Schumilas and D. Happner
The 2005 Fox Report
As I reflect on 2005 newsletter, I hear Donald O’Connor’s solo song from one of our favourite movies, Singin’ in the Rain. “Make ‘em laugh! Make ‘em laugh! Don’t you know everyone wants to laugh! My dad said be an actor, my son but be a comical one! They’ll be standin’ in line for those old honkey-tonk monkeyshines. You can quote from Shakespeare and be really elite. You can wow the critics and have nothin’ to eat but slip on a banana peel, the world’s at your feet. Make ‘em laugh! Make ‘em laugh! Make ‘em lauaaaa” (as he collapses on the floor.) So was our year. But Don’s a classical guitarist and I write folk/jazz songs. Where’s the comedy?
Flatlands Festival – big do in Victoria Park, Regina. The MC just finished hyping the crowd with a fabulous introduction of what “seasoned professionals” Don and I are. We took the stage. There were not enough guitar stands so I secured my guitar on a chair. I yell at my students about this all the time … “Make sure it is secure!” As soon as my back is turned there is this horrible sound and I whip around to see my guitar bouncing across the stage. I dive for it and make the kind of save for which pro football pays those big bucks. Don casually turns to the crowd and says, “seasoned professional ”. The audience and stage crew were alight with laughter. The guitar was ok. Next - Bushwakkers Brewery’s folk concert series – a bar gig in Regina, but upscale because dickheads can’t afford to get drunk there. Don stepped out to have a last cigarette before the show. On his way in the door, a grate grabbed him and tore the sole away from his boot except for where is joined at the heel. So he comes flapping his way to the stage and both of us collapsed with laughter. The stage lights were already on and people were looking at us. We couldn’t see doing our serious program with the flapping sole and peekaboo toes with every beat of the tapping foot. So there was a quick change back into the traveling blue jeans and running shoes but I could hardly look at him all night without laughing. On now to one of the highlight gigs of the year – opening for Canadian country/folk “star” Gary Fjellgaard in a soft-seater gig with 300+ people in full attention. Pin drop silence. We walked into the bright lights to very warm applause. When Don grabbed his guitar cord to plug in, there was a deafening “pop” throughout the theatre (because the soundman forgot to turn down the gain). As quick a lightening Don says “And that’s just the first note”. I was so nervous and now I’m laughing and laughing. Everything is so much funnier on stage because of the terror factor. Don starts the long solo guitar intro to Cold September Rain and then I’m struck with panic because I suddenly realize I forget the opening line of the song. The final cadence is there and I’m about to break out laughing again with “la la la” and zap! The words come to me and I’m away with no one any wiser. It was a great gig.
We got booked to play an antique and classic car show in Saskatoon. There’s lots of “young babe” singers in that city but they specifically wanted us. We weren’t too sure which one of us they thought of as the antique and which one the classic – but the pay was good so we took the job without question. Being the only non-rock act, we got good press (article with photos) in Toontown’s Star Phoenix (right under an unrelated article on Mick Jagger). One typo – they said I led worships instead of workshops. They stayed away in droves! A quick survey of the ten people in the audience told me that none of them saw the article. The worst of it was all the gospel singers, for weeks afterwards, trying to cozy up to me to get a gig.
Along with the gigs from hell, there were a lot of high points. I’ll never forget the feeling of walking up to the door for sound check at an Arts Council concert in Elbow, Sk, and seeing my picture/poster with a big “SOLD OUT” ribbon taped across it. I stood and looked at it for several moments. Wow. And where was my business sense? I didn’t even think to take a picture of it. I guess I couldn’t really believe it was me, you know? Ok, you may say, who gives a damn about the tourist town of Elbow, SK. Well, I do.
There was a big psychological lift from CBC Toronto. My CD sat in the box of new releases in some basement for 6 months until the music critic’s hand finally grabbed it for a spin (after exhausting all the product from the “name” artists and finally getting around to the “no-names”). He played it twice, read the liner notes then sent me an e-mail with the subject line “CBC Likes For The Birds”. He selected it for the corporation’s recommended play list and had copies sent to all CBC stations across the country (if you ever want to phone in a request to CBC, they all have it). He featured me on an “up and coming artists” show and gave a nice plug for Don’s classical career. Then he sent this wonderful review, which has kept me emotionally afloat during some pretty dark times:
“With the dozens of recordings that come our way each week - and the hundreds that pour into the office during the year - it's rare that something that has been submitted to us makes us want to stop what we're doing and just listen to the music. But that's exactly what happened when we spun ‘Bein' Tender’ from Dawn Schumilas's debut album For the Birds. This beautiful song had me hooked within the first few bars and has stayed with me ever since. It's one of the definite high points on a fine freshman disc. If you like folk music that's moody, melodic, and memorable, then For the Birds is really for you.” Mark Rheaume, CBC Radio Toronto.
We spent much of the summer trying to find a luthier with sufficient craftsmanship to restore his instrument, which has become unplayable for various reasons. Our usual Mr. Fix-it is now semi-retired and didn’t want the job. The second “luthier” made it worse. The third is due to finish any day … fingers crossed. Without an appropriate instrument, Don cannot record. He has had CBC Calgary calling him asking for product. It’s frustrating when a door opens and you can’t walk through.
We plan to take a trip to Ontario this summer, hoping to play some gigs and house concerts and also to mooch off friends and family. I have family in the Kitchener and Burlington areas who have opened their homes to us. Got a new supporter in Kingston who has offered to give us a room for the night and host a house concert, if we make it that far east. Anybody else? Basically, you get 15-20 people to come to your home, each paying $10 and we do an acoustic concert of 2, 45 minute sets. The concert is largely original folk/jazz music, intermixed with my stories. We’ve done these in SK and have discovered people enjoy this format much more than a bar gig or even a folk club. It’s more personal and it’s cheaper.
We had a lynx hangin’ around the yard for a few days, sunning himself on a log pile and chewing on an old deer hide. Don got great video footage. The weasel is back. The whiskey jacks (grey jays) keep me scrounging food for them (they know a good deal when they see it). We had a mole tunnel under the house and up into our garage when we were away this fall. I had all my squash and pumpkins in there are he helped himself to a smorgasbord. The deer were in the yard all summer. Mosquitoes were bad and one doe discovered that lying between my rows of potatoes or under the tobacco plants brought some relief. I told her she could stay so long as she didn’t eat my peas or carrots. It all started innocently.... a little nip here … a few carrot tops there… then she invited all her friends to a moonlight dinner party. I had to ask her to leave. She just lay there looking at me. I guess I’m not very scary. Don opened his loft window and said a few choice words. She didn’t return which was too bad because Don never got a deer for the freezer this year. They all disappeared at hunting season.
Don got a great gig this year as a classical music festival adjudicator. He’s very good at it and is looking forward to more contracts in 2006. We still teach guitar locally and I’m also working 2 days/week teaching economics in a regional college business program. I’ll never stop performing and writing music, but I am slowing down a bit this year while I “bring home some bacon” and play around at being Professor Schumilas. Don, on the other hand, is really engrossed in his classical playing with the 4+ hours of daily practice it requires and there is renewed optimism for that Happner recording which is long, long overdue.
All the very best to you,
Dawn and Don