Category Archives: Our Sound feature
Sun Times staff
It’s taken Tara MacKenzie a long time to come around to the blues.
Now that she’s found her spot beside husband Trevor — a searing electric guitarist — their new MacKenzie Blues Band and the CD due this summer have become an obsession for the powerful and versatile Owen Sound singer.
“I’m possessed almost. It’s crazy,” MacKenzie said this week. “I can’t stop thinking about it all the time because I love this music so much and what the band has made.”
Back Road Revelation is to be launched at Kincardine’s Lighthouse Blues Festival, where the MacKenzie Blues Band, formed just last August, kicks off the main stage festivities on Friday, July 13.
All but one tune on the new disc, the Buddy Guy tribute Heavy Love, are band originals, with Tara’s lyrics around her own song sketches or written to riffs Trevor and band members Joel Dawson, bass, and Mike Weir, drums, created.
They’ve logged more than 400 studio hours recording the project and the final mixes are just about ready to go to Abbey Road studios in England for mastering.
The effort they’ve put in and the potential they see is worth investing in the very best for the most important part of the recording, both musicians said.
“We’ve been busting our butts. I’ve never worked this hard on a project in my life or put more of my soul into it,” Tara MacKenzie said. “I left the blood on the tracks for this album. I did. So did everybody in the band.”
Married for a dozen years, both MacKenzies have behind them a long list of bands, projects and session credentials. Until forming this group in August, they rarely made their music on stage together, although both are part of The Honey Hammers, a popular local rock cover band.
Trevor’s home has always been on the heavy side, in blues and blues rock, while Tara was known more for folk and trad.
She’s been a solo folksinger, played the Celtic harp, has written songs and recorded and performed in that trad mode with several groups while also singing in a wide range of styles and genres.
It wasn’t until Saugeen Shores bluesman Larry White asked her to gig with Big Bad Wolf that MacKenzie was able to focus on that genre and sort out her feelings and her approach to the blues, MacKenzie said.
From there, finally singing blues in a band with Trevor was a logical next step. Especially since both musicians were so busy in different groups. They weren’t seeing enough of one another.
“We streamlined it,” Tara MacKenzie said during a chat this week at Fromager Music, where Trevor has worked for many years. That’s in addition to his performance career — sometimes with four or five bands at a time — and the recording studio the couple run together at their home in Owen Sound, where Tara also has a vocal teaching studio.
“It took me a long time to come to the blues,” she said. “I had to figure out what I did like and what I didn’t and I came to understand that I like something a bit raunchier than old classic style blues and I was able to really easily start writing in that vein.”
The songs on the new CD are true songs about her own experiences or things she’s observed in others.
“A lot of these songs are speaking to situations that I see that I don’t dare get involved in on a direct level,” she said. “But inside, I just can’t now say something. So I just hope that the result of those lyrics can intervene in the lives of the people that I’ve written about.”
“They’re not scathing, they’re really encouraging,” she added.
The feel of the original songs ranges from blue/soul ballad to “heavy (Jimi) Hendrix-style blues riffs,” Trevor MacKenzie said.
The band doesn’t sit comfortably in Chicago, delta or any other one blues niche, he said.
“We don’t really want to be confined that way. We just want to play music.”
At the heart of it all is Tara’s voice, ranging over almost four octaves, and MacKenzie’s often incendiary guitar playing against the solid rhythm section.
Highly regarded Owen Sound blues harp specialist Rod Ramsay, keyboard player Rob McLean, vocalist Sylvie Weir and Coco Love Alcorn, trumpet, contributed to the project.
The band’s creative collaboration often begins with a song sketch from Tara, a lyric and a riff.
“Tara would come up with some lyrical ideas and maybe some chord patterns and we would all collaborate and just make it happen,” Trevor said. “When it really happens is in the studio where you can really start working it.”
It’s been a busy first 10 months for The MacKenzie Blues Band. Even without a CD, they booked 42 gigs including several festivals. Notably still to come are Summerfolk, The Lighthouse Blues Festival in Kincardine next month where they’ll launch the CD and the Orangeville Blues Festival, where the band plays tonight.
