Program Notes

Our April 27 concert video will be online when we are able to develop it.

You’ll see a water theme throughout this concert. For those of us that are entirely unfamiliar with life on the water, we might find some terms rather foreign. We were able to gain some insight from a sailor in our midst. Here’s a bit of background on him, with definitions he provided scattered throughout the notes.

Chorus member Neil Godwin had always wanted to sail, but it was a friend that introduced him to sailing while at Bennett Dam on Williston Lake. Later, he and his wife, Jennifer, had the opportunity to take sailing courses. They each chose separate courses so they could increase their knowledge. They moved to the coast and lived on a boat for a couple years, homeschooling their boys, and enjoying the waters around Vancouver Island. He also had the privilege of working for a Dutch couple on a schooner, sailing with them as far as Hilo, Hawaii. He’s adept at fixing boats, so can keep things up and running. Neil and Jennifer will soon be retiring to enjoy full-time sailing. With this wealth of experience, he was able to help us out with terms you’ll find throughout our concert.

Definitions of terminology are provided by Neil unless otherwise noted.

Our Program

The Water is Wide traces its roots to Scotland’s folk song, Waly, Waly – “waly” being a cry of lament or grief; in this case, over lost love. While many modern versions of The Water is Wide carry the same theme, ours is wonderfully different. It tells the tale of lifelong sweethearts who continually grow in the depth of adoration for each other.

This, coupled in pleasant harmony with Oh Shanandoah, brings us to a place where we’re prepared to hear the stories this concert presents. Interestingly, “Shanandoah” was not only a river, but a chief. Legend has it that that this chief had a beautiful daughter who had caught the eye of a fur trading voyageur. The longing we sing of is for the waters of the well-known river; but let’s not forget the adventurer’s heart as he sings (and we do not),

Oh Shenandoah,
I love your daughter,
Away, you rolling river.
For her I'd cross
Your roaming waters,
Way, we're bound away
Across the wide Missouri.

(References: Just Another Tune: The Water is Wide, Wikipedia – The Water is Wide and Oh Shanandoah)

This idyllic loch is just a short drive north of Glasgow, Scotland. We are taken to the 1700’s when “Bonnie Prince Charles” (Prince Charles Edward Stuart) unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow Britain’s King George II. Highlander soldiers were imprisoned after the Battle of Culloden Moor in 1746. Celtic tradition believed that if a Scot were to die in a foreign land, he would return to Scotland by the road for the spirits of the dead – the “low road.” The living who travelled abroad must use the high road; a much slower route as we see in this piece. The song is written from the perspective of the man who is to be executed, while his companion will return a living man. The man whose song we sing will never his beloved again, but he has one thing he hopes for – to yet see the “bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”

Reference – Manhattan Beach Music: Loch Lomond

The purpose of this piece was that it would be "an anthem of resilience and hope at a time when Cape Breton Island was going through an economic crisis." Because the entire world has just experienced a time of financial and social uncertainty that we never could have imagined, we understand the challenges brought on by these difficulties. It’s easy to point fingers and blame this or that philosophy, politician, unfair working conditions, or any number of easy targets for our angst. We can instead choose to use hardship as an opportunity for personal and community growth, determining to “Rise Again,” if only for the sake of the children from whom we draw our motivation. Songwriter Leon Dubinsky points us to "the cycles of immigration, the economic insecurity of living in Cape Breton, the power of the ocean, the meaning of children, and the strength of home given to us by our families, our friends and our music." We can determine together to rise again!

Reference - Wikipedia: We Rise Again (The Rankin Family)

Newfoundland is well known for its lively music and dance. This lighthearted folk tune with a distinctively Irish flavour has been enjoyed by the hard-working folks of this province since around the 1870s. The rest of Canada was only introduced to it in the middle of the twentieth century when researchers started learning about the culture of this beautiful corner of the continent. Translated into terminology the rest of Canadians understand, “I’m the Boy” uses a metaphor of traveling around a corner of Newfoundland to describe the dance moves that celebrate the wonderful culture one finds in this coastal treasure.

