A few weeks ago, I saw a note go out on our local arts chat board in which a woman at the MacBride Museum was looking for my friend (and wonderful musician) Grant Simpson. I happened to know that Grant was out of town (playing at a music festival in China, no less!) so I e-mailed her to let her know. When she replied, she said a few people had already informed her, but since I’d gotten in touch and she knew I was a singer, could I please let her know if I also happen to play piano?
Intrigued, I answered that yes, I do play piano. And she told me the museum had recently found a piece of music in their collection and really wanted to hear what it sounded like.
The sheet music had apparently been found inside an old piano from a Yukon steamboat and is entitled “Cat Train to Canol”. The Canol Trail was an oil pipeline connecting Norman Wells (in the NWT) to the Yukon border. It was built by the US Army in a huge hurry (using “cat trains”) and was used for barely a year before the end of the Second World War put an end to its usefulness. The song was written in 1944… and sounds it! Some of my favourite kind of music, as you can guess.
I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to learn this song and present it this Thursday at an evening showcasing Yukon art and music during WWII. I’ve also been asked to learn the song “This is the Army” by Irving Berlin. It was part of a musical film by the same name, which had its Canadian premiere in McCrae (at Alaska Highway Mile 910, near Whitehorse).
You can bet I’ll be breaking out the hot rollers, and victory rolls will be present…
I accidentally wrote a song for my 4-year-old. It pleases her immensely. It pleases me, too, partly because every line in this short song is full of meaning just for her. For example, it starts with “I remember, I remember that day in November, when I first laid my eyes on you”. It’s not just that I vividly remember the day of Halia’s birth, but also that her birthday falls on Remembrance Day.
In this video, I blab a bit before the song starts. But I’m not just blabbing; I’m sharing information with you that lets you in on more of the meaning of each line.
By the way, the artwork hanging on our wall depicts “hand games” a.k.a. “stick gambling” and was painted by Mary Caesar, who currently lives in Watson Lake, Yukon. You can check out more of her artwork on her Facebook page.
And also, in case you didn’t already know it, “YB” stands for Yukon Brewing. I love those guys.
I had two inspiring meetings today and they’ve got my creative fires burning.
The first meeting was with my friend and mentor Daniel Janke. He was interested in looking at a piece of choral music I’ve been working on. In fact, I wrote the music more than 10 years ago (using a poem written by Sir Walter Raleigh) but it’s been languishing on my music shelf ever since. I recently unearthed the handwritten chart and (just for fun!) transcribed it into Sibelius, the music-notation software I use. I started playing around with it, adding variations to the theme, flipping things around so sometimes the tenors get to sing the melody, for example, and other ideas that would make it more fun for a choir to sing.
I showed Daniel the latest draft of the song and he dissected it before my eyes, using terms like “mixolydian mode”, “diatonic”, and “plagal cadence” and other vocabulary I haven’t thought about since I did music theory around age 12.
The thing is, when I was 12, music theory was boooooring and had no significance in my life as a musician. I’ve never used these kinds of tools when composing and it was a revelation to see them applied. I’m so excited to use some of the ideas I was given… and what’s more, I’m actually excited to relearn some of that music theory I’ve ignored for over 20 years.
(An aside. I pulled out the music theory book that I used when I was 12 and studying for my music theory exam. Yes, I still have it. The inside cover is inscribed, “This book belongs to Fawn Fritzen”. Further down the page, in tiny letters, is written, “Not that I want to own it”. That sums up my feelings about music theory at the time.)
The other meeting was a public workshop about epilepsy. Next month will mark 3.5 years since my eldest daughter last had a seizure. It feels like it’s finally time to start something I wanted to do years ago: create a support organization for people and families living with epilepsy in the Yukon. This is a huge unmet need, but for years I was barely keeping my head above water as a parent.
Tonight I met a whole group of families who are dealing with epilepsy. Everyone wanted to continue to connect. I feel I finally have the energy to organize a support network and my brain is bursting with ideas on ways we can do that.
It’s so energizing to make connections with people who inspire me… and finding things that are energizing is a particularly great thing for this chronically sleep-deprived mom/musician!
What energizes you?
The latest news…
September 4, 2013
My Vancouver CD release is less than a week away! I have a slew of radio interviews lined up, both in English and French, my tickets are booked, and I’m really excited about playing with Jodi Proznick and Andrew Millar at the Cellar Jazz Club.
