The community that sings together …
My personal songbook is getting bigger every month. That’s thanks to the energy of a departed Dawsonite educator, named Nijen Holland (or just, Nijen, as everybody called him), who thought up the idea of having monthly coffee houses at various locations around town and encouraging local musicians to contribute their time and energy in support of various worthy causes.
Nijen was a rocker at heart, so his version of a coffee house tended toward that sound and was usually anchored by the work of one of the bands he worked with while he lived here, including the school band he was mentoring.
I was bitten by Singalong Jubilee at an early age and once had an extensive setlist that ran through the 1960s into the early 1980s. Between teaching, writing and raising a family, however, it had been years since I did much more than play the occasional hymn at church.
The Family Coffee Houses changed that, giving me, and a number of other people, an excuse – no, an incentive – to limber our fingers, tune up our voices and make some music in public.
We’ve got all manner of drummers, fiddle and guitar players of all ages; pianists, people who do cover tunes and people who write their own. We’ve got folk, rock, country, Broadway musicals and classical tunes.
The high school rock band also appears from time to time.
We’ve got solo acts, family acts and groups of various sizes. Sometimes people just jump up and join in with whatever someone else is already doing and it usually sounds just great.
Since Nijen headed south, Pete Menzies, newly returned to Dawson after years of exile, has taken over the organization of the events.
Menzies, who’s also a teacher, has introduced drumming events, square dancing and taken the evenings in a folkier direction, but the tradition continues.
We did try one strictly acoustic evening early last fall, but found that being totally unplugged was a little too quiet.
Sometimes the evening is just a coffee house; sometimes it’s tied in with other events. Recently, we partnered with the Dawson Library Board’s Double Bob Bash (that’s Burns and Service) and, back in November, we focused on youth during the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture’s Youth Art Enrichment Week.
People donate the goodies we sell during the evening and those profits, as well as the voluntary admission, go to support worthy causes.
Lately it’s been music programs at the Robert Service School, but we’ve donated to relief programs around the world as well as benefits for locals who have fallen on hard times due to illness or accident.
We usually meet in the ballroom at the Odd Fellows Hall, but we’ve also met in the YOOP Hall and held concerts outdoor at the Front Street Gazebo.
It’s been a lot of fun and more are schedule as the year continues. The next evening will be on Feb. 20.