SongStudio 2014′s Bumper Crop

Song Studio participant Jordan Smith I remember once hearing Robbie Robertson saying of his hometown, Toronto, that music just seems to be in the air and come from the city's pores. I happen to agree with him. But it doesn't happen by accident. Being a songwriter or a musician – especially in Canada – can be a discouraging vocation. There are only so many people who make it and the competition is pretty tough for what may seem like a big audience in the big city but a surprisingly small one when you look at the whole country scattered across all that territory. Imagine having to build your audience by touring across it. You'd better have something very special to offer. Of course, it's exceedingly rare that someone emerges from nowhere fully formed as a songwriter. It's a craft and there's a lot to be learned and a lot that can be taught to help hone native inborn talent. And unless you have people and institutions that support developing artists and help nurture those talents, you're going to nip your music scene in the bud pretty quickly. SongStudio is a collective of amazing Toronto songwriters, musicians and music biz pros who provide that nourishing environment that helps up and coming talent to blossom. And for the past few years I've been very proud that SongStudio founders Bill McKetrick and Blair Packham have asked me to make Voyageur available to participants in the program at the performance showcase at Hugh's Room that is the culmination of a very intense week of songwriting, critiquing, insight, instruction and collaboration. I was honoured to be asked again this year and I have to say that it was a stellar year for songwriting talent among some new faces and some returning students.

One of the things that I think provides the biggest encouragement to the participants – no matter how developed they are as songwriters or how polished any given song might be – is that they are all backed up by the most amazing band of musicians and mentors. I can just imagine what it must be like to have a song that you've put a lot of effort into as a budding songwriter and you've got master writer/arranger/producer Allister Bradley doing piano and keyboard accompaniments, League of Rock mastermind Topher Stott on drums and Steve Goldberger on bass effortlessly handling whatever groove you want them to create, and legendary guitar hero Rik Emmett comping your song and stepping up with a tasty solo with a nod from you. I mean, seriously, who wouldn't feel supported and capable and encouraged with that kind of established talent ready to give their best to what might be your second draught of ten?

And that's just one reason why I'm glad to take part in these showcase events. Bill thought it would be nice – while some of these songwriters are stepping on the public stage for the first time – to give everyone the opportunity to include a cameo turn with Canada's most storied guitar as part of the experience. Not everyone on the bill uses that opportunity: some play piano or keyboards, some play electric, some need the comfort of their own guitars... and all that is just fine. But I was thrilled this year that so many of the participants took advantage of Voyageur's availability – from first-timers to returning participants to guest faculty members taking a turn at the mic: first up was Elena Hudgins Lyle; next up was Matt Hersack (and my apologies to Matt as somehow the iMix wheels at the top of the sound hole got changed after Elena's performance and the guitar sounded a bit quiet and brittle for him – we can try again, Matt!); Jordan Smith (pictured) who really has an extraordinary voice and a really unique songwriting style that was a bit of a highlight for me; Spoons founder and SongStudio instructor Gordon Deppe who gave me a real thrill by using Voyageur for a rendition of his '80s hit "Romantic Traffic"; SongStudio returnee Matt Gerber with a new song, "Caledonia" (which managed to finally displace his uber-catchy "Mr. Furious" that he performed at last year's showcase...until he reprised it for the show finale and stuck it right back in my head. DAMN YOU MATT GERBER!!!!!); Brian Volke with Sherry Jacoby with a new co-write; Steve Postill, who gave Voyageur its most rigorous workout complete with rock-ready vocals and accompaniment from Darren Akai; young Sean Bertram who proved a very capable chip off the songwriting block accompanied on keys by his dad, Allister Bradley on a Brazilian-inflected gem; and the final act on the bill, Manny Manolo, who did an evocative song in remembrance of his father – complete with synchronized dance moves from Rik Emmett!

There were lots of other great performances that didn't use Voyageur and taken all together it was probably the strongest collection of songwriting talent I've seen over the course of my association with SongStudio. Whether you're a budding bedroom songwriter or a more seasoned talent, the reviews for this program attended by folks from around the world are phenomenal and I can't think of a better way to take your songs to the next level. Follow the SongStudio link to find out about next year's session.

