It was a bittersweet evening last Thursday night in Bloomfield. Bitter, in that something special was wrapping up. Sweet, in that those present knew they had been part of something special: the Quarter Moon Cafe.
This year has been a banner year for the biweekly summer coffee house sponsored by the Bloomfield and Area Business Association. The Quarter Moon is an open stage musical platform, where all performers get a strictly enforced two-song turn. Admission, snacks and drinks are free; appreciated, donations are not solicited.
There are two important ground rules. The foremost, reiterated forcefully by genial hosts Steve Campbell and Ken Hudson, is that anyone with enough courage to perform, however raw they may be, is welcome to take a turn alongside the more seasoned performers. They joke that they, as the opening act, set the bar so low that virtually anyone can clear it. Although it takes some courage to stand up, those who do can be sure of an encouraging response from the audience. Wellington resident Gord Sirot spoke movingly about how as a novice performer he had found a “home in a song” at the Quarter Moon.
The second ground rule is that sing-alongers and play-alongers are encouraged to jump up and join the performance. The onus is on the performer to glare them offstage if they aren’t wanted. To accommodate this, the organizers have set up a battery of microphones that would service the sudden arrival of the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir. Last Thursday night was no exception: a battery of backup singers, mostly from the audience, joined in as Lorain Sine, of Wellington, Ontario, sang, “Don’t be cruel.” The evening ended, as it traditionally does, by all the performers joining her to sing “I saw the light.”
While performers came from Amherst Island, Brighton and Campbellford and places closer to home to anticipate, the core participants are from the county. What a stacked deck we have; from ever-youthful elder statesman and accordion player Bill Sallans to high school senior and ukulele specialist Robin Felkar-Burge. Talent seems to pour in - from Sandbanks Park campers who just happen to be fiddle virtuosos to new county resident Martin Barrett, who brought the house down with his dead-on rendition of Louis Armstrong, Kermit the Frog and Willie Nelson, serially, singing Wonderful World.
The amazing fact is that this is only one venue for participatory music in the County. There are periodic Saturday night open stages at St. Gregory’s school in Picton, monthly Sunday afternoon “Circle of Song” sessions at the South Marysburgh Community Centre; and weekly open stages at The Barley Room, with Thursday nights, hosted by the venerable Frere Brothers; JJ’s on Tuesday nights and The Acoustic Grill for Sunday nights. Commencing October 6, there will be periodic Wednesday night open stages in Wellington, the “windy village,” at the Devonshire Hotel. This is merely one thread in a quilt made of numerous choirs, amateur groups and soloists in the classical, jazz and other genres, professional musicians and musical service providers around the County.
When there is a worthy cause requiring community fundraising, it is often musicians - as well as other performing and creative artists - who get the first call to give of their time and creative output. ‘Zeke-Aid” may not be the best example, but not long ago there was a highly successful concert for Haitian earthquake relief organized by the indefatigable Jeanette Arsenault and her colleagues in the Trinity group. Similarly, if you want to annoy a musician immediately, just invite one to provide the entertainment at your function and assume that payment is not required because the musician will jump at the chance to have listeners. Better to pay up front and cultivate the waiver of payment option.
I think this tells us something about how we value music and how much it means to us. What we value is not technical excellence in presentation; although where we find it, we will gladly take it. It is the sense that we are collectively enjoying the experience. In plainer terms, it is the sense of community.
To me, a strong musical community, especially a strong amateur music community, is a sure sign that you have a strong community all round. I’d venture a step further: if you want to build a strong community, you can’t do too much better than by encouraging the arts. As I’m sure the Bloomfield and Area Business Association can attest, it doesn’t cost them that much against the return.
This fall, the "windy village" gets a chance to prove my thesis right. See you there!
It’s been a bargain-event year; people have left walking on air. I have every confidence that this fall the “windy village” will deliver a corroborating result.
Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.
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