November 23rd, 2005

Fishy Circumstances

In Gordon's living room

Sometime in my first year in Toronto, back when I didn't know so many people, D.L. hosted a party of some sort at his place. The department and his friends came, a lively crowd, and after a while, some of them started playing music - drums, guitar, shakers, voice. I joined in - I knew the tunes, folk music mostly, and a selection from that ever-so-useful volume, Rise Up Singing. They could see I knew the words, and I can hold a tune if not harmonize, so they mentioned that they played together regularly at a monthly jam session over at Gordon's house.

I went and I went again. There were guitars, cellos, harps, keyboards, guitar, mandolin, electric bagpipes, tin whistle, jazz flute, percussion, and violins, and we were all crammed in on an assortment of chairs which would do an eclectic café justice. The crowd came and went, peaking at upwards of thirty one night, at six on a cold and blustery winter's night. In the summer, they'd play on the front porch until after midnight or until the neighbors complained. They played folk and blues and indie and old-time rock'n'roll. There were always Celtic classics and jazz, sometimes there was more modern rock, and just once, someone sang a Hildegard of Bingen piece. I didn't know most of what they did, but I could follow along when the words were available and after a while, I learned. I learned "Long Black Veil" and "Glenora Ferry" (written by a regular), brushed up on Beattles, and bought a Bruce Springsteen album because I loved singing "Somewhere across the border" so much.

The flute was always my instrument. I picked up the harp later and was never as good. But my lessons on both instruments were all oriented towards sheet music, and I never learned to improvise. So that's why I went and sang. I couldn't improvise on anything else. The others said I should bring my flute and learn by trying, but that's a mighty intimidating order when the other players have albums out and play regular gigs for a couple of beers or higher price. They played neighborhood fairs and travelled out and about to music fairs to play the weekend away. One of them's up in Scotland now, earning her keep by fiddling. I wasn't one of the skilled, my ear wasn't acute, but music is cathartic. I wasn't playing in any kind of music group anymore - hadn't in a while - and singing now and again became I needed in my life.

D.L. was in the last year of his PhD when he held that party all those years ago, and now he's started his second lecturer's post, this time up in Manchester. I've moved away from Toronto and might be having lunch with him this weekend, up north. Time moves on, and time moves on for monthly jam sessions too. This Friday will be the last one.