Thursday 19 July 2012

Carleton Place: Music, Children, & Maria Hawkins

I was introduced to my current husband by a musician friend, Maria Hawkins.  Our 10th anniversary is coming up this year. It is hard to believe how time flies!
Why you get the sinking feeling that weeks, months...

I worked with Maria through Blues in the Schools (BITS), back when I was teaching for OCDSB. She is a dynamic spirit, and we are both happy grammas who bring our professional work to our volunteer work and our grandkids!

I had much energy from researching the roots of blues music, from the slaves who had to leave their instruments behind, sang Field Songs, or Sorrow Songs, the invented call and response songs.
It was a fascinating exploration of music. These people rose up and not only survived, but thrived.

Maria appeared in Carleton Place, although she does much work with young and old in Ottawa and South Eastern Ontario.
All performers are geared to the whole family – from the very young upwards. Come out and enjoy an evening of music, laughter, fun & entertainment.
The Blue had a baby
and they called it
Rock and Roll!
My involvement with BITS taught me how to write music with kids. It was a fabulous education for me. My school did a performance on the Bluesfest stage in 2001. 
It was incredible for these kids. Many of my students were not aware of music, didn't know the history of it or were either refugees or immigrants. To learn the history of Blues music was powerful for them. It was part of their work, writing new songs, creating murals for the Bluesfest stage. Artist in Residence programs, such as MASC, or BITS, are a vital part of Ontario and USA's music education programs. Essentially, in an age were we realize that integrating the arts into curriculum deepens the educational experience.

From a report I wrote at the time:
Here are the words to the three songs we sang. We liked listening to the sorrow songs, slave songs and gospel songs. The Blues has its roots in African rhythms. The white owners realized that slaves worked better if they were allowed to sing. And sing they did. They brought an oral musical tradition which developed field singing into spirituals and code songs (e.g., Follow the Drinking Gourd or the Big Dipper ) that led slaves to freedom by following these codes. 
They would sing their song, sometimes called Reals, too. Eventually, since slaves were not allowed to read and write, indeed there were fines for doing so, folks created songs such as "Follow the Drinking Gourd", to tell illiterate slaves where to go and how to navigate their ways to freedom. 

Maria works well with young and old!
The song "Wade in the Water" told slaves how to escape the dogs who were used to hunt them down. Barbershop quartets were formed by blacks working in the shops, whites didn't work in them then. Musicians decided to follow the SATB format (sopranao, alto, tenor, bass) and it was something not done before. This was powerful music that led to gospel music, too. 

Once the slaves established themselves, freedom was more than a sublimated desire,  clubs sprouted up. They wanted instruments to add to the complexity. Rhythm speaks to our souls, but so does harmony.

The most interesting thing I learned was the Diddley Bow. Now, many of us know Bo Diddley, he was named for the instrument. Basically, a piano wire strung between two nails, often on a wooden beam. You can learn how to build one by reading One String Willie!

Eventually, with more economic independence, more sophisticated instruments were created, but this is how the guitar began in the annals of time and creativity. This led to Rock and Roll!

Music of the Underground Railroad

  • "Steal Away" 
  • "Let us Break Bread Together" 
  • "Ezekiel saw the Wheel" 
  • "Swingin' Saints" 
  • "Down by the Riverside" 
  • "Wade in the Water". 
T.J. Wheeler tells me you listen to or sing the Blues so you won't have the blues any more!
Here are my photos from the show!


Linda said...

I have been a musician for over 50 years - started playing organ in church when I was 12. I knew some of the background of the gospel music, but did not know that those songs were codes to help the slaves escape. What a fascinating thing I have learned today, Jenn! Thanks!

Red said...

Great account of blues from the time of slavery. Apparently the singing was something that the masters couldn't really take away so there was communication going on that the masters didn't know about, There's so much fascinating stuff about the blues!

eileeninmd said...

Sounds like a lovely evening with friends and the music. Wonderful photos. Have a great weekend!