There’s also a CD launch July 28 at The Dam Pub patio in Thornbury.
Next Sunday, June 10, The MacKenzie Blue Band will kicking off this year’s annual city-run Harbour Nights concert series, backing up several area singers during an Amazing Voices ticketed event at the Legion. Proceeds support the Sunday night free concert series.
Sun Times staff
It was inevitable Bill Millman, and then his son Andy, would take up the Highland bagpipes.
The bagpipes were always around, part of every social occasion, the third and fourth generation Owen Sound pipers both said earlier this week.
They grew up hearing the jigs, reels and marches.
That tradition is in their family. It’s their heritage.
But it’s the thrill of the music itself, uniformly articulated by exacting pipers against precise, powerful percussion, that keeps both Millmans piping.
“It’s just the high you get when you’re playing this stuff properly. It’s just a tremendous feeling. It makes you proud to wear the kilt, and play the pipes,” Bill Millman said this week at his home in Owen Sound.
“It’s a trance, almost, when you’re right in there. The way everything just zeros in together. It’s an amazing feeling. You get goose bumps. That’s what keeps you going.”
Both pipers will play Saturday night at OSCVI as part of a big Celtic Spring concert of Highland music and dance – Bill with the Penetangore Pipe Band and Andy with the Peel Region Police Pipe Band. That Brampton-based band has been both Ontario Supreme Grade 1 championship band and North American champions for the last two years.
Andy barely remembers starting to play, first on chanter at age six or seven, then with a three-quarter size set of pipes in his first band, beside his father when he was about nine.
Sun Times staff
Long delayed and much anticipated, Manitoulin premiers Saturday night as part of the Georgian Bay Symphony’s 40th anniversary season finale.
Richard Mascall’s newest composition relies on what he’s learned about First Nations culture and music, and on a simple pentatonic melody he first played with in 1998.
A decade later, Mascall rediscovered that still-undeveloped phrase as he researched First Nations music and culture. It was ideally suited for new work during his three-year tenure as the local orchestra’s composer in residence.
At GBS director John Barnum’s request, Mascall was planning music which would reflect First Nations traditions.
“I wasn’t that keen on the idea at first because I didn’t know a thing about native culture,” Mascall said this week. “As I immersed myself in this stuff, I became really intrigued.”
He listened to native music, spent time drumming on Sunday afternoons with Thunder Timberwolf and his M’Wikwedong drummers. That interest led, four years later, to Timberwolf honouring Mascall with his own spirit name Singing Beaver on Water. His research brought him also to the Woodlands School of painting, founded by Ojibway artist Norval Morrisseau, which directly influenced Manitoulin.
That signature work, among Mascall’s compositions influenced by native culture from that residency, premiers at OSCVI with the GBS Saturday. A slightly longer version is scheduled for two performances next month with Bramwell Tovey and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
Saturday’s GBS concert, dubbed The Russian Spectacular, also includes Owen Soundraised pianist Kati Gleiser as soloist, Sergei Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony Number 5, his best-known and frequently performed work.
Gleiser has a long history with the GBS. Currently a doctoral candidate in piano performance at Indiana University, she has performed as a soloist with the GBS and other orchestras in the past and has won national awards for her music.
Many of the orchestra’s former section leaders will return to boost the string section for the 40th anniversary concert. That’s ideal for Manitoulin, said Mascall, who initially intended it would be performed by both the Huronia Symphony and the GBS.
“It’s perfect. It’s for a big, big orchestra and this is the perfect situation for it,” he said. “I would say that Saturday night you will see the best Georgian Bay Symphony ever” with the return of so many former leaders.
The 10-minute overture Manitoulin’s theme flows from the idea of shamanic transformation, the widely held belief among aboriginal cultures around the world that their spirit or medicine men shift shapes to become animals.
Mascall’s direct inspiration was a series of Morrisseau’s paintings at the Art Gallery of Ontario collectively entitled Shaman Transforms into Thunderbird.
Sun Times staff
If they weren’t making music around the microphone, it would be a kitchen table, or a campfire.
