Women making music…
In Westmount Park by the lagoon, east meets west in an all-female music and word-fest
By Wanda Potrykus
At last divine Cecilia came,
Inventress of the vocal frame:
The sweet enthusiast, from her sacred store,
Enlarged the former narrow bounds,
And added length to solemn sounds,
With nature’s mother-wit, and arts unknown before.
Let old Timotheus yield the prize,
Or both divide the crown;
He raised a mortal to the skies,
She drew an angel down
The power of music, An Ode in Honour of St. Cecilia’s Day, John Donne, 1572-1631
Words and Music has long sought to showcase Canada’s cultural mosaic as reflected in the words and music of the many nationalities that share this land. The 2018 version of Westmount’s annual word-fest in the park features an all female lineup where east meets west and finds they have much in common.
On Sunday, August 19 from 2 to 4 pm, in Westmount Park by the lagoon, a diverse and eclectic group of Canadian women of a wide variety of ages, professions and viewpoints will come together to share with you their interrelated vision of the world around them.
This year it seems, the musicians will perhaps outnumber the poets participating. However, the overlap between what’s music and what’s poetry has always been fluid, as the young rapper and hip-hop artist Shades Lawrence will undoubtedly demonstrate to those of us in the audience. To some she is a talented poet and wordsmith, to others a bonafide musician as she accompanies herself as she raps along with her pre-recorded musical electronic beats.
Music is quite possibly almost as old as humankind itself
Just how and when music originated is unknown since it occurred prior to recorded history. Nevertheless, it is projected that the first musical instrument was probably the human voice, which is capable of making a vast array of sounds, so effectively demonstrated today in the throat singing acumen of Inuit women; but which can also include clicking, coughing, yawning, whistling, humming and, of course, singing that could have even existed even prior to the development of language.
Musicality is thought to have emerged around 50,000 years ago in Africa, becoming an integral part of daily life of even the most primitive of peoples, and existing prior to humans fanning out across the globe.
The emotions and ideas expressed in music and language vary between regions and historical periods, as does the attitude towards composers and performers and the environment in which music and poetry is played and listened to. As such, the music and language of every culture is influenced in turn by other aspects of that culture such as the climate, socio-economic factors and technological developments.
The oldest musical instruments currently discovered to date include: the Divje Babe Flute, a 43,500 year-old Neanderthal instrument formed from the femur of a cave bear; although this is disputed by some who contend the holes in the femur “could” have been a result of gnawing by another carnivore. More evidently human-made is a five-hole bone flute, with a V-shaped mouthpiece, fashioned out of the wing bone of a vulture, which is estimated to be 34,000 years old, and was discovered in the Hohle Fels cave, near Ulm, Germany.
A number of very ancient wooden flutes, carved out of yew wood, were recently uncovered, in 2004, in an ancient gravesite in Greystones, Eire. They are thought to have been once played strapped together, with the more fragile binding material having disintegrated over time.
The L’Anse Amour flute
In North America (referred to as Turtle Island by its indigenous peoples), the earliest musical instruments are thought to have been drums, rattles and flutes. The earliest extant radiocarbon dated flute (aka a bone whistle) is the one discovered in a gravesite of an adolescent from the Maritime Archaic people dating from 5580 BCE , at L’Anse Amour, the oldest burial mound excavated so far and located on the Strait of Belle Isle coast in Southern Labrador.
Iran… credits the legendary king Jamshid as the inventor of music
Iran, formerly known as Persia, credits the legendary king Jamshid as the inventor of music, which it dates back to prehistoric times. The oldest known record of a written song, however, is from only a mere 3,400 years ago. It heralds the start of the Ancient music period, effectively ending the era of prehistoric or primitive music, called thus since there is no written record of it.
The song was discovered in Ugarit (an ancient port city in Northern Syria on the Mediterranean coast in the area once known as the Levant), and is transcribed on a clay tablet in Sumarian cuneiform script (one of the earliest systems of writing known and formed using wedge-shaped marks). Whereas, the oldest surviving example of a complete musical composition, along with its accompanying poetry and musical notation, is the Seikilos Epitaph, unearthed not far from Ephesus, in present day Turkey, and which is inscribed on a grey marble Hellenic tombstone column (a stele) dating somewhere from 200BC to 100BC.