Thanks as always to Bill McKetrick, Blair Packham and the folks at Hugh's Room.

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Canada Day 2014: History Upon History in Charlottetown

Chris Corrigan plays Voyageur at Canada Day, Charlottetown Canada Day is always kind of special for Six String Nation because, of course, it's the anniversary of the official birth of Voyageur as the centrepiece of the National Capital Commission's Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa – an event where Six String Nation featured for five Canada Days straight. We've had the last two Canada Days off so this was a return to form and we couldn't have asked for a better time and place. 2014 is a big year for PEI as the sesquicentennial of the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 that planted the visionary seeds for the confederation of Canada. So, naturally, Charlottetown was the place to be for Canada Day 2014 and I'm grateful to Penny Walsh-McGuire for inviting us to be part of it.

There are three parts to any Six String Nation festival appearance: portraits, presentation and performance. The portrait booth was ready for us to get set up at the Charlottetown Event Grounds on our arrival on Monday evening and the site signage indicated two presentation slots for me on the MainStage as planned. But for some reason, the performance piece of the puzzle was not in place. Happily, my Tall Poppy pals Rod and Laura Weatherbie were in town for some hometown summer vacation and know the local scene pretty well. After a few texts and phone calls, Rod had put me in touch with former Rita MacNeil guitarist Chris Corrigan, whom I'd actually met on a previous trip. Chris is a busy guy, currently guitarist for the "Canada Rocks" show at the Confederation Centre – not to mention that he had Canada Day dinner guests! – but he said he'd be honoured to play Voyageur for the afternoon presentation. And play he did (pictured): a gorgeous instrumental he composed for a documentary with close connections to both the Myles Neuts and Taylor Mitchell elements mounted on the strap.

The daytime presentation went well, in spite of the stage tech claiming to have no knowledge it was happening and denying us a soundcheck so thanks to Stage Manager Gardiner MacNeil and the video tech guys for pulling everything together. Of course, that still left the matter of the evening performance slot but – perhaps inspired by Chris' wonderful performance – I got word that Barenaked Ladies wanted to use Voyageur for "If I Had a Million Dollars". That would have been a real honour and a bit of a closing of the circle, since I was stage manager for their first performance at Harbourfront Centre back in the day when that cassette single was just beginning to catch fire. Unfortunately, "IIHAMD" was to be their last song. My crew of photographer Doug Nicholson and volunteers Sarah Gillett and Andrea Dixon had had an early start and we'd all been on our feet all day at the portrait station – not to mention a 6am start looming for today's drive home – so I declined their otherwise generous offer. Also, for some inexplicable reason my evening presentation was truncated at the last moment to an emergency 2 minutes (followed by 10 minutes of nothing happening on stage!) so the context for my presence made less sense. From what I heard from festival organizers and staff it had been a pretty chaotic day so I was glad not to add any further drama and we made our way back to the hotel knowing that at least we had a constant line-up at the portrait station that will do Charlottetown proud when we release the photos (stay tuned) and we were responsible for putting the only PEI artist on the MainStage on Canada Day in Charlottetown. Thanks again to the wonderful Chris Corrigan.

Thanks also to the PEI2014 team and the production team, with a special thanks to Kevin Meyer, whom I instantly liked and who appeared the picture of calm while this and several other festival events swirled around him. Happy Canada Day everyone!

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Buried Treasure on the Banks of the Restigouche

Alan Muzzerall, Atholville NB Spent last night in Metis-sur-Mer on the Gaspé at the Auberge de Grand Fleuve. We had a wonderful meal overlooking the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, with the only blemish a sighting that introduced us into the Mystery of the Headless Seals. I won't describe what we saw, just let you follow the link.

Our route from MSM took us on some dirt roads due south before hooking up with route 132 which carried us through some remarkable territory along the Matapedia River. There were many places enticing us to stop but – having partly forgotten the time difference between Quebec and New Brunswick – even at the same longitude – we were in a bit of a hurry to make our appointment in Campbellton with Alan Muzzerall (pictured).