A family band by birth and by marriage, Moonshiner’s Daughter plays bluegrass music, with a twist of folk and more than a hint of old-time country.
Sisters Trish Schnurr and Cara Croll do most of the singing, playing guitar and bass. Their husbands, Adam Croll, five-string banjo, and Mark Schnurr, mandolin, do the picking.
“This is our enjoyment,” Trish said this week.
In the almost four years since the two couples moved to Durham and Flesherton to work and raise families – two kids each – word has spread about their lively music.
Most weekends, the four musicians get together on a Friday or a Saturday night to share a meal and make music once the kids are asleep, she said. That led to formalizing things, and, once Cara learned to play the bass violin, they formed the band not long after the move.
Moonshiner’s Daughter’s opening slot next Thursday, April 26, ahead of West Virginia’s Nothin’ Fancy at the Owen Sound Legion, will be the group’s second Queen’s Bush Bluegrass Club show. They’re also booked for The Hosltein Bluegrass Celebration in August, Durham’s Fall Fair and the town’s homecoming, along with shows coming up for the Massie Hall and Eugenia’s Flying Chestnut Restaurant concert series.
With jobs and raising kids, that’s busy enough, Cara said.
Growing up near Maryhill and Breslau in the Kitchener area, the girls were raised with music. Their dad liked to sing and play guitar, mom played fiddle.
They took their daughters at a young age to a few bluegrass shows and, although neither pursued that music until later, something stuck, Cara Croll said.
At university, she was inspired to sing and learn guitar when she first heard Sarah Harmer’s music, and eventually got back to those early roots.
“Once we got past those early years, we weren’t really immersed in bluegrass, but it was kind of something we came back to once we met musician husbands,” said Cara, who also plays piano.
Adam Croll got a start on banjo and guitar from his father Jim and early inspiration from his uncle Tex Smith, who lived up the road form their rural home near Acton.
“Once you hear the banjo, it captures you,” Croll said. “It’s just something you have to do.”
He sticks pretty close to a traditional Scruggs banjo style, with a few flourishes of his own.
“Every banjo player really wants to play like Earl Scruggs, or most of us do,” he said.
Croll played some blues through high school and at 18 met old-time fiddler Wally Jackson, from Lanark County. The played music regularly, and Jackson solidified Croll’s interest in old-time and country music.
“He just taught me so much about rhythm and about driving (the music) just to get that bluegrass sound,” he said. “It kept me there. There was no way you could change courses playing with a fellow like that.”
Mark Schnurr’s interests in Mandolin range beyond bluegrass into jazz and toward mandolinist David Grisman’s so-called Dawg music, a mix of bluegrass rhythms and adventurous, jazz-inluenced melodies.
His mandolin pursuit led to his profession as a violin maker. While “hoboing” across the country a few years ago, he bought a book about building mandolins, then made his own instrument and others before turning to making violins, in part through studies with luthier John Newton who had a studio near Desboro for many years.
Accessibility and relative simplicity is bluegrass music’s appeal, along with the sound of acoustic instruments together, Schnurr said.
“It’s really earthy sounding. As a violin maker I just love acoustic music and acoustic instruments all around,” he said. “And anyone can do it. There’s a huge repertoire of traditional music and you can get together with people you’ve never met before and throw out these tunes and everyone can catch some of it.”
“It’s fun music to play,” added Cara, who said her interest in the music is genuine, not based on trends.
“I like that bluegrass is sort of unpopular, a bit. I like that I like it because I like it. No one is influencing that.”
Her husband agreed.
“There is an aspect of that. You’re kind of against the grain,” he said. “It’s a demanding music. Not everyone does it or can do it, so there is a badge that you wear.”
Moonshiner’s Daughter blends the Croll focus on traditional bluegrass and old-time country with the Schnurr leanings towards folk, especially through the new, folk-influenced bluegrass songs Trish has been writing.
“She’s been just pumping out the songs in the last year or two,” Cara said.
“I guess I have been on a bit of a songwriting kick for the past two years, I guess,” said Trish, who also adds occasional fiddle to the band’s mix.
She said writing new songs is both her creative outlet and her contribution to the band, since she’s “not a lead guitar player.”