Primitive bagpipes, and double pipes were played by the ancient Greeks, along with various other instruments, including stringed instruments and seven-holed flutes, examples of which have been recovered from archaelogical sites in the Indus valley. The ravanahatha, a bowed fiddle, and one of the most ancient stringed instruments known, is believed to have originated in the Sri Lankan Hela civilization. Indian classical music is described at length in the Samveda, one of the four Hindu Vedas or scriptures.
In ancient Egypt, positioned as it was between the east and west, the influence of music on the culture was very great. Many of their musical instruments look similar to those in existence today, harps, lyres, lutes, with the stringed instruments plucked rather than played with a bow.
Percussion instruments included bells, castanets, rattles, hand-held drums and the multi-toned sistrum (a hand-held metallic instrument in the shape of a “U” with small metal or bronze pieces hanging from it producing a wide variety of sounds). Wind instruments included trumpets and single and double reeded flutes, as well as flutes with no reeds at all.
Music in Egypt developed into an extremely organized and extensive part of daily life. Not only was it an integral part of religious ceremonial life, but it was also played daily in their palaces and on their farms and battlefields, in workshops, during marriages, for celebrations and in marketplaces, even in tombs.
Musicians were professionals and stratified according to the strict social hierarchy of the time. A high-status musician could play for religious ceremonies at the temples, whereas one from a lower class might only be able to perform for those of his, or her own community. The highest honour for a musician was achieving the status of a shemayet, which allowed them to play for a particular god or goddess. Interestingly enough, most of these high-status musicians were women.
All music, including that of indigenous North American peoples and the aboriginal peoples of Australasia whose cultures existed prior to written historical sources, and which still survive, is technically primitive or prehistoric music; however, today, it is more typically referred to as traditional, indigenous, or folk music.
Eclectic range of musical genres and poetic world-views
Although I can’t promise you quite as wide a demonstration of all the musical and poetic genres that have existed throughout history, the 2018 Words and Music lineup, certainly does include a range of extremely versatile musicians and wordsmiths.
The performers vary from young Canadian-South Asian poets performing alongside a young rapper of mixed Jamaican, British, Irish, Scottish descent; a noted Canadian Jewish poet and story teller; an accomplished reggae and jazz keyboard artist of Canadian and Trinidadian heritage, who is displaying her musical acumen this time round as as folk singer equipped with her trusty guitar; a talented German-born cellist, who will serenade us with a selection of more popular music along with the more expected repertoire of a classically trained cellist; as well as a young Chinese-Canadian singer and ukulele player…
How about that for a wide-ranging and eclectic presentation? Should be fun and interesting to see and listen to on a Sunday afternoon in the park. Indeed, an afternoon not to be missed!
The feminine POV
Somewhat unexpectedly, it’s also going to be an all-female lineup this year. Not that Words and Music ever has any beef with male performers… most years we are fairly equally represented; however, this year the programme quite serendipitously simply seemed to come together this way. So do come enjoy a feminine slant on the words and the music combined with a global perspective, as demonstrated in the varied compositions of women of all ages. You might just find most of us aren’t really all that different after all.
A brief overview of the talented performers…
Born in Montreal, Harleen currently calls Westmount home. She is a South Asian writer, educator, and advocate whose values are entrenched in the community-building work done by the women of colour who surround her daily in her work. In the winter of 2015, in the midst of what she refers to as “fever dreams”, she started using poetry to release the emotions building up inside of her.
Today, as she works on compiling her book of poetry, she remains thankful to be part of the beautiful connection that is the sharing of vulnerability, and is awestruck by the magic that continues to swirl around her in her world of joy and madness.
Humaira Bhuiya is a 16-year-old woman who was born in Ontario, Canada, but was raised in Montreal from the age of 22-days-old. She’s the youngest of her family, growing up with three brothers and both parents. She tries to view the world as an amazing place filled with unique people. Poetry has helped her express how she feels and let out all the emotions bottled up inside. All she wants in life is to be happy and strive towards a better path. Humaira is the voice and face of “the brown hijabi girl”.
Karen Chung is a young singer-songwriter with a haunting voice. She is a local Montrealer who plays the ukulele, and has spent the last four years performing in Canada and England. She blends upbeat melodies with tales of woe and heartbreak in order to create a modern, indie folk pop sound. You can learn more about her music on her Facebook page.
