our national anthem should inspire us to think about a better future.
‘In all of us command’ represents reality. Women can serve in our country’s armed forces in all the same roles as men. Women make up half our government’s cabinet.
The current debate about the anthem reminds me of something that happened in a church I attended in the 1980s. I asked for the church constitution to be changed removing the pronoun ‘he’ from descriptions of duties for elected offices in the church. A number of women held these offices but they were still being referred to as ‘he’ in our constitution. My suggestion caused so much debate and alarm I almost left the church.
A trio of Quebec suffragettes who fought for 22 years to give women the right to vote in their province.
But that was more than three decades ago. Surely people have realized by now that language is powerful and can exclude and marginalize. Language isn’t stagnant. It is ever evolving just as the role of women in Canadian society continues to evolve. Hopefully Mr. Plett and his like-minded senators can come to see that.
Are You This Determined to Vote?
An Inclusive O Canada
The Famous Five
Filed under Music, Politics
I went to the Garden City Collegiate choir concert on Monday night. It was a terrific concert with many great performances. My favorite piece was Lineage by composer Andrea Ramsey. It was sung by the women’s choir. The lyrics were taken from a poem written by Margaret Walker
My grandmother Margaretha Peters in a grain field on the farm where she worked for much of her life
My grandmothers were strong.
They followed plows and bent to toil.
They moved through fields sowing seed.
They touched earth and grain grew.
They were full of sturdiness and singing.
My grandmothers were strong.
My grandmother Annie Schmidt doing laundry on her back porch
My grandmothers are full of memories
Smelling of soap and onions and wet clay
With veins rolling roughly over quick hands
They have many clean words to say.
My grandmothers were strong.
Why am I not as they?
I often think of the hard lives my grandmothers had and how despite this they remained kind, caring, open hearted women with a sense of humour. They inspire me. I come from a lineage of strong women.
Our daughter-in-law conducting one of her high school choirs.
May is a big month for our family at Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall. This Thursday May 18 a couple of choirs directed by our daughter-in-law will be singing in the MTS Rising Stars performance of Carmina Burana. The Garden City Collegiate school choir and the Pembina Trails boys choir are two of the eight choral groups that will be joining the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for the concert.
Royal Canoe performing at the Winnipeg folk festival.
Then the following Thursday, May 25 our son’s band Royal Canoe will be doing a full concert with the Winnipeg Symphony featuring music from their latest album Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit. There are still a few tickets left. After the performance there is a fun party planned in the lobby. Our son will be doing some of the disc jockey duties for that.
Would love to see you at the concert hall on both May 18 and May 25.
Music to Soothe the Soul
Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit
Fun Evening in Toronto
Filed under Music, Winnipeg
Be strong O paddle! Be brave canoe! The reckless waves you must plunge into!
That’s a line from poem by Emily Pauline Johnson called The Song my Paddle Sings. At their most recent concert featuring Canadian composers the Winnipeg Singers performed a musical version of the poem. Listening to them brought back lots of memories for me.
My grade four class at Kornelson School. I am third from the right in the last row.
My grade four teacher Miss Toews made me memorize the poem My Song My Paddle Sings and I recited it during a parents day performance. I still remember every line of the poem that tells the story of a sailor going from calm waters to churning rapids and back again.
Emily Pauline Johnson was a Mohawk poet who became famous as a touring artist. She went across North America reciting her poetry. Her father was a First Nations chief and her mother an Englishwoman so Emily grew up influenced by two different cultures. Her aboriginal name was Tekahionwake.
I used to do a unit of Emily Pauline Johnson poems with my grade eleven English classes. Although The Song My Paddle Sings is about a nature experience Emily did not shy away from writing about controversial issues as she did in her poem A Cry From An Indian Wife where she looks at who really owns Canadian land.
Emily was featured on a Canadian stamp in 1961 and was one of the Canadians under consideration for the first woman to be featured on a bank-note in 2018. She wasn’t chosen but her poetry lives on in people’s minds and hearts and also in music like the beautiful piece I heard at the Winnipeg Singers concert.
Flunky Jim and Gopher Tails With Grandpa
Lessons from Leonard
Getting to Know Oviloo
Filed under Music, Poetry