Back when we were researching the project and reaching out to people across the country through CBC local phone-in shows, Alan was one of the people who called in to our 1-800 number to propose using a piece of wood with an amazing bit of history to it. During excavations for a mill-site on the Resigouche River in the early 1970's, research divers found the remains of the Machault, a French frigate being serviced by local Acadians and native Indians that was scuttled in 1760 during the Seven Years War to deny British naval forces access to the river. It was ultimately a losing campaign but the creation of New Brunswick and Quebec was an indirect result. The wood itself was red oak but with more than 200 years of river mud in every pore it looked more like ebony. It ended up being used in the critical role of Voyageur's bridge (with some later drama ensuing).

In our ongoing efforts to bring Voyageur back to all of its places of origin, this was our best chance to visit these origins in Atholville. Atholville is the town where Alan and his wife live and we drove through it on the way – passing the mill whose founding lead to the discovery – but Alan had suggested meeting in the adjacent town at the tourist information centre in the shadow of the bridge that connects New Brunswick and Quebec on the banks of the Restigouche. It gave Alan a chance to invite some friends and family from the community to join us and it was great to meet everyone. I gave a brief tour of the guitar and Alan played a song he'd written about the Machault before showing us some of the traditional dancing marionettes he makes that he brought along. Doug (Nicholson) got some great pictures that I'll post later.

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A Theatrical Beginning to the Trip

Voyageur at the Theatre Capitole We are due in Charlottetown for this year's Canada Day festivities. Given that we have so much gear to carry to do both the presentations and the portraits, flying becomes an expensive option. So we opted to drive and make a bit of a road trip out if it – with Sarah joining me and Andrea accompanying Doug. I insisted on a route that would spare us having to explain Voyageur to Homeland Security in Maine and give us the opportunity to visit some places important to the guitar's heritage along the way. Sarah made sure that the route would have us well-housed and well-fed.

Our first stop was Quebec City. Culinarily, it was a spectacular adventure with a truly remarkable dinner at IX Pour Bistro. This is not - as you might expect - a place with old world charm in the heart of La Vielle Ville. It is a shack in a part of town where few people who aren't specifically going to the restaurant would ever happen to walk by. In fact, our host explained to us that they are better known internationally than they are locally for exactly that reason. Sure enough, the front desk person at our hotel had never heard of it, in spite of being a neighbour. Suffice to say that it is the definition of a hidden gem. Yes there is much to see in the old town in (arguably) North America's oldest city but you would be doing yourself a disservice if you missed visiting IX Pour Bistro in its humble little corner. It was a perfect meal that included a dessert made from shaved foie gras - say no more.

But we had good reason to visit the old town as well, which we did this morning on our way out. Included in the construction of Voyageur is part of a drapery pin from the Theatre Capitole de Quebec – a brilliant Beaux-Arts style building on the Place d'Youville in the heart of the old city. It was designed by the famed CPR architect Walter S. Painter (who also designed part of the Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews New Brunswick, which we visited just over a week ago) and opened in 1903.

It was a quick and unofficial visit but we did get some nice shots of the guitar from both the exterior and the interior (above) and continued our mission to return Voyageur to all of the places from whence it was born. Now we're en route to the beautiful Gaspesie!

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Another Line that Connects Us

Geoff Slater's Algonquin Autograph We met all kinds of great people during our visit to the Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews, New Brunswick – from the folks from the hotel management and staff who were so helpful and welcoming to the corporate partners who came to celebrate the grand re-opening from various parts of Canada and the U.S. to Brent Mason and Eddy Gouchie who played Voyageur to friends-of-friends Kiera and Skeen who came by for the public presentation to Bob Mersereau who did me the honour of introducing me at the gala presentation. I was also very pleased to meet local artist Geoff Slater and his family, who were guests at the cozier of our two presentations so we got a chance to talk. Geoff and his wife Andrea operate the Jarea Art Studio in St. Andrews and Algonquin GM Tim Ostrem was keen that they should come and see the presentation.