Her daily diet of CBC radio during drive to Owen Sound from Flesherton for work provides plenty of true life stories for inspiration, as do the people and moments in her own life. The songs “can also be quite fictional.”
Working the new material into the set list can be challenging as well as rewarding, while singing, even on new songs, just comes natural, Trish said.
“I think you can hear the family connection in our harmonies,” she said. “That’s just simple for us. We don’t work at that. We just get to sing with each other. The harmonies come pretty quick.”
That the four are family also shows in their comfort together on stage, she added.
As much as 50 per cent of some Moonshiner’s Daughter sets is now original and, while the band remains essentially a bluegrass unit, they tailor shows to suit the crowd, Cara said.
“One of the things about bluegrass is you’re always paying tribute to the originals. It’s built into bluegrass music,” he said.
So the Queen’s Bush Bluegrass Club audience can expect a mix of new songs and some bluegrass and old-time standards Thursday, the final show in this year’s Wintergrass concert series.
Doors open at the Owen Sound Royal Canadian Legion at 6:30. Show time is 7:30, with Moonshiner’s Daughter up first with a 40-minute set. Nothin’ Fancy, winners of the 2012 most entertaining group award from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America, will play two sets.
Tickets are $22, or $20 for club members, $10 if you are 16 to 18, and free for people 15 and under with an adult.
Sun Times staff
Mark Fewer’s 2011 Juno for jazz won’t sway the violinist, music professor and Sweetwater Music Festival artistic director.
“I’m still primarily a violinist that’s a classical violinist. There’s no two ways about it,” Fewer said recently.
Just days before, with longtime collaborator Phil Dwyer, Fewer accepted the 2011 Juno for their contemporary jazz recording Changing Seasons, and Fewer was still “over the moon about it.”
A Canadian jazz giant with six Junos under his belt now, Dwyer composed Changing Seasons as a jazz concerto for violin, string orchestra and big band. He wrote it expressly for Fewer as soloist, who over two decades as one of this country’s preeminent classical violinists has often had his hands and head deep into jazz.
Often that’s been with Dwyer, who will again perform at the Sweetwater Music Festival in September, and share programming duties with Fewer, directing the Saturday night concert.
“It’s a relationship that just keeps on building and building,” Fewer said.
Dwyer will premier at Sweetwater a brand new composition he’s written for string quintet, piano and soprano saxophone. Dwyer will play sax, Fewer will put together the quintet, including festival regular Joe Phillips on bass. David Braid, whose 2011 traditional jazz album Verge, also won a Juno, will play piano, then later that night join Dwyer in a duo performance.
Braid will also premier new music, his Chauvet, for string quartet and piano.
“So we’ve got a triumvirate of the Juno clan showing up” for what will “definitely” be an evening of jazz for the Saturday night Sweetwater concert, Fewer said.
Sun Times staff
Beckon wants fans to share short video clips for the duo’s Beautiful Life video.
The Owen Sound area singer/songwriters, Beth Hamilton and Connie Rossiter, are asking for video clips 10 seconds long showing your beautiful moments — a wedding, a child’s first steps, and especially scenes from this area.
“It could be anything,” said Hamilton. “Say you run a marathon and you cross the finish line. It could be riding a bicycle. It could be raindrops on a window pane, anything beautiful.”
People can also use beach pebbles, building blocks, finger paints or anything else to spell out Beautiful Life somewhere interesting for the project.
“We’re hoping that we get a lot of local footage, that would be very meaningful for us,” Rossiter said.
It’s the duo’s first commercial video, and the song will be the first single released from their first CD. Plans are to film this month at Hamilton’s teaching and music studio space in the Timothy Christian School Building.
They’ll empty the old classroom and film a performance April 9 at the old upright piano, with plans also to shoot scenes at Sarawak Park if the weather suits that day.
The finished video will include clips of their own family and friends, a glimpse at their own beautiful life, along with the contributed clips.
To participate, just upload your short video clip, less than 20 seconds, by April 15 to Beckon’s facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/beckonofficial or email the clip to email@example.com Clips should be less than 20 seconds.