Reference - Canadian Encyclopedia: I'se the B'y
"Suds (sods) and rinds to cover your flake": The fishermen would dry the fish so they would last through the winter season. The fish would be sun-dried on platforms, covered with grass sod and tree bark. Apparently, the singer not only built and sailed the boat by himself, but also dried his own fish.''

After celebrating the energetic lifestyle of Newfoundland, we take a nostalgic look of someone who has lived his life on the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, fishing in Cape St. Mary’s and Golden Bay. He’s loved his life and now turns his heart to where he’d like to rest – in the earth’s cool breast by the snug green cove, Cape St. Mary’s.

Lyricist Otto Kelland based this song on the American folk tune, The Hills of Wyoming.
Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary’s is full of romanticism and fatalism about the sea. He wrote the song in 1947 after having a conversation with a homesick sailor, taking a mere 20 minutes to write it."

It is said that he based this song on "The Hills of Wyoming." Chorus members, have a listen to Gene Autry's rendition of the old piece celebrating this beautiful state.

Reference - Fresno State: Western Boat (Let Me Fish Off Cape St Mary's), Saltwire

 A "small boat with pointed ends and high, flaring sides" (Encyclopedia Britannica)
“Tide rips swirl:” Any tidal current running in and out of the bay that makes eddies or swirls. People tend to think the ocean is like a lake. It is not. Near the shore, there are massive currents.
Combers: Waves that curl and break.
Oilskins: Traditionally, this was clothing made of fabric that has been soaked in linseed oil, dried, then oiled again. This process makes jackets and pants very waterproof. They were sometimes dyed black with soot. Now it can refer to any waterproof clothing.
Trawl: Pulling a net. (It can also mean “picking and choosing.”)

Listen carefully to a soldier’s cry from Nova Scotia during World War I. You’ll hear the tale of a soldier who willingly follows the call to take up arms. Knowing he sets sail in the morning, he grieves the loss of his beloved home. He feels a haunting disconnect from the quietness of nature as he wrestles with the sorrow of leaving behind all of the people he holds deeply in his heart.

This song is an adaptation of the Scottish lament, “The Soldier’s Adieu” (Robert Tannahill).

Reference - Wikipedia: Farewell to Nova Scotia

We will tell you this. It was originally written as a children's song!

Have you ever looked at an old, crumbling building and whispered, “What stories do you have to tell?” What would you imagine if you saw a “small craft[s] in a harbour?” What “tales of adventure” would they whisper? “Atlantic Voices” gives us a little more insight into that moment for the composer.

“Allister MacGillivray says that the inspiration for Away From the Roll of the Sea was a photograph of Glace Bay Harbour taken by Warren Gordon of Sydney. The song is one of MacGillivray’s most widely known compositions, and he credits its wide international circulation to the choral conductor Elmer Iseler and to the Irish tenor Frank Patterson. MacGillivray himself arranged the song for the choir, assisted by Jack O’Donnell, who provided the beautiful piano accompaniment.”

 (Atlantic Voices: Ten Years of Songs)

Cuddy: A style of boat or even a part of a boat (like a cabin)
Spar: A boom, mast, or any attachment points for sails.
Alee: There are two terms that are related – “lee” and “alee.” “Lee shore” is opposite of where the winds are blowing. If blown up on the shore, you’re hooped. “Alee,” on the other hand, is out of the wind.

Charles Edward Stuart
Charles Edward Stuart by Allan Ramsay, painted at Holyrood Palace, late autumn 1745

A deposed hero or a real “piece of work?” Whatever your opinion, this “Bonnie Prince Charles” that we met earlier in the concert was finally defeated at Culloden; the Jacobite Rebellion was quashed. He managed to escape capture by the government. While some historians dispute the accuracy of the route portrayed in this song (some say he didn’t sail to the Isle of Skye), it tells a tale of protecting the would-be prince. Through song, we lull him to sleep as he sails across the water to safety.

