Wed, Dec 14, 2011.
The way I see it, there are two ways to go with your holiday CD. You can have the modern, pop stuff, whether it's the most current, hip-hop kinda reworking of Rudolph or good old Bing Crosby singing White Christmas, it's all cut from the same festive cloth, popular music of the last few decades. Or, you can go into the way-back machine, drop down a couple of centuries, and get into either the carols or the folk music, organ or orchestra, fife or fiddle. As much fun as it is to sing about chestnuts roasting and Frosty frosting, there's something special about ancient music at this time of the year. Maybe it truly connects us to our deep past, traditions that resonate a couple of millenia, of which we are part, the on-going story and celebration. At what other time of the year do we sing songs with melodies and origins going back five centuries?
In some ways we have the best of both worlds in much of our East Coast music. Because of our traditions, we still find fiddle and old-time sounds cropping up in our modern songs. And our players have no problem straddling genres, and decades and centuries. After all, a violin player becomes a fiddle player with just a little fiddling around with the technique. That's what Stephanie Mainville can do. The Rothesay recording artist plays fiddle AND violin, whatever fits, plus piano, she sings, and she writes. So when Stephanie set out to record a Christmas CD, she was able to tap into the ancient music of Christmas, and the modern side. The disc is called Old Man Winter, and offers up sounds that take us from the church to the sleighride, from 16th century to today, and sometimes in one smooth medley. A mix of instrumentals and vocal songs, there's that feeling of tradition that graces this disc.
Take the number called What Child Is This? medley. It opens with that familiar carol, which dates to 1865, the words at least. But since this is an instrumental, it's actually the traditional tune we all know as Greensleeves, itself dated back to the 1500's. It's gently plucked on the Celtic harp, courtesy of Cynthia Cudmore, joined by Mainville's violin, some guitar, and pipes But then Mainville catches a similarity to a much more modern song, which has a few Christmas connections in peoples minds, as the song deftly melts into My Favourite Things, the violin weaving around the harp's melody. Okay, that's a seamless leap of four centuries if you're scoring at home. But then just as easily, we dance back again, this time to the Carol Of The Bells ("Ring Christmas Bells...Merrily Ring"). That has its roots as a Ukranian folk number that predates Christianity in that country. So now we're going back, like 18-hundred years or something. Anyway, I love the combination of these instruments and these songs, it gives that special, mystical feeling to the piece.
Not that Mainville can't stay in her own 21st century. The lovely Snow Day is here, a vocal track and original composition, that we'll all feel connected to. It speaks of those crazy things kids do, mine at least, wishing and hoping for snow. I know tonight, with the weather threatening, one of them will at least talk about wearing pyjamas inside out in that truly Canadian belief it will help cancel school. And the parents will recognize Mainville's other thoughts about the season, where she dreams about a book and a pool and Montego Bay.
It's a fine long disc, with all these styles, weighing in at over 50 minutes. The playing is solid throughout, with a full string ensemble of young players from the current or past roster of the NB Youth Orchestra, plus all those other instruments and players mentioned. And a group of them is getting together Thursday night to formally launch this disc with a big release concert. It's going to be in the main room at Hampton's Vintage Bistro at 8 PM. Also, Stephanie will be at the Bourbon Quarter in Saint John on Saturday night.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).