Every community has its hidden gems. Some are inclined to sit quietly in the showcase and sparkle, while others are more like butterflies, travelling from flower to flower ever seeking to learn more.
Marg Tatam definitely belongs in the latter category.
This piano and violin teacher (who also plays organ, accordion, cello and pennywhistle) has a solid Yukon performance history of over 25 years, in too many genres and venues to name, and has worked with almost every musician that you can think of in these parts.
Tatam’s earliest inspiration came from hearing classical violin music as a child. She also became enchanted by the “warmth and spiritual feel” of the Hammond organ.
But private piano lessons were the order of the day for the Tatam family, and she “streamed through” her Royal Conservatory of Music studies by the age of 15.
Determined to pursue her interest in other instruments, she took advantage of violin and cello lessons at school and music camps throughout her youth.
Her first pop/rock influences were the Beatles, Rolling Stones and (mostly) British and European keyboard players: Elton John, Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Rick van der Linden and Tony Banks, to name a few.
After a few years at the University of Toronto, where she majored in French, Tatam grew tired of the dense metropolis and yearned for something different. She struck out on her own, landing in Banff, Alberta where she worked in hospitality and gigged on the side for the first time, playing instrumental jazz and pop at the Banff Springs Hotel and surrounding ski resorts.
Hearing about Yukon adventures from some vagabond friends, she decided to head north with them to Whitehorse in the early 80s, arriving with a backpack, guitar and a flute. Borrowing a fiddle and keyboards as the need arose, she then played in a series of bands ranging in style from folk and bluegrass, to rock and roll.
She reminisces about one lengthy stint she played with a house band at the Capital Hotel, where she backed up numerous musicians flown in from the U.S. This would end up being what Tatam calls her “music school of live performance”.
Her archive of Yukon bands includes The 5th Avenue Dance Band, Capital Punishment, Klondike Fuel, Horsepower, Wynona Sue and the Turnpikes, The Whitehorse String Ensemble, The Broomdusters, Brandon and Chris Isaac, and more.
Tatam has done a season with The Frantic Follies as well as other Klondike period shows. She’s also played with several jazz, folk and R&B combos over the years, toured through Western Canada with a country band and lent her talent to many Yukon CD projects.
Alongside this vast performance career, Tatam has built up a solid clientèle of piano and violin students of all ages. She teaches the Suzuki Violin Method, which is founded in learning music by ear. She’ll be teaching a fiddling course for adults at the annual Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Music camp this June.
Some years ago, Tatam attended the renowned Festival by the Sea in New Brunswick along with a contingency of other Yukon musicians. It was here that she heard “the music of her heart”. This put Tatam on a new path, as the music of East Coast fiddle players awakened her own Celtic roots.
Ongoing study with accomplished players at music camps in Alaska and the Celtic College in Goderich Ontario, has continued to nourish her interest in this style. She has brought that inspiration back to Whitehorse, with her presence in The Lilting Banshees and Johnny Pogue and the Colleens.
Now she is passing down that tradition to some of her music students as well.
Most recently, Tatam has been performing with the Bergman Family Band. She’ll gig with them at the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival this year along with Kevin Barr and Pete and Mary Beattie’s band, the Simple Messengers.
In addition, Tatam has also signed on to play fiddle, pennywhistle and accordion with a new band called Five Finger Rapids, featuring pianist and singer Grant Simpson, stand up bass-man Rob Bergman and guitarist/singer Kate Weekes. This band promises to be an upbeat breath of fresh air, playing a variety of swing tunes, folk-roots and original material.
One of the Tatam’s contemporary performances was her recent billing at a unique venue, called Pianorama, at the Capital Hotel. Tatam joined forces with fellow Yukon piano greats Grant Simpson, Annie Avery and Andrea McColeman to put on an evening of virtuoso ivory-tickling. Each musician played sets on their own, as well as teaming up with each other for some dynamite duos and jazz improv demonstrations. This event was such a huge success, there will surely be more of their kind to come.
She has been on a fascinating musical journey and always gives generously of her energy and her talent to any project that she’s a part of, whether it’s jamming alongside her musical comrades, or entertaining elderly residents at Macaulay Lodge … not to mention that she’s just an all-around delightful person to spend time with.
There’s a kind of child-like charm that exudes from Tatam when she talks about her longstanding passion for music, and the sheer joy she gets from sharing it. This is why she continues to play, and why she feels it’s so important to remain open to opportunities to learn something new.
Her sincerity when she says she’s been inspired by each and every one of the musicians she has played with here in the Yukon is undoubtable. But Tatam has a more understated way to describe it when she says simply: “I’m quite a butterfly I guess!”