The video director will contact people whose clips are selected.
Beckon received funding for both the CD project and the promotional video from the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent On Record.
Written together for the EP they produced in time for last year’s Summerfolk shows, Beautiful Life is one of 11 all original songs Hamilton and Rossiter are finishing up now in the studio for a CD release June 1. Also through the FACTOR funding, a 40-date tour around Ontario will
follow over the next several months.
“It’s been a long process and we’ve been going about 100 miles an hour” to complete the projects, Rossiter said recently. Both singers have day jobs to support “doing what we love,” she said.
The duo’s connection began several years ago in Orangeville, when Rossiter enrolled her son Gabriel in Hamilton’s Kindermusik classes. Their friendship became a singing and songwriting and eventually a performing partnership, not long after Rossiter, from Kemble, moved back to the area, followed not long after by Hamilton, originally from Ajax.
“If we hadn’t signed up for that Kindermusik class, none of this would have happened,” Rossiter said.
They quickly established a local following and connections with the Georgian Bay Folk Society, for a partnership hosting singer/songwriter workshop sharing sessions which they still run monthly at Hamilton’s studio.
Both women said writing and sharing songs is where their shared interest began, with no plans then to perform and eventually produce a CD and video.
“We do approach the writing first,” Hamilton said. “We didn’t start doing this because we love being on stage and we wanted to be stars. We got into this because we love songwriting and then it blossomed into the performance part. That’s why we perform our own songs. That’s the essence of what we’re doing. We’re singer-songwriters.”
During seven years writing and performing together, they said the songwriting partnership has grown and deepened in trust and respect, so they can now write honestly together, without fear.
“It just boils down to chemistry,” Rossiter said. “There has to be a whole lot of trust.”
“We really have this trust where our egos aren’t in the way,” Hamilton added. “It’s positive and it’s constructive and no feelings are every getting hurt, so we can just write the best music.”
They also wrote several of the songs on the CD with co-writer Carrie DeMaeyer, introduced by their Juno-nominated record producer J. Richard Hutt, who has Cedar Tree Studios in Kitchener. Much of the material was produced during “fun Fridays” -dedicated writing days when the three women would get together to create new songs.
Beckon applied for the FACTOR funding in 2010, received the support in 2011 for the CD and have been working on the project and a related business and promotion plan since then, they said.
Beautiful Life began as a “noodle” from Rossiter on the piano, which fit the need at the time for some more upbeat music to balance the many ballads in the Beckon repertoire. Rossiter and Hamilton began with a verse and chorus, and then a title and some key words.
“The idea was to follow a life from the beginning,” Rossiter said. “I had the first few lines and a chorus and then it was just like filling in the blanks/”
With a bridge that hints at turbulence and shifting ground, the life-affirming song provided an aspect of self reflection.
“When you get caught up in how difficult things are, you need to stop and pause and remind yourself about what’s beautiful right around you,” Rossiter said. “It’s easy to get caught up in every day troubles.”
You can hear the EP version of Beautiful Life on Beckon’s web-site http://www.beckonofficial.com or download it from iTunes. The “up-tempo, catchy, piano pop tune,” as described in a Beckon media release, includes Mark Mariash on drums and Mark McIntyre on bass. That group and others are recording the song again in a more commercial, radio-friendly arrangement for the new CD and single.
Filmmaker Sean Cisterna will direct the music video.
Posted 1 hour ago
Regan MacNay had her sights on a percussion career with a major orchestra. Her dedication to practising many hours every day at Western University led to serious tendonitis. It numbed her arms and ended any dreams of drumming.
Doctors doubted MacNay would regain full use of her arms.
So the Wiarton musician, singer and now educator and music director with both the Georgian Bay Concert Choir and the Georgian Bay Children’s Choir was forced to change plans.
“It was earth shattering at the time,” MacNay said recently. “Now I realize it was probably a good thing because it forced me to broaden my knowledge and my learning.”
A singer all her life, starting in Grade 7 with the acclaimed Children’s Festival Chorus in Port Elgin, MacNay redirected her musical focus toward composition, conducting and music history, along with English literature and an eventual Masters degree in that discipline.