Reference: Wikipedia: The Skye Boat Song

Stan Rogers grew up in Ontario, but he came to love his mother’s home territory, Nova Scotia, through his visits there each summer. “Tom Sawyer” and “Huck Finn,” as he and his brother, Garnet, imagined themselves to be, created their own adventures along the Chedabucto Bay coast. The boys once hiked to a cove belonging to the Fogarty family – although they had no idea at the time. It is said that when he wrote the song, he still didn’t realize that he had once visited there. He had no trouble imagining the cove, however, placing a seaman and his Sally wrestling with the coming and going that couples experience when they make their living from the deep.

Fogarty’s Cove branded his debut album and launched the career of a much-loved baritone into Canada’s folk culture. It was sadly short lived, though, since Stan Rogers passed away in 1983 at the age of 33. His music embodied a traditional Celtic style and carried “themes of honour, loyalty and hope.”

References - The Globe and Mail: Ballad of Fogarty's Cove: The Nova Scotia legend, a hard reality and a quarry that could change it all (account required), The Canadian Encyclopedia: Stan Rogers

Ninety degrees from a boat's beam edge. It's a navigational definition; straight from the side.

The background to this piece is summarized well by “Matt James Illustration.”

The historic search inspired Canadian folk musician Stan Rogers to write “Northwest Passage,” a song that has become a widely known favorite since its 1981 release. It describes Stan's own journey overland as he contemplates the arduous journeys of some of the explorers, including Kelsey, Mackenzie, Thompson and especially Franklin. The song is moving and haunting, a paean to the adventurous spirit of the explorers and to the beauty of the vast land and icy seas.

For those who didn’t learn (or forget) where the northwest passage it, describes it for us.

“The Northwest Passage spans roughly 900 miles from the North Atlantic north of Canada’s Baffin Island in the east to the Beaufort Sea north of the U.S. state of Alaska in the west. It’s located entirely within the Arctic Circle, less than 1,200 miles from the North...”


This Jamaican folk song was first released by Trinidadian vocalist Edric Conner in 1952. The Banana Boat Song, as it’s sometimes called, tells the story of an exhausted worker who just wants the “tally man” to come, count his bananas, and let him go home.

While Wikipedia says that they’re harvested at night to avoid working in the hot sun, gives us what is more likely the real reason. Daylight will accelerate the ripening process, so they are harvested at night to avoid the grocer’s only option being to sell us overripe, moldy fruit here in Canada. As an interesting side note: an entire stalk of bananas can weigh upwards of 90 kg. This guy hauling bananas is no slouch!

We don’t mention a banana boat anywhere in our piece, but it entirely makes sense when we look at the culture behind the piece. It was written for Jamaican workers who loaded boats down with bananas, ready to be shipped around the world.

So what about that deadly tarantula? Does he just want to get home and ignore the creepy crawly... or is there something more sinister afoot?

References: Wikipedia: Day O (The Banana Boat Song), What Banana: Why are bananas picked at night? and Flux de Connaissances: What was the main purpose of the creation of the Banana Boat Song?.


Bob Nolan wrote this piece in 1936. Many of us are familiar with the iconic sound of the Sons of the Pioneers and recognize it within the first few notes. They harmonize their way into our imaginations as we picture the cowboy and his mule trudging across the scalding dessert sands. It was first recorded in 1941.

Reference:  Wikipedia: Cool Water

Connie’s life was filled with music from the day she was born. She sang under the direction of her father as he directed Lutheran church choirs. She graduated from the University of Alberta in 1976 with a theatre degree, but within three years realized that music was what really pulled at her heartstrings.

The Wood River flows from the Wood Mountain Hills in southwest Saskatchewan to the salty Old Wives Lake just southwest of Moose Jaw. Wood River is sometimes referred to as the “quintessential Saskatchewan song.” The piece calls the singer and a sweetheart to follow the river, enjoy its beauty, and each other’s company.

