Ooh La La!

Fabulous Fifth OohLaLa Camp at Richmond, Quebec (http://www.oohlaladance.com/view/default.asp?home)

I was sitting on the lawn outside the hall in which I had been dancing non-stop since the evening before. I was about to lead about 30 or 40 people in a songcircle, taking a break from contra dancing to sit in the shade and sing. I knew I could use some grounding so I started with We Are Here (a song I wrote, on the Songs page of my site). Then I passed it to the talented Torontonians who sang two songs about alligators, and we were off around the circle. I had thought my knowledge would be called upon often around the circle, but it all unfolded differently.

I didn’t think I would be there at the fifth annual Ooh La La Dance Weekend in Richmond, Quebec, until a couple of weeks before the event. The email came unexpectedly, offering me a volunteer position. I was thrilled, said yes right away, and quickly dumped a shift at my job to be able to attend.  A few days later I was invited to lead a songcircle as part of the musical program. Yeah!

This is how I ended up on this beautiful Saturday morning, in a big circle explaining how a songcircle works: You may sing a song on your own, you may lead a song, you may request any song, of anyone, or in general. Or you may pass, but it is highly discouraged. I thought I would be called upon to lead many songs that others might request, but most people had songs to offer and the patience to teach us the choruses; some amazing requests were fulfilled in unexpected ways. When one woman asked if anyone knew any African songs, I couldn’t think of any, nor could most of us. But a 12-year-old girl taught us all a lovely song we learned phonetically; I thought it sounded pretty good.

The francophones supported each other well in teaching the rest of us some great songs I had heard but would not have been able to lead. We got into some other Quebecois songs while doing dishes outside on Sunday morning., so thanks for that as well.

There were a few solos, just when everyone might appreciate a listen, but mostly we sang together, either all the way through, or call and response or on the chorus. We even rounded a few songs, with the active assistance of the two talented Torontonians.

No one read from a book and we all just used our intuitive learning tools to grasp melodies and patterns of words so it worked in the moment. Those tools include the following: lip reading; predicting through repetition and rhyme; picking up on the vowels and following melodies by the seat of your pants. All these tools and more are brought together in the experience of a songcircle, without you even necessarily knowing that all of that is happening. All you know is you are having fun singing in a nice big group and it sounds surprisingly good.

I am fully aware that most people who were there do not now remember most of the material that was new to them. I am fine with that. It worked in the moment when we echoed the beautiful red-haired tenor doing Down to Canaanland. It worked when there was a line repeating every other line, or when someone lined out the chorus so we all really got it. There were so many amazing singers in that circle!

Every songcircle is an ephemeral, never-the-same experience. But every songcircle gives me ideas of songs I could learn, or reminds me of songs I know but forgot I know. If I want to folow up on those ideas, if I want to really learn any song I hear at a songcircle, I can google it and learn it, memorizing the words and making it my own. So can you. But even if you and I never do that, but always echo the leader and do harmonies on that, that is good enough.

The circle came back to me at the end and I led one last song: The Log Driver’s Waltz, one of my favourites, and good to sing with dancers.

The rest of the weekend is a bit of a blur. Here are some impressions: Lunch with helpful computer people from New England, talking about web marketing and such. A workshop with Susan Kevra for the budding callers, the only school we get as callers. Joyous, ecstatic dancing to both of the two excellent bands: Crowfoot and Genticurum. Joyous listening as well, when each band took the stage for a concert including songs and tunes of varying tempo. Both bands deserve the oppportunity to showcase this material within a weekend of merciless 32 bar tunes.  I also enjoyed being a part of keeping the whole thing afloat: wiping tables. Making coffee, and even stressing out when the coffee was delayed by electrical problems. Sunday morning felt easier, as I merely needed to make sure water and soap and clean towels were available to the folks doing their own dishes. We sang some good songs out there in the dish line.

I also loved the warm and easy hospitality of the two hosts of the house where I slept. They are lovely people.  I look forward to getting to know them more over time.

If anyone sees themselves in this narrative and wants to be identified, please let me know.

See you at Ooh La La next summer, or at least at the next contra dance: www.ottawacontra.ca

In the meantime I am going to Blue Skies and I am going to call dancing at a wedding, and I still have room in my calendar for you if you want some help with singing and/or dancing.



About Maura Volante

Maura Volante is a talented and experienced performer. Although she has written many songs over the years, her main focus these days is traditional folk songs. These are songs that have stood the test of time and have an enduring quality that speaks directly and clearly to the human experience. They also tell us about our history. Because these songs are not commonly sung in these post-folk-revival times in which folk music generally means singer-songwriter material, Maura has taken on the project of helping to keep this valuable material alive. Her specialty is Canadian folk songs, but she knows many songs from the British Isles and the USA as well. All her concerts and other programs are designed with group singing in mind. Whether in a concert, a tour, a social gathering, a classroom, a festival or a conference hall, Maura creates an encouraging atmosphere, relaxed and inclusive. She uses her strong voice and facilitation techniques to bring out the best possible music with these voices in this moment. Maura firmly believes that everyone can sing and, moreover, that everyone has a right to sing and be part of group singing activities, without judgement or criticism. No matter what the various skill levels of participants may be in any group singing activity, it always sounds good in a group, because the voices naturally attune with each other. Maura also teaches and calls contra dancing and simpler forms of traditional dancing suitable for all ages, often incorporating group singing into the dancing through the use of play party songs, which are sung by the whole group as they dance.
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