What is one experience connected with the Folk that really stands out for you? Why?
I would have to say that my first retreat is the experience that stands out for me the most – that was November 2007. I knew no one at the Folk, I was a complete stranger but, by the end of the weekend, I had made friends and realized that, while I had been out of folk music for a long time, some things just don’t change, and it felt like coming home. Over the last twelve years, I have experienced many great highs, singing with others or solo, singing traditional or original, but always I have felt happy and grateful to be part of the VFSS community.
When I ventured alone, for the first time, to the 60th Anniversary Gathering at the Unitarian Church last June, I was impressed by the warmth and acceptance that I received. So much so, that I was invited to visit the Princeton Traditional Music Festival as a performer, and to go to the Camp Alexandra gathering the following October. I did go to the October gathering and it was absolutely amazing. So very easy to get to know complete strangers who have become friends. And, I hope in the near future (I hope it is near), to accept the invitation to go up to Princeton and perform.
Well, there are many experiences as I now think about them. Possibly the first to jump to mind is the night I met Dan Kenning, in the lobby of the False Creek Community Centre, where we had the Song Circle at the time. We almost instantly decided we would sing together, which we did for decades as members of Fraser Union. My first experience, though, was attending the Alma Y in 1974 and meeting Phil Thomas, who had a critique for each song being sung. I realized at that point that it was important to give serious consideration to the repertoire one brought to the Folk.
What comes to mind is the very first retreat I attended back in the late 80s. It was the overwhelming feeling of having found my tribe – of being in the embrace of thoughtful, kind people who shared the joy of music. And oh, the amazing harmonies. Is there anything as wonderful as singing in harmony with friends? Over the years I have been to many more retreats and had the same feelings of joy and creativity. But that first one was truly an amazing revelation that there is a place where I belong.
What first impressed me when I entered the Friend’s Hall for the first time back in 2002 was the welcoming nature of a group of people who seemed genuinely happy to be in each other’s company.
As the evening started what I observed was somewhat surprising. Audience members got up from their seats went up on “stage” and then immersed themselves back into the group again. There was a reciprocity that I had never seen before having only attended paid musical performances. I could feel the connection! People leaned into each other singing along in what was my first real introduction to harmony. Some singers were stronger than others but what I saw was that everyone received the same opportunity to sing and everyone received true applause.
I had no idea prior to that evening that there were people in the Vancouver area who actually met together purely for the enjoyment of singing together. I had not sung with others since high school. And as for the singing in harmony, I was captivated. In fact, the first time I actually found my own harmony to a song on my car radio, I was so taken that I almost drove off the road!
That night changed my life. It was one of those pivotal moments. From that point on I was hooked! And until this required isolation due to COVID-19, I have never missed a Folk evening unless I was out of town or away on holiday.
I joined the Folk in 1989 when we met at the ANZA Club at 8th & Ontario. I was immediately attracted to a room full of harmonies! One particular experience that really stands out for me is being on the ‘committee’ of 3 or 4 folkies to find a new venue for the Folk to meet when we had to leave the ANZA (1993?). We went into the few possible venues on our list and would stand and sing a chorus or two to test out the acoustics. After being disappointed with the first couple (carpeted, low ceiling) places, we walked into the Friends House, looked around at the setting – bright, tall ceiling, hardwood floors… looked at each other and started to sing. Almost immediately we looked at each other with big smiles and said ‘this is it!’ We instantly knew we had found our new home! The acoustics were so wonderful – the place had such a good feel to it! To this day, I think the Friends House has been a great home for the Folk!
One Folk experience that really stands out for me, eh? It’s really hard! There are a lot of good, and funny memories, that stand out for me. Hmm, which one to recount?
Well, maybe late 1980’s, or early 1990’s when I first started coming regularly, I didn’t play guitar, or anything, and there was a small tendency for folks to pass you over in the song circle if you didn’t have an instrument. It’s true! I really wanted to sing in a circle one evening, but was terrified to sing alone. Jill King offered to sing a song with me. That was a thrill! We sang, “There is a Tavern in the town”. Not one of her favourites, but I had a book of British folksongs from the library, and I had been practicing it, so she agreed to help me. She was of the very small, at that time, contingent of folks who were stalwartly a cappella.