References – The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan: Connie Kaldor and Wikipedia: Wood River (Saskatchewan)
Also see Connie Kaldor's website.

As is often the case, it would appear at first that this African American spiritual is simply about a Christian water baptism or perhaps has implications taken from Jesus' healing miracle at the Pool of Bethesda. A more careful examination reveals a warning – perhaps often given by Harriet Tubman – to get into the water to avoid detection by search dogs. Like a good number of spirituals, it could have carried more than one meaning. The slaves were often deeply religious, but also determined to find freedom. Many of us are familiar with the Underground Railroad – the series of safe houses that brought slaves from their bondage to freedom in free states and Canada.

Miracle at the Pool of Bethesda: Authorized King James, New Living Translation
Reference – Wikipedia: Wade in the Water

According to Wikipedia, “The River” is often an African-American reference an outdoor baptism by full immersion. (See also Wade in the Water, above.) If so, it would also likely be a coded message about escape from slavery, providing hope for slaves as they endured horrific human rights abuses.
The source of the piece, though, is uncertain. According to other sources, there is a variety of possibilities. Zeal Music Publishing tells us,

"’Down in the River to Pray’ (also known as ‘Down to the River to Pray,’ ‘Down in the Valley to Pray,’ ‘The Good Old Way,’ and ‘Come, Let Us All Go Down’) is a traditional American song variously described as a Christian folk hymn, an African-American spiritual, an Appalachian song, and a gospel song. It gained popularity in 2000 after Alison Krauss performed it for the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

The exact origin of the song is unknown. Research suggests that it was composed by an African-American slave....

“Visitors to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D. C. have reported hearing a Hupa song played there which has the same melody as "Down in the River to Pray". It has also been suggested that certain features of the melody and phrasing are more typical of Native American music than gospel music or spirituals.”

Being a song that was passed on by tradition rather than musical scores, there are different versions of the lyrics and even the tune. Every version has the same theme, though – prayer for guidance.

References - Wikipedia; Down in the River to Pray and Zeal Music Publishing: Down to the River to Pray

The Movie:
We can thank the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? for our piece. It is loosely based on Homer's Odyssey. IMBD gives a quick synopsis. "In the deep south during the 1930s, three escaped convicts search for hidden treasure while a relentless lawman pursues them." The movie derives its name from a 1941 film, Sullivan's Travels. The good guy in that film wants to direct a film called O Brother, Where Art Thou? - a production that would portray the "sorrows of humanity."

References – IMBD: O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Wikipedia: Sullivan's Travels

Carly Simon wrote and performed this piece in the late 1980s. Wikipedia helps us out again.

“Simon has stated that she found inspiration for the lyrics by first reading the original script, and then the poems of Walt Whitman. Musically, she wanted to write a hymn to New York with a contemporary jungle beat under it, so as to juxtapose those opposites in a compelling way. A statement on Simon's official website acknowledges that ‘the phrases “Silver Cities Rise” and “The New Jerusalem” seem to have taken on a new meaning for many people, but the song was not originally composed with any particular political and/or religious overtones.’ However, the phrase ‘new Jerusalem’ has been recognized by other observers as an allusion to the works of William Blake.”

Reference – Wikipedia: Let the River Run (New Jerusalem)

First released in January of 1970, this stirring piece was re-released several times. Despite their success as a musical duo, "Simon and Garfunkel" parted ways later that year; Garfunkel to pursue his film career, and Simon doubling down on this music.

The key phrase and title of the song was taken from Mary Don’t You Weep. Simon acknowledged his debt to “Swan Silvertones” in the form of a cheque to the founder of the gospel group, Claude Jeter.

Now let’s set some rumours aside. “Sail on Silver Girl” is not a drug reference, as many have supposed. Paul Simon wrote these words for sweetheart, Peggy Harper. She had noticed a few grey hairs and wasn’t happy about it. Those who have a few – or more than a few – grey hairs can celebrate with Peggy. "Your time has come to shine; All your dreams are on their way."

Reference – Wikipedia: Bridge Over Troubled Water.