Tim had told me a little bit about Geoff's work and Geoff and I spoke after the presentation but, like my own project, it's perhaps harder to describe the work if you can't see it for yourself. Fortunately, Geoff had been commissioned to do a work to celebrate the relaunch of the Algonquin as part of Marriott's Autograph Collection of unique hotel properties and I saw it while using the fitness centre in the pool pavilion adjacent to the main building. What may not be obvious from the photo above is that the whole thing (apart from the signatures that frame the main image) is that it is composed from a single uninterrupted line that never crosses itself. If you expand the picture and zoom in you'll be able to trace the line from the word "Autograph" at the top through every part of the image right through to Slater's signature at the bottom. The brush stroke does widen and narrow and the colors blend and change but you'll find that it is a single line that doesn't ever cross itself.

I found some real resonance with the process, of course, because in so many ways (in spite of the fact that we do criss-cross the country and often find ourselves doubling back on various locations!) Six String Nation is about a single continuous line that threads across the country to paint a unique picture of Canada in the colours of history, music, storytelling, education and experience. And while I don't want Geoff to feel any pressure to do so (if he ever reads this blog) I do believe he could render the image of Voyageur in a way that drew in the lines of all the stories that make it the touchstone of Canadian history that it has become.

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Algonquin Reflections…

Brent Mason, Tim Ostrem, Jowi (and, of course, Voyageur). ...I know – it sounds like the title of a Tom Thomson painting; and perhaps in some ways it's not dissimilar.

Tom Thomson was fond of rough living - whether in his special cabin behind the Studio Building in Rosedale or out under the stars on his painting excursions in the Canadian wilderness. I'm thinner skinned, camping is not for me. I prefer room service and 600-thread-count Egyptian cotton given my druthers. Having said that, our adventures with the Six String Nation project have put us in all kinds of accommodations in every province and territory of Canada (not to mention a 16th Century family B&B in Piemonte Italy and a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Arizona!); but whether it's a billet with a retired farmer in Canora Saskatchewan, or a creaky reconstruction in Dawson City or a Super8 or a top-of-the-line hotel, it's ultimately about the warmth of the experience and its connection to the event we're doing and the community we're in that really makes the stay memorable. And we had the best of all possible worlds the last couple of days at the spectacularly refurbished Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews By-the-Sea, New Brunswick, where we were a part of their Grand Re-opening ceremonies in more ways than one.

When I checked into the Algonquin on FourSquare on arrival, the "tip" that popped up was an out-of-date entry from 2010 and it said: "Check out the pub in the basement! Free shuffle board, air hockey, pool, and foosball." Seriously? You're in a historic gem of a building in a spectacular location and you want to go into the basement because the table games are free? It was an old post and I marked it as irrelevant. But this is the fate of so many amazing places in Canada. Somehow, people lose sight of the real meaning of a place in their quest for a "deal". It has happened to more than one place represented in the materials of Voyageur and it almost even happened to the luminous Massey Hall but – after decades of neglect – the Algonquin Resort has been spared the fate that has befallen other places that have gone out of favour for one reason or another. The new Algonquin restores the glory of the original resort partly by replacing the pub with an Aveda Spa but, more importantly, by unearthing the extraordinary history of this place and building its renovations and improvements on a solid foundation of story – the people who made this place what it was and the role it played in the community and in Canada. This was once part of the iconic CPR Hotel chain that defined so many Canadian skylines and the new Autograph Collection identity of the resort honours that past with a genuine kind of grandeur and sense of scale. Most interesting to me was the story behind the restaurant, Braxton's. During the research that informed the refurbishment, staff discovered that George F. Braxton – executive chef at the hotel in its early years after its opening in 1889 – was the first African-American chef to head the kitchen of a luxury hotel in North America. Not only that, he was an early cookbook author, whose "Practical Cook Book" extolled the virtues of local regional ingredients, prepared with respect and simplicity – a philosophy that resonates with the current executive chef, Lisa Aronson.