More updates are coming, as I’ve got a new video up on YouTube, new reviews to tell you about, and more projects in the works… but for now, I just want to let you know about this giveaway happening right now.
We’ve been enjoying a gorgeous summer here in the Yukon, and I hope you’ve been having a great one, too, wherever you are.
This past weekend I had the good fortune to spend two nights at a beautiful cabin at Fox Lake, about an hour outside of Whitehorse. I went alone, with just paper, pens, and several good books for company, and spent my time enjoying the peace and stillness of the lake. I love my family and I love my work, but it was wonderful to temporarily escape the constant demand for attention and to focus instead on fish jumping, bees gathering pollen, sunshine on my skin, and the feel of smooth paper under my hand.
Now I am back home and back in the thick of a busy performance season, caring for my two young girls, and preparing for the fall. I have a few performances to do here at home in Whitehorse, but I’m particularly excited about the Vancouver album launch in September. Stay tuned for more details on that!
I got a thrill earlier this week when I discovered Tim Tamashiro, host of CBC Radio 2′s jazz program Tonic, mentioned me on his “Jazz Evangelist” blog. In the post, he highlighted swing music happening across Canada, and he didn’t forget to mention the north in his cross-country checkup. He managed to dig up a video clip of one of my outdoor performances with my 40s-style Swing Street Band. (I don’t have much swing music on my YouTube channel — gotta fix that!)
I love listening to Tonic. The music is great, but besides that, Tim is always an entertaining host. He’s a great jazz singer himself, and his between-spin patter is every bit as good as his tune choices. It’s the perfect soundtrack for an evening at home. Sadly, I haven’t been tuning in lately, as I’ve been either on the road or on the Frantic Follies stage when the program is on.
Last night when I got off stage after my Act One appearance, I looked at my phone and noticed I had a Facebook message from my friend Kristina. She told me she’d just heard me on Tonic. Tim’s tagline on the show is “jazz makes you cooler”, so he was playing up my northern locale and being the “coolest” jazz singer in Canada.
Well, I was tickled enough that “cool” probably wasn’t the most accurate way to describe me just then.
I often get asked how the name of my album came about. It started a couple of summers ago, when I first began working with Daniel Janke to record some demo tracks. Really, it was his idea in the first place.
In my years of working in musical theatre, I developed a big, loud belting voice. If there’s one thing people love in live performance, it’s a big belty power ballad. People get very excited with all that energy coming off the stage; as a singer, it’s exciting to feel it all being reflected back.
The very first song we recorded was the classic Cry Me a River. We had the wonderful guitarist, Paul Lucas, in the studio and decided make it a simple guitar/vocal duet.
Now, I had performed the song before, usually in jam sessions with a full band plus horn instruments playing along. I liked to start it out quietly and build to a big finish, using that powerful belt for the last part of the song. On our first take, I tried that same crescendo to end the tune.
Daniel, as musical director, felt a gentler approach was needed. With just voice and guitar, the song was much more introspective and intimate. “Why don’t you try it with your bedroom voice?” he suggested. That idea transformed the song for me; rather than a cry to an absent ex-lover, it became a quiet conversation, brimming with passion and resolve.
As we continued to work on other demos, the idea of the “bedroom voice” came up repeatedly. One evening after he used it again, I said to Daniel, “I think we should just do a whole album of songs using that theme and we’ll call it ‘Bedroom Voice’.” Daniel laughed and said he’d be on board.
So that’s what we did. (And I rather like the result…)
We finally have blue skies and sunshine, and my summer schedule is heating up! Last week, rehearsals started for the 44th season of the world’s longest-running vaudeville show, The Frantic Follies Vaudeville Revue. This will be my second season as the leading lady, and I’m excited about getting back on the stage and meeting folks from all over the world!
I’ve also got shows in Destruction Bay, Haines Junction, and LePage Park, not to mention a house concert tonight, at the beautiful recording studio where Bedroom Voice was created. It looks like I’ll be doing a show in Vancouver, too, this September. Do you know anyone there? I’ll be looking for help in spreading the word on that one.
The view from my window is beckoning me to go outside — our greenhouse is begging for attention, and our rainbow-hued hammock hangs lonely in the yard. There’s a boat waiting to be launched for the first time, and the front garden needs to be cleared of last year’s remains. No one wants to sleep during summer in the Yukon; every sunny day is a precious gift. What are your summer plans?