I’ve been thinking about music these days. I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have definite ideas about it. My father sang in a beautiful tenor voice and my mother with a sweetly harmonizing alto. They both played musical instruments fairly well, being children of the Great Depression. I remember Dad singing “I Love You Truly,” a popular Bing Crosby love song, to my mother. It was a long time before I realized that not everyone’s father could do such things.
Time passed and I went through an awkward horse-crazy stage where tragic cowboy songs sung by Marty Robbins, the Sons of the Pioneers and Ray Little were my passion. You wouldn’t know Ray Little. He was a local Winnipeg western singer that I was briefly smitten with. Following closely on the heels of cowboy music came Ravel’s Bolero and, of course, the tragically hip Tchaikovsky with his passionate concertos. My poor parents!
Then, joy of joys came the pinnacle of popular music – the folk era. My coming of age collided with Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Sainte Marie, Peter, Paul and Mary and all the rest. Oh my, was there ever such a pure renaissance of social consciousness set to music? Not in my lifetime! I was able to attend one of the first Winnipeg Folk Festivals and to indulge my hunger for utopian vision.
As I approached my thirties, I began to embrace disillusionment and cynicism, mostly due to the puncturing of dreams of Camelot by the horrendous events in the sixties in the United States, I found my musical tastes changing to a more abstract form. I withdrew from the world of popular music. I quit listening to radio stations that weren’t the CBC. Nobody believes me when I say that to this day, I do not recognize Van Morrison’s sound, or the Rolling Stones for that matter. I floated away from all that and slipped into the solace of Baroque music interspersed with the occasional Renaissance composition.
I have a hunch that most people don’t become fully conscious until the age of fifty and even then it’s a crap shoot. Maybe it’s the death of a parent that can bring on an awakening of appreciation for one’s history. I began to catch myself crying in public at parades whenever I heard bagpipes. I hate crying in public. Yet it happened several times. I began to pick up the beat of Scottish dance, drinking songs and the like. I loved the escalating madness of the beat of wild Celtic kitchen party music. I would leave my head and go straight into my heart. I was like a dog that begins to make involuntary scratching motions with his hind leg when someone scratches an itch in that certain place.
Do you believe that we carry such memories in our genes? I am fourth generation Canadian with a German, Scots and Irish pedigree of sorts. My sense is that the memories that my great grandfather brought to Canada as a young boy are buried deeply in his Scottish blood, and they are the strongest because they were inextricably tied to music. I did not know this musical ancestor but I did know his son, my grandfather. Grandpa Ferguson danced, sang, entertained and wrote music all his life.
I know I would be dead in the water without my ancestors’ gift of music. It has been my companion throughout life, it inspires me in my studio, it soothes me when I am upset and it assures me that there will always be certain grace, beauty and language beyond words that will bind us all together if we are willing.