Of course, I have to credit Algonquin GM Tim Ostrem (pictured, centre), who was not only drawn to the Six String Nation project at a conference presentation a couple of years ago (before he got this gig) and doggedly looked for a way to involve us in this project, but also shared the same kind of vision for the Algonquin that informs the work that we do in the Six String Nation – founded on a belief that the story behind the thing is what makes it matter to people. No amount of slick marketing (or, for that matter, desperate bids to attract customers with free foosball) will ever match the power of genuine human connection: the idea that our place in the world, the things we make, the things we accomplish, the lives we touch, the experiences we create and participate in, the attention we pay and are paid – no matter how fleeting in the grand scheme of things – all come down to our ability to connect with other people across time, experience and culture in a genuine and generous way and, in that sense, are the essence of why we are here on this planet. Apart from Tim's role in bringing the Algonquin back to life, very specifically for our participation over the last couple of days he included a couple of very fine local musicians: Eddy Gouchie (who co-owns with his wife a local shop specializing in New Brunswick cheeses and patés!) provided wonderful pre-show music and played Voyageur beautifully during his portrait session; and Brent Mason (pictured, left), a tremendously thoughtful St. John-based songwriter who struck the perfect note during the presentation's "performance pocket" with his songs so firmly rooted in local imagery and experience and a strong sense of Canadian identity. He was the real deal and part of the great tradition of fine Canadian poet-songwriters who make us (IMHO) the best songwriting nation on the planet. Tim also made sure that local artist Geoff Slater attended this morning's public presentation. I hope to tell you a little bit more about Geoff's work for my final post after my early morning departure on the rood back to Toronto.

In the meantime, thanks again to Tim Ostrem and his Algonquin team, including Jill Stewart, Hannah McGee, Denise Bradbury and especially Trudy Fitzgerald, who was hands-on at every step – from the sourcing of the historic material that went into the case and its accompanying documentation to organizing multiple details of our visit and presentation to volunteering at the portrait station (with staffer John Gardner). Thanks also to all the rest of the staff – those who came out to get their portraits and those who were simply gracious and attentive hosts. And special thanks as well to my former CBC colleague and fellow music nut Bob Mersereau who gave me a wonderful introduction.

BTW, I'm considered by some to be of an average-to-tall height but Brent is quite tall and Tim is an absolute giant!
Portrait, as always, by the amazing Doug Nicholson.

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History Re-made at Algonquin

Newest historic contribution from a grand CPR hotel. Back when Voyageur was still a dream on paper, I did a lot of outreach in the form of research, radio interviews, call-in shows and email campaigns looking for materials that told great stories to go into the building of this guitar. The province of New Brunswick yielded part of the world's longest covered bridge in Hartland – now an interior reinforcing strip – and a black-mud-embedded fragment of the Machault a French frigate scuttled in the Restigouche river in 1760, which went on to become the bridge of the guitar. While they were both great pieces, I confess to being a little disappointed that we didn't get more contributions from New Brunswick.

I was also disappointed that we didn't get anything (other than, eventually, Pierre Berton's bow-tie) that more directly reflected Canada's extraordinary railway history. Railway ties are constantly replaced, the Last Spike is famously apparently not the actual last spike and nothing else emerged from our various outreach efforts to the railway companies.

Today, I'm proud to announce that we've killed two birds with one stone with the addition of a new piece of historic material to the Calton case:
The Algonquin Resort offered saltwater and freshwater baths along with a golf course, fine dining, spectacular views of the Bay of Fundy and a mosquito-free climate when it opened in 1889. In 1903, the Canadian Pacific Railway added it to their portfolio of grand hotels that came to define so many Canadian locations like Ottawa, Quebec City and Lake Louise. In 1910 a new wing designed by and named for CPR architect (most famous for the Frontenac in Quebec) Walter S. Painter opened. The Painter wing was one of the few parts of the hotel that survived the fire of 1914, after which the hotel was rebuilt. The Algonquin has had its highs and lows over the intervening decades and changed hands several times, losing a little lustre with each passing era. And yet there was never any doubt that the property was an absolute jewel. Today, that gem is burnished and brightened like never before as it official re-opens as part of the Marriott Autograph Collection of unique hotels and resorts, the first and only Canadian property in the portfolio. And at a private function this evening and a public function tomorrow, I will reveal the piece of chair upholstery from that original Painter wing that has been permanently sewn into the case as our third contribution from New Brunswick and an important piece of Canada's railway legacy. So while the hotel has played host to countless Prime Ministers and Premiers as well as Presidents, Princesses and pop stars, we'll finally be able to truly say that every night Canadian history sleeps at the Algonquin!