Children (our next generation) can offer some great moments. … seeing one of the younger children, whose family regularly attended the retreat and occasionally other events, develop from a squirmy distracted child with a toy ukulele to a polished performer by the age of 10. At a retreat, Calum took the stage for his spot in the Saturday evening concert, backed by guitarist par excellence, Barry Truter. Calum sang all of “Lady Franklin’s Lament” — an old ballad and one well-known at the Folk, and a speciality of Barry. Calum needed no words and sang looking calmly into the audience, as Barry accompanied him in perfect, steady time. Sure, some credit to Barry, but cheers to Calum. It’s the ideal counterpoint to the time Henk took the front of the room with his guitar at another Saturday night concert at a retreat, and one of the younger audience members loudly called out a request, “Play Baby Baloooooga!” The audience went silent, and Henk had to admit sadly, from centre stage, “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to play that song.”
It was my first retreat. Akiko was singing Shenandoah and she looked and sounded scared though her voice was clear and lovely if a bit soft. When she came to the chorus, the whole room joined in with lots of beautiful harmony. She appeared quite surprised, but when she sang the next verse, her voice was much stronger and by the last verses, it was obvious that she had discovered her own power to gift a song with grace and beauty.
A few years back, I went to my first retreat. I heard Jim and Madeline sing a song in their session and burst into tears (quietly!). Lyn (from SFU, I don’t know her last name) came up to me and gave me a hug. I didn’t know her or anyone at the folk except Valerie Raoul. I was touched by Lyn’s gesture.
I always enjoyed singing folk songs and playing the guitar that my grandmother had given to me when I was nineteen but in the many years since we had moved to Vancouver I had never heard about the Vancouver Folk Song Society. Finally one night, when Jerry and I were waiting to be shown to a table in a restaurant, I picked up a magazine from a stack provided for waiting customers to glance through. Much to my surprise I saw a tiny ad at the bottom of the page. It said only that: ‘The Vancouver Folk Song Society meets at such and such a place on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m.’ I took that home with me that night. That’s how, after living in Vancouver for 25 years, I was finally able to meet with and join an organization I have enjoyed so much, for so long.
It was at the ‘Y’ near Alma and 10th in 1975 and I had only been in Canada for 4 or 5 months. I had tried to find some local folk singing, but pre-internet, that was difficult. By luck one evening I heard a male voice on CBC singing every shanty I’d ever heard (and sung along with) – guess who! Jon was being interviewed on Sylvia Tyson’s “Touch The Earth.” I was thrilled, and found my way to the next gathering where, as soon as I walked in, and certainly after I sang, it felt like I was with family – still does.
I’ve never been that connected to my biological family, left NZ to travel the world in 1968. But wherever I have lived and travelled I have found life-long friends through singing. A close musician friend of mine wrote a song that he thought was about me (well perhaps ‘some’ of it is lol) – called Family of Friends. It’s quite a long song so I’ll just leave you with the last two lines, and say that although my ‘family of friends’ extends around the world, my FIRST family of friends was made that first night at VFSS – ‘The Folk.’
Life’s just a fairy story so with happiness it ends
Now she’s found she has a family of friends.
Donna Jean (DJ) MacKinnon
We were very happy to discover the Folk Song Society when our son Calum was 4 years old. We love singing together and building community through music and wanted to show him there were others who felt the same. We also wanted to show him that there was a place to share the joy of singing together in a non-competitive environment. My memory was of the first night we were at the retreat, sitting around the campfire, and giving Calum his own turn at choosing a song that everyone could sing together: “I’ve been working on the railroad.”
I went to the VFSS retreat for the first time 4 years ago, and rediscovered the pleasure of singing folk songs that I first experienced as a student at Cambridge in the early ‘60s. I didn’t know anyone except a couple of other members of the Solidarity Notes choir and was too scared to sing alone. The following year I went back with my friends Di Skippen and Lynne Siebert and we managed to lead a rousing version of ‘Those were the days’ – what a thrill! It has just got better with each retreat and we really miss having one this year.