She says of herself, “I was born and raised in Montreal, Canada and am of Chinese descent. I spent pretty much most of my life here, except when I spent four years living abroad in Manchester, England, where I first started playing music, which is where I first became a singer-songwriter, back in 2013 in the UK.”
Producer, director, educator, actor, author, storyteller and poet, born, raised, and based in Montreal, Muriel Gold has a Ph.D. in Theatre from Concordia University, an M.A. in Developmental Drama from McGill, and a B.A. in English from Sir George Williams. From 1972-1980, she was Artistic Director of the then Saidye Bronfman Centre (now the Segal Centre). Under her leadership the centre saw remarkable fiscal and artistic growth.
She has taught on the faculties of McGill, Concordia, and Dawson College. In 2007, she was inducted into the Order of Canada for her lifetime achievement in theatre. Now a Westmount resident, known for her wit and conviviality, she is the author of seven books, her most recent will be published later this year. In recognition of her commitment to the advancement of women, the McGill Centre for Research and Teaching on Women established the Muriel Gold Senior Visiting Scholars Fund and she was named the 2010 Woman of the Year by the association of Business and Professional Women.
For the past eight years, Muriel has been leading a Writers’ Workshop in St Petersburg, Florida. Combining her writing and theatre skills, she edits the participants’ materials and directs them in an annual staged reading. She also directs a Reader’s Theatre.
Keresa Kanagarajan is a third year McGill student studying psychology and is interested in pursuing a career in videography and communications. She is obsessed with music, poetry and how people are connected by the arts. She uses writing to capture an image of an otherwise indescribable feeling, hoping this allows for others to connect and relate to these experiences.
Mysha Khan is a 15-year-old writer, poet and artist. Born in Ontario, she later on moved to Montreal where she now feels greater opportunities are waiting for her. Initially, she used poetry as a way to overcome stress, fear, and anger, until one day she recognized its use was so much more than just dealing and struggling with various emotions. Now, she dreams of continuing to move towards bigger things, but basically she is still trying to understand the art of… well, everything.
Shades Lawrence is a Montreal born rap and hip hop artist and producer of mixed British, Jamaican, Irish and Scottish descent. Coming out of a tradition of spoken word, she highlights social justice themes over smooth beats. Shades stays true to hip hop’s roots, while offering a poetic cadence needed on hip hop stages. You can connect with her and her music at shadeslawrence.com or on social media channels: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
For an avant-gout of her words and music performance, check out her YouTube video:
“Absolute pitch (AP), widely referred to as perfect pitch, is a rare auditory phenomenon characterized by the ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of a reference tone.”
Terry “Jazzkeys” McGimpsey, born of a Trinidadian mother and a Nova Scotian father, is a talented singer and musician hailing from the island of Montreal, but who has called Westmount home for many years. Blessed, or is it sometimes also cursed, with the gift of perfect or absolute pitch, she recognizes the jury is still out in answering that as there are as many pros as there are cons to the rare auditory phenomenon.
Notwithstanding, making music has seemingly always been an integral part of her life. Magnetically attracted to the piano, even when she couldn’t play it, at a young age she was given one as a present, so her mother signed her up for lessons with the inimitable and incomparable Daisy Sweeney, sister of Oscar Petersen and Montreal’s most beloved piano teacher, who taught a long list of talented Montreal musicians, including Oliver Jones.
Terry, after graduating from McGill, went on to enjoy a storied musical career, as well as working in the business and healthcare fields. However, her wide ranging musical talents have led her to performing as singer and soloist in the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir, as a jazz musician, and as a singer and keyboardist in the reggae band Kali & Dub, travelling the towns and cities of Canada, plying her trade with the aid of her magical fingers. In 1997 their album Rise Up was nominated for a Juno Award in the Best Reggae Recording category.
At Words and Music, she’ll demonstrate her extensive musical talents, though not on the keyboard this time, instead she’ll entertain us by playing her guitar and singing folk.
Hailing originally from the UK, writer, editor, translator, spoken word poet, Wanda Potrykus admits she was well named by her parents, as she was driven from a young age to explore the world around her. Seemingly, for her, the grass was always greener on the other side of the hill.
Early on she challenged herself to try and learn at least one new thing everyday. At the age of 21 she discovered Canada and quickly recognized a country that billed itself as multi-cultural and multi-ethnic had great possibilities and attraction for her, plus it was large enough to accommodate her peripatetic wanderings.