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So Long, Charlie

Tess, Charlie, ChiChi, Eliot While I was enjoying the Elbow concert at the Danforth Music Hall a couple of Saturdays ago, unbeknownst to me my friend Charlie Roby was at home just a couple of blocks away surrounded by his family and finally surrendering in his three year battle against prostate cancer and its devastating treatments. A celebration of his life among his many friends and extended family was held yesterday in that same neighborhood at Eastminster United Church.

Charlie was a talented musician, an enthusiastic traveller and – in spite of a typically reserved Lancashire upbringing (and with the guidance and natural example of his vivacious Acadian wife, Chi Chi Godin) – somewhat of a bon vivant.

I discovered Charlie's music when I was a DJ in the glory days of CKLN-FM in Toronto. His excellent cassette single, "Who Came By Night" was the entrée to his full length offering "Utopia Is Not Here" and to a long friendship. We connected around an enthusiasm for all kinds of music from tape loops and protosampling to music from around the world but especially various traditional musics and I assisted on several of his recordings and performances. In turn, he subbed in for my musical partner Gord Nicholson in the only live performance by our duo, Catastrophe Theory, at the Rivoli. Catastrophe Theory existed only in recordings and Gord was otherwise occupied so Charlie and I built a set of fantastical "instruments" out of bibs and bobs and rubber bands that might conceivably have made the sounds in our track "Bedouin" and backlit them behind a scrim on the front of the Riv back-room stage. We proceeded to pantomime a performance shadow-puppet-style to the taped backing track and had a great time doing it. Charlie later provided a sparkling electric guitar part to an mbira-inspired Catastrophe Theory track called "Shona Song". While music was always a part of our get togethers (Chi Chi is a fine singer and taught Charlie – and the rest of us – a hundred different Acadian traditional songs that invariably came out at parties), I believe that was our only recorded collaboration.

Like me, Charlie was a gifted amateur gourmand and we enjoyed many dinners, bottles of wine and conversations together over the years in gatherings large and small, though admittedly fewer in recent years as life intervened in all the usual ways – including the arrival of daughter Tess 20 years ago and son Eliot a couple of years later. Not surprisingly – Tess and Eliot have inherited many of their parents' best qualities. They are both dedicated multi-instrumentalists and composers and both have always been good company ever since they were little. This family portrait with Voyageur (above) was taken in December of 2006 so the kids have changed quite a bit since then (sorry to do this to you, Eliot!) but this photo really does capture the strength and character of this wonderful family, who were absolute pillars of grace at yesterday's event – including assured musical performances from all of them. Tess' vocal performance was especially strong but it's not surprising since she's become an inventive and prolific composer and performer in her own right (and with a couple of different bands) in recent years.

Charlie's best friend, our mutual friend and former CKLN (and Harbourfront Centre) colleague David Barnard ably hosted yesterday's event that was attended by so many friends from across the music community in Toronto and it was a pleasure to see so many of them come together under one roof in spite of the sadness at losing our friend too soon. Afterwards, in a way which Charlie would have enthusiastically endorsed, we repaired down the street to the Dora Keogh pub where there was music, and remembrance, food and drink and conversation in the true manner of a wake. The real musical revelation of the impromptu performances was the stunning duet between my old friends Alan Gasser and Brenna MacCrimmon of the Leon Rosselson song, "Cobweb of Dreams" which really expressed the love story of Charlie and Chi Chi quite beautifully. (You can see a rendition by English folk singer Roy Bailey with daughter Kit on YouTube here). And if you don't know Charlie Roby's music, I urge you to explore. If there's just one song you should listen to from his final CD, Ramble & Scuffle, let me recommend the very sweet "In These Times".

So long Charlie. You will be missed.
Charlie Roby. August 15, 1953 – May 17, 2014.