She taught music and English and led a 60-voice choir at a Belleville private school for three years, then taught at Peterborough before returning home to Wiarton. This is her second year as a music and English occasional teacher with the Bluewater board and MacNay’s first year directing both choirs.
On Good Friday, April 6, at Georgian Shores United Church, MacNay will lead the 70-voice Georgian Bay Concert Choir and soloists through the entire Mozart Requiem Mass in D Minor and two other shorter works for an Easter themed concert.
“It’s a big sing,” MacNay said. “It’s not a light, fluffy piece. Mozart was writing this on his death bed and it has some of that feeling. There’s that element of gravity to it.”
And with its intricate score, voiced to challenge singers at the high end of each section’s range, Mozart’s Requiem meets the concert choir’s mandate; offering local audiences big, challenging, important choral works.
Owen Sound-raised soprano Claire Morley, mezzo Vicki St. Pierre, tenor Adam Bishop and baritone Andrew Tees are soloists for the performance, with organist Ian Sadler.
MacNay was raised on the edge of Wiarton in a house filled with music. Her mother Arlene is a piano teacher with a long association with the Wiarton Community Choir. Her father Ken played piano, sang and was a pipe major. Brother Sterling is a music therapist and a local performer while brother
Ramsey, a Hamilton-area pediatrician, is a proficient guitarist.
Regan MacNay applied for the GBCC director’s position when it was advertised over a year ago, and took over in September from Henriette Blom.
She was just settling into the role, ready to direct Vivaldi’s Gloria in December, when Linda Hawkins asked MacNay to also take over direction of the Georgian Bay Children’s Choir for the rest of this season.
Realizing her respect for Hawkins, a mentor and former music teacher of hers, and recalling how important her own years were as a young chorister, MacNay accepted.
“I love working with choirs,” she said. “I know looking back how important that experience was for me and I wanted to kind of help kids in this area the same way.”
Through high school at West Hill, MacNay pursued instrumental music with Fred Parsons, and vocal music with David Tupper, a former director of the concert choir.
Despite her years singing in choral groups, until tendonitis curtailed her percussion plans, MacNay had never considered leading a choirs.
“I’d always been a singer, I never thought of conducting, then I took a course and I just thought wow, this is phenomenal to shape the sound and to have this response,” she said. “You’re still playing an instrument, but the instrument is the voice and it’s very immediate. Whatever I do with my arms and my hands, they’re going to respond. It’s an incredible feeling. It’s exciting. You get a charge out of it.”
“I love vocal music. I’m passionate about it. I think choirs are so important and it doesn’t mater what age you are,” she said.
“The thing I love abut the voice is that everybody has one. It’s the most elemental part about us. We use it to communicate. When you hear a person’s voice you have a reaction to it. The voice is such an important thing, and when you stand together and sing there’s something that’s just so powerful about it because there are no barriers. There’s nothing between you and the audience.”
MacNay spends hours each week planning rehearsals in detail, approaching the most difficult music first. She said her role is to inspire confidence and bring the best from the musicians and the choir as a whole.
“it’s not about me. It’s about producing the music and being confident about it. I just steer. They’re reading me for the sound we’re looking to produce, but really, it’s them.”
Getting to that stage also means working on her own confidence, and overcoming “nightmares” as a performance approaches, which include knocking knees and a sick feeling before taking the baton.
“Inside, I’m a wreck,” she said. “But I get to the podium and I turn to the choir and I’m fine. I’m totally focused.”
Recruitment was among her goals when she took over the position, with plans of helping develop the choir long term and a clear idea of the kind of choir she wanted to direct.
“The choir I’m trying to build is a choir that is 100% committed to excellence in singing. That’s what I want,” MacNay said. “I’m looking for a certain type of atmosphere in my choir, I want very positive committed people who are going to stick with it,”
The choir has grown since from about 25 members to now almost 70, MacNay said.
“They are phenomenal. It’s exciting.”
The Georgian Bay Concert Choir will perform the Mozart Requiem next Friday, April 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Georgian Shores United Church in Owen Sound. Admission is $20 for adults and free for children.