A child of an Irish mother and Polish father, who had met in London after WWII, through the years, she has come to the conclusion she has the soul of a storyteller and the itchy feet of an itinerant bard. For the last 9 or 10 years she has been the MC and host of Westmount’s summer Words and Music event (formerly known as Poetry in the Park). She enjoys seeking out an ever-changing lineup of poets, storytellers and musicians, so as to help introduce Westmount audiences to the magic found in the words, songs and music of those who call Canada home.
Music in its many forms and various origins has played an important role in Gisella Werner’s life. Not only as a cellist in “classical” orchestras and chamber music ensembles, most recently in McGill’s I Medici, but also during the equally enjoyable and important opportunities she has had playing music for the very young in daycare (thus, encouraging them to dance along with the music). Or accompanying older children in elementary school, both soloists and those in choir concert performances, or performing for the MUHC palliative care centre, or for graduation ceremonies at the Thomas More Institute, or for benefit concerts such as at the Syrian Cultural Centre for Syrian IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), NOVA Montreal, MUHC Cedar Cancer Centre and the Quebec Parkinson Network.
German born, she has lived and played music and accompanied performers in Germany, France and Canada. Her professional life has been long and varied ranging from teaching, counselling, psychotherapy, music and movement and “expressive art” therapy. It also includes working with children and teens to help them relieve anxiety and school-related stress, as well as to assist them in developing confidence in difficult situations at home and in school, and to improve attention, motivation and social communication skills.
Sounds like a fine recipe for a couple of hours spent by the lagoon at the last of Westmount’s 2018 series of summer concerts in Westmount Park. Bring a blanket, a lawn chair, a drink and/or a picnic, as well as a warm Westmount welcome for the musicians, poets and storytellers lining up to entertain you on Sunday, August 19 from 2 pm to 4 pm. For Words and Music, the best seat in the house is always on Willow Point, where the stage is situated, as voices don’t carry as well across the water as music does.
Hope to see you there!
Poetry Chapbook Available
The South Asian Youth Collective (SAY) is rooted in the South Asian Women’s Community Centre (SAWCC) in Montreal. The young poets from SAY have produced a poetry chapbook entitled Delirium – Don’t let the smile fool you, that will be available at the Words and Music event. Come browse and check it out at the table on Willow Point near the stage.
Delirium, state of mysterium
Playing the music of my theramin
What state am i in?
is the world otherworldly or simply grim?
Knock knock who’s there?
Do I truly care?
Flares, snares, then bears are wandering lazily round my room
Amorphous shapes in the gloom, looming shadows,
Black and white, polar, brown and grizzly
Drizzly, miserably, my mind easily is playing tricks on me
Fear and fantasy
Dear, oh dear, where are the koalas, honey, and the panda bears?
The question tears… sets snares across my conscious
or is it my un-consciousness…
… is it a test?
Less is more… the doorway swings open to a multitude of moods
Help! I yelp to myself, no other figure triggers these phantasms
Calamity chasms, spasms of meaning, gleaning seemingly obscure meanderings
Leaning, learning, yearning for what exactly?
Fact is… I’m drowning, frowning, not clowning about,
Rescue me please,
don’t sneeze at my dilemmas… or is that dilemmata?
Heart of darkness,
Delirium… and its messes
disappear as the fevered brain gains control
Leaving my soul adrift. Is it a gift?
Or just a temporary space in the race I face up to daily
With you, not I… in this deleterious, delirious world of old,
cold night frights and ghostly terrors?
Is it all an error?
Me, myself and I
Me, myself and I
Try as we will
Still we do not synthesize
Glum, numb, is this what delirium
Delivers to us, the dispossessed of self
For aren’t we simply separate entities
Nonetities in fact?
What exactly am I trying to say?
Belay that answer, we won’t like it anyway.
Since me, myself, we two we might prefer if it was so…
Oh go away! I… just I… reign supreme… scream about it
All you wish… delirium is a dish best eaten cold.
Old souls not trolls live in my delirium tainted, demented head.
© Wanda Potrykus
Feature image: “Women making music”, Egyptian tomb painting – Public domain
Read also: The doorway to my heart and soul
Wanda Potrykus is a writer, editor, translator and poet. A graduate of McGill, she has spent most of her career in marketing communications, PR, event and media relations specializing in international aviation, telecommunications, education and the marketing of the arts.