Making Music in the Ballroom

The last of the monthly winter coffee house and open mic nights at the Odd Fellows Hall ballroom occurred on May 5.

They are a tradition that goes back five or six years now, having been started by an educational assistant at the Robert Service School who wanted a place for the student band he was running to come and play in public.

Nijen (he has a last name, but hardly ever uses it) was himself a long-haired rocker and songwriter heavily influenced by both Neil Young and Peter Townshend, but he was happy to invite every other sort of style to join in and create a musical evening.

After a few years, he moved on to Victoria for work, but has been back each summer since and has plans to return again.

Over time, these events, organized by Peter Menzies and Clive Betts, became fundraisers for a variety of worthy causes: the food bank at the women’s shelter, aid to families and individuals hit by tragedy, travel money for the school band to take a trip, funding to help people study music.

We’ve lost several local musicians over the last few years and the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture manages a Reprise Scholarship Fund as a memorial to the talents of Gord “the Walrus” Polichek and Wendy Perry and their contributions to the local music scene over the years.

The recent loss of fiddler extraordinaire Willie Gordon adds a third W to that list of names.

The fund is described as being available “to supplement workshop, course and lesson fees, augment costs related to competitions, examinations and as a fund accessible for music educators to purchase sheet music and books.”

Fiddlers of all ages practiced all day with Zav RT and then brought their lesson out to show the community PHOTO: Dan Davidson

The April coffee house was a fund raiser for this scholarship, which had become a bit depleted since its initial infusion of cash.

While most of our sessions over the last couple of years have just run from 7 p.m. until about 9 p.m., this was an extra long evening, stretched out with a benefit performance by Carolyn Mark, as well as a massed group of local fiddlers and Zav RT.

That was supposed to be the last event of the year, but local musicians just couldn’t let May go by without their melody fix, so we had another on May 5.

The mix of material we’ve had during the year has been quite astonishing. Young Christopher Tom Tom has been learning to play the guitar over the last two years and has shown steady progress, playing at more of the evenings than I have—and I think I’ve only missed a couple.

There are those, like me, who cover other people’s material, and then there are whole groups of other singers and players who write their own and do it well.

We’ve had classical piano work by accomplished players, and performances by their young students. We’ve has massed drums of various descriptions, and electronic music with samplers and synthesizers (which have become incredibly small with the passing years).

There are bands, trios, duos and solo artists; singers and instrumentalists; there is rock and roll, folk music, jazz, classical and show tunes.

Last summer we took the whole show outdoors and set up at the Gazebo on Front Street for a series of evenings in June, July and August, until it got a little too nippy in the evenings.

This summer will see the same thing happen when Nijen gets back to town and begins to organize some of our long summer evenings.

These sessions are just another example of the many ways in which Dawson is a great place to live.

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