BLYTH – The advertising poster promised a tribute to the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II by the Blyth Festival Singers, with special guests The Howlin’ Dog Vintage Jazz Band.
But that poster couldn’t possibly capture just how fantastic the carefully crafted two-hour performance of Songs of Wartime and Peace at the Blyth Memorial Hall would be. It wasn’t just a playbill of popular songs like Sentimental Journey, The Maple Leaf Forever and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, or uncovered gems like In Flanders Fields and Distant Land. Instead, it strung together music, solos, sing-alongs, readings and commentary that invited the audience into one big parlour party.
Under direction of Artistic Director Sharon Poelstra, The Blyth Festival Singers brings together a
talented collection of 38 voices accompanied by Lori Millian. At the same time, the arrangements highlighted numerous singers, through no less than five solos, a fun and energetic dance performance of Don’t Get Around Much Anymore by Cara Stephenson, and a poignant reading from his memoirs by Tom Hennessey.
The audience was invited to join in singing The Maple Leaf Forever and It’s A Long Way to Tipperary, and a few voices floated up from the audience during other popular tunes.
The Howlin’ Dog Vintage Jazz Band, known to many because they play local venues like Goderich’s
The Park House, subscribed to one of the great jazz cornerstones – improvisation – by winging much of its sets. The musicians held their first practice with the day’s replacement trombone player Paul Dearlove just hours before they were set to take the stage. They strayed from the program, dropping some songs and picking up others. They debated who would lead them into a song, with trumpet player Al Mullin telling the audience, “This is jazz. We gotta figure it out as we go.” And in the end, it all came together beautifully.
Blyth Festival’s artistic director, Gil Garrett, performed two readings from this season’s premiere
performance of Mary’s Wedding. He read from a letter written to Mary from her love, Charlie, a young soldier who describes the battle scene at France’s Moreuil Wood, jumping his mare over his fallen sergeant and feeling his saber pierce through another man’s body. He also did a reading from Mary’s wedding day, when she weds someone else. The readings gave time for the choir to quietly file in after the jazz band’s sets.
How fitting too that the event should take place in the Blyth Memorial Community Hall, which is home to the Blyth Festival, the Blyth Festival Singers, the Blyth Festival Orchestra and the Blyth Festival Art Gallery. The hall was originally built to commemorate the lost soldiers of World War I.
Coming Up: The Next Generation- Cabaret Concert
When: Saturday, May 30 at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Varna Complex, Varna
What: Blyth Festival Singers’ cabaret dinner and concert featuring young up-and-coming soloists from Huron and Perth, which will be the next generation of musicians to perform alongside Blyth Festival Singers. Music at this concert will be more light-hearted and popular in style and theme, to bring its season to a close in true celebratory fashion.
How: Tickets, $25, available at the Blyth Festival Box Office or from Choir Members.