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An Uplifting Experience in Vaughan

Mark, Courtney, Ben This morning's drive out to Woodbridge was a reminder of the extraordinary sprawl of the city. I remember drives to this rural area as a kid and yet the southern end of Kipling St. isn't so far from where I live in the west end of downtown Toronto and development seems to have just filled in so much of the space in between. Toronto District Christian High School at Kipling and Woodbridge was up and running surrounded by farmland before the hive-like townhouse developments sprouted up in recent years. The school was founded by Dutch Christians in the early 1960's and continues in that vein today offering a strong social justice program and broad perspective on diversity woven into their more traditional Christian focus.

I was greeted at the door by principal William Groot and teacher Fran Joose, who was the force behind this visit. Their former gymnasium has been converted into a great multipurpose venue complete with a crow's nest-style tech booth where school production manager Phil Vriend and I sorted through tech details while math and guitar teacher Mark Fluit got familiar with Voyageur and introduced it to the two student players. The room filled up quickly including a guest group of students from British Columbia and things got underway with a prayer and a beautiful, loping southern African hymn delivered by a mixed choir under the direction of choirmaster Kevin Hayward. I particularly liked how Fran Joose, in introducing me to the room, made a wonderful metaphor about the gathering of small stories into a larger communicative whole. If she's got it written down I may ask to borrow it for other emcees!

The "performance pocket" near the end of the presentation was perfectly filled by three instrumental performances by student Courtney Boelens (pictured, centre), Ben Starkey (right) and teacher Mark (left).

As always, I'm grateful for the sense of connection this project and this presentation seem to engender. I had several wonderful conversations with students and staff following the presentation where people wanted to share stories connected in some way to the stories in Voyageur or that were simply jogged from memory by something in the presentation.

Thanks to all the staff and students at Toronto District Christian High School for a morning well spent in good company.

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Mississauga Missive

Jowi with Rob Tardik and Voyageur My last minute addition to the program at last summer's Community Foundations of Canada Conference in Winnipeg to do a short presentation sparked lots of interest from attendees and led to all kinds of formal and informal connections across the country. The latest was yesterday's All For Community luncheon event for the Community Foundation of Mississauga. Community Foundations work as a kind of go-between linking various kinds of donors with project-based organizations who are the platform for building communities in all those substantial ways that aren't just buildings and businesses but youth programs and literacy programs and food banks and activity centers and educational opportunities of all kinds. In the sense that Six String Nation is really about connecting Canadians through their common stories in a way that emphasizes the importance of the local contribution to the national identity, we are very much working in a similar space and that becomes really apparent when doing events with CF groups such as this one.

After a very nice lunch and some fundraising auction activity (someone gets to drive a Formula One car for a few hours!), I did my presentation and really felt the audience connecting to so many of the stories that make Voyageur what it is. But the extra special connection came in the "performance pocket" of the presentation. This is the section near the end of the presentation where a small sampling of our 150,000 or so official Six String Nation portraits plays out on the screen while some musician brings Voyageur to life. Quite often at events like these, the musicians are volunteers pulled from the ranks of staff or attendees, which makes for a very personal touch, but sometimes organizers choose to bring in a professional. That was the case yesterday when the CFofM brought in local guitar wiz (and 2010 Canadian Smooth Jazz Guitarist-of-the-Year!) Rob Tardik (pictured, holding Voyageur) to do the honors. But he really upped the ante – in turn honoring the Six String Nation by composing an original work, "Voyageur", just for the occasion. Accompanied by Jeff Salem on percussion, Rob delivered up a lively and touching instrumental that ended the proceedings on a very UP beat.

I was very sorry that CFofM Development Director Afshaan Kohari, who had been my very enthusiastic contact since their very first post-Winnipeg enquiry, came down with an illness that prevented her from attending (hope you're feeling better, Afshaan) but Executive Director Eileen MacKenzie handled things beautifully with the help of her staff and volunteers. Thanks to Flo from Freeman AV for handling the tech so capably solo and, of course, thanks to all the great people who attended the event and stayed on past lunch time to tell stories, get books signed and take pictures with Voyageur – especially Tim, who told me that he'd wanted to meet Voyageur since his teacher Shawn Trotter told him about his experience playing it at an instore presentation at Indigo Books in Burlington ON back in 2010. Glad we got to close that circle!
And thanks, as always, to my good friends at the National Speakers Bureau for handling the booking details.

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