In my previous post, I mentioned that I had challenged myself in a variety of ways since my first meeting with my mentor Jean-Stéphane. One of those ways was by accepting a gig on Manitoulin Island to do a performance at the Island Time Sunset Concert Series. It’s been a few years since my band Three Little Birds was active in Ottawa, and since that point, it has been an adjustment to not be booking performances in the folk world. I have been constrained to perform solo for a while because I hadn’t spent much time playing guitar for myself and while in school, it seemed like too much to think of learning another instrument since I needed to focus on mastering the oboe. Since graduation, I have been reflecting on the ways I can deepen myself as a versatile musician, and one of those ways is by learning to play guitar at a performance level.
So, this was all in my mind when I heard from Lance Baptiste, the owner of the Island Time Sunset Concert Series in Providence Bay, Manitoulin Island, who was looking for our band to play. We knew this wasn’t possible yet, so I decided it was time for me to step forward with guitar in hand. I invited my brother Philip to come and play with me – I knew Lance originally had a band in mind, and I also decided that playing duo would be a more enjoyable experience since collaboration is such an important part of music making. Phil and I have played before, though not in recent years – being siblings, the communication part of working together has always been very easy. We also understand each others musical motivations extremely well, having grown up with more or less the same musical influences.
Phil is an extremely flexible musician. It only takes a couple tries to find the right feel for a piece and once he knows the style and the places that emphasis is appropriate, or what auditory landscape we’re trying to do, he can do pretty much anything. What I really value about working with him is that I can use abstract or technical language to describe what I think would fit with the song, and he understands both.
The set we prepared for Manitoulin Island was a step towards blending a few disparate parts of my musical identity into one performance – we prepared some of my original folky songs (both new and old), some solo classical oboe pieces, and some covers that we arranged together.
Arriving at the Island Times Café on Providence Bay, the first thing that struck us was how beautiful the location was – the stage was a natural space on the boardwalk overlooking the water, with picnic tables for those passing by to sit. And the evening of our performance was unexpectedly warm for the last week in August. Before I describe the performance, I want to talk a little about Lance because he’s part of what makes the series so meaningful. Before running an ice cream shop on Manitoulin Island, Lance Baptiste was a regular figure mixing music at the Mercury Lounge in Ottawa. What impressed us about his series is that he’s currently self-funding it purely out of the desire to bring music from other parts of Canada to the community. The hospitality that he provided and his commitment to bringing music to his community created a really meaningful performance experience.
As for the performance, some musicians are extremely self critical, and I count myself among them, but what I have learned over the years is that judging whether or not I had a perfect performance as a way to judge the performance as a whole, is to miss the point completely – the reason I perform is to connect with the audience and present music that invites them to share an experience together and reflect on life. So, what is largely important to me about a performance is how the audience seems to have experienced it – Were people drawn into the performance? Did they want to stay? Did they feel comfortable laughing at our jokes or responding to questions from us? Did they want to talk afterwards? Did they seem to leave happy and with light in their eyes?
What we did during this performance was close to busking in the sense that people were drawn in spontaneously from the boardwalk and the obligation to stay was low – there was no set cover for the show, just a voluntary donation – and there wasn’t any social pressure to stay where they were since we were outside and the only seating was at picnic tables. To our pleasure, we built a respectable crowd from those walking by and the large majority of them stayed until the end. A few people even ran home to get their jackets when it got chilly, and returned quickly! We got answers to our questions during the set, and they laughed (even when the jokes were occasionally corny), they talked with us afterwards, and they seemed to have a happy glow in their eyes when they left. All of that, along with the feeling of it made me feel like we had achieved that connection and that we did this the right way. Phil and I have had a few more jams since that performance and we’re preparing to book some more gigs soon with locations including Ottawa and Kingston as a start. In the meantime, Jean-Stéphane and I have scheduled a meeting where I will play some of my songs for him – I’m very curious to hear feedback from him as a theatre director since he has such a keen sense for art, and works in a different medium. I’m very excited to hear his ideas about how I can deepen my ability to authentically connect with my audience.
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