THE NEWFOUNDLAND QUARTERLY :: ONLINE EXCLUSIVES
Online Exclusive for #440
What are your thoughts on the traditional music and dance that our province is known for? Do you sing? Can you play an instrument? Have you performed any of our traditional dances? How do you think music and dance has affected our lives and society both presently and in the past?
"I quickly found out when I moved into town that not many people my age know how to do the Lancers. I've never really thought anything of it; I've known the routine since I was 12. We learned it as part of an after school program in my town. For a couple of weeks just about everyone in my class went to the community center after school and one of the things we did was learn the Lancers. As it turns out, in many other places, people my age were playing soccer or were in martial arts classes. In fairness, I wasn't surprised by this. We were lucky enough to have a person in the town who knew the Lancers and was a community leader. What surprised me, though, was that most people had never even heard of the dance. I get that soccer is more practical, but to not even know about one of the traditional dances in our province was definitely surprising." - 28, Recent Memorial Graduate
"'Traditionally' I grew up listening to Johnny Cash and The Eagles. That's what my parents played in the car. I was fine listening to either/or, but they would discuss whose turn it was to pick the tunes on our Sunday drives. So I was never really exposed to traditional Newfoundland and Labrador music and dance. I was aware of it but never practiced or paid much attention to it." - 28, Entrepreneur
"I learned to play the accordion when I was eight. I started learning the most basic of songs, but as I got older and better I learned some of the more complicated songs. I've even tried turning pop/rock songs into accordion classics. The accordion is very much a part of our family. My Dad plays, and my grandfather, two of my uncles, and one of my aunts. And they all had a part in teaching me how to play. Mostly my dad and grandfather when I was younger, but one of my uncles moved home when I had just turned 13 and taught me a lot of the more advanced accordion techniques. Sometimes you hear about music being frowned on inside the house. You know some people have to learn to play the guitar in their garage or learn the piano at the instructor's house. Not me. We had a music room where there was a guitar, keyboard, flutes, and three accordions. This room was at the bottom of the stairs in the basement and could easily be heard all over the house. Then again, when everyone was awake in the house, the majority of the time there was music playing. Either someone was jamming down in the music room or we had a CD on. Music was a huge part of my life growing up. That has faded somewhat in my own life but if I ever have a child I'll definitely teach them to play the accordion. I won't force them, but [I'll] strongly encourage [them]." - 30, Trades Worker
"I missed out on a lot of the traditional stuff when I was younger, but we live in the age of youtube and I've been able to track down a lot of old songs and footage. At first I think technological advances were seen to be a threat to 'traditions', but technology has done just the opposite. It has made it easier to find classics. Admittedly, it was hard to at first, but it's possible. Youtube didn't know what to dig for when I asked it to find footage of the old Ryan's Fancy show, but I refused to walk away empty-handed and eventually found it. It may be older stuff, but Ryan's Fancy and Eddie Coffey is all new to me. And I'm loving it, it's much better than PittBull (my kids listen to him - I just wanted to clear that up)." - 37, Engineer
"What do you define as 'traditional', really? Is it Harry Hibbs? Does Great Big Sea do traditional music? I think our traditional music is overrated. I think we make too big a deal of our traditional music, like it's a unique concept that no other province has. Do we think that other provinces don't have their own flavor of music? We're ignorant like that sometimes. We are so self-centered and like to play the red-headed-step-child-of-Canada card that we put ourselves on this pedestal. If you ask me, which you have, I think Nova Scotia has better 'traditional' music. I'll have The Rankin Family and Natalie MacMaster over any of our traditional music." - 23, University student
"It's a part of our heritage, a part of our core. In a lot of ways it defines who we are. Take a look back at some of the classic songs and ballads [and] the stories they tell. Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary's is not a hypothetical situation, someone lived that. Grey Foggy Day is another example of the story of real people. And I could go on and on, but the point is, what makes our music so popular is that it's so real. Some of the songs are haunting tales of our past, while others are humorous takes on unlikely situations. Either way it's a real part of our history and what we've been through as a province and as a people." - 34, Teacher
"Music and dance are a means of communication. This is not only true for us but for places around the world. It is an artistic way of expressing one's self. 'This song or this dance is who I am.' It is a means for us to tell each other and the rest of the world what we stand for, and who we are. And who are we? As a province we have endured a rugged past. Life here was not easy for early settlers. They farmed the land and fished the sea and as a result a lot of our music and dance tells that story. The story of our hardships and struggles and overcoming the elements to survive and persevere. Music is poetry. Literally a poem put to music. And dance is a live painting being [created] right before our eyes. As a communication tool we are sharing who we are in a very deeply artistic fashion, and we are able to pass this information on through the years and from one generation to the next." - 25, Teacher
"When you think about this province you may think about cod, certainly the fishery, you may even think about oil, but you certainly think about our music and dance. It's the life blood of who we are. Our expression of self. And it has been an influential export for us as well. For every Great Big Sea song that is downloaded outside the province, it's a little bit of tourism exposure for all of us. And that's certainly a good thing." - 32, Civil Servant
"I've been writing to ABC's Dancing With the Stars for the past few seasons. I'm petitioning for the producers to include one of our dances every season. They could use the 'step dance', an old fashioned waltz, or the reel. I think it could be a challenging round of competition. They already include international dance routines so it's time our dance had a chance in the spotlight. And we'll see if any of those celebrities can 'dance on a plate'. (I'm only joking about petitioning ABC, although I do think it would be a good idea. So if you want to start a facebook group around that idea I'm game.)" - 24, Part time student, part time worker
"Americans have Bob Dylan, in other parts of Canada they have Neil Young, but Newfoundland and Labrador has Ron Hynes. I don't mean to start a debate over who's better than who, who's sold more CDs, or wrote more songs. The point I'm trying to make is that these men were artists who represent the people of their country and province during their heyday. Not that [any of them] are past their expiry date, but during the height of their careers they had their finger on the pulse of their homes. I am not familiar with the world of dancing but I imagine there are similar examples: a person or group who represent the thoughts and feelings of their people during the peaks of their careers. And that's what artistic entertainment is all about. Popularity based on talent and connection." - 31, Musician
"What we have is such a unique mixture of Irish, Scottish and English influences. We use instruments such as the fiddle and the accordion, and with regards to dancing we have tendency to keep close to the floor. There's not a lot of jumping about with our dances. [It's a] very unique style that can be hard to master, but is poetry in motion when perfected." - 66, Retired Civil Servant
"Not just within our own province, but in the world in general, music is a great coping mechanism. Let's start by individualizing it. If you are feeling anxiety or stress you may listen to your favorite song or some uplifting music to [raise] your spirits. Well, take that, and broaden the scope. As a people, we write songs and create dances that express the feelings we are going through, and help ourselves and each other get through hard times. We sing songs about being lost at sea and it helps release emotions we have inside towards those events. As a community we share in the grief the tales bring us and to hear it put to music helps us get through. Music and dance is very powerful stuff and has a lot of power to bring people together in a most unusual way." - 26, University Student
Back to Online Exclusives main page.
© Newfoundland Quarterly. The Newfoundland Quarterly is generously supported by Memorial University and the Canada Periodical Fund - Canadian Heritage.