I'm extremely honoured to be a recipient of Folk Music Ontario's 2017 "Songs from the Heart" Award!
Doris Folkens' pure, clear and fresh voice flows into the ears and carries one along on beautiful musical song streams that run deep and overflow onto banks lined with bucolic and authentic scenes, scenarios and characters sharing stories of real life wisdom. Time to ride down the river with Doris.
-Neil Diercks, Alvarez-Diercks Productions
I'm extremely honoured to be a recipient of Folk Music Ontario's 2017 "Songs from the Heart" Award!
I’m recording an album in February 2017!
The story behind the album started two generations ago. During World War 2 in Hamburg, my grandmother rescued her piano from her burning house, which had been hit by a bomb. This was the piano that crossed the ocean on a container ship to Canada when my mother married. Years later, I learnt music on that same piano. I often wonder: If my grandmother hadn’t rescued that piano, would I be playing music at all? Her actions, two generations later, left their mark on the songs that I’ve written for this album.
The songs are based on true family stories. It’s about where we came from and those who raised us.
Many of you have helped me in some way to get to this point. Through advice, support, teaching me more about music, helping me edit, and listening to my ideas and songs. Thank you!
I’m working with Producer Andrew Collins in Toronto, and can’t wait to see these homespun stories come to life in song.
In the upcoming months, I’ll be posting the stories behind the songs, behind-the-scenes photos and videos and whatever else related to the album release. I’d be honoured if you’d follow along (social media links below), but you are certainly under no pressure or obligation to do so! There’s also an email list sign up on my homepage.
Regardless, I hope you’re well!
And I’d love to hear from you.
During my time on the train this past November as VIA Rail’s Artists on board Program, one fellow passenger said to me, “This is just what the doctor ordered. There’s medicine on these iron tracks.” Perhaps he was referring to the signature chocolate-caramel torte that was served at each dinner, but I think he meant that somewhere in the midst of the changing scenery, the rattling of the wheels and the miles of track and the sharing of tales, travelling on the railway is simply good for the soul.
A VIA crew member repeated the sentiment. Almost every evening, he brought out his old-fashioned typewriter, fed a piece of paper into it, and started clicking away on the keys. He was documenting his thoughts and events of the day. He let me read several of his pages and his writing conveyed that he loved his work on the train. It was a haven from a 9-5 type of job.
But for every nostalgic and heart-warming train story, I’m sure there are an equal number of sad and infamous train tales. Take Bill Miner, for instance. He was a notorious bandit, who started his villainous career robbing stagecoaches before moving onto trains in the early 1900’s. (Trains at that time transported gold from mines.) Bill succeeded in robbing a Canadian Pacific train near Merritt, B.C. in 1904 in a very bold way. He hopped onto the train at a night time stop, climbing over the coal tender and holding the engineers at gunpoint. Bill and his accomplices then blasted open the express car with dynamite.
He had the goods.
When Bill finished looting, he apologized to the crew for causing a delay. Then, he ran off into the woods. Bill changed his identity for a while, posing as a genteel rich man in Princeton, B.C. until his spoils ran out. The train robber was charismatic and persuasive and used these abilities to charm friends into becoming accomplices for the next train robbery. As well, Bill was famous for escaping prison several times.
Songs about scoundrels and villains are popular themes in folk music and so there has already been many songs written about "Railroad Bill". I hadn’t tried my hand at capturing him and I gave it my best shot in preparation for the train trip. The result is my song Old Bill Miner:
Old Bill Miner’s got an agile mind,
grizzled face, steel blue eyes
he held up the train with his usual charm
and never killed anyone.
Old Bill Miner, gun in each hand,
pointed straight at the train’s brakeman
put dynamite to the express car door,
on his quest for some gold dust and coin and something more...
Old Bill Miner told the driver “Good night boys!”
Old Bill Miner, told the driver “No prison walls can hold me in!”
I played Old Bill Miner with some apprehension to passengers as it’s a new song for me and received a high compliment when one listener said to me, “I’ve got that Old Bill song in my head!” What’s your opinion? Should this song be included in my upcoming album? Let me know by commenting on my blog. You can also find me on Instagram at dfolkmusic.
As I told you in last week’s post, I was accepted to VIA Rail’s Artists on board Program for a memorable journey starting November 1, 2016. I was the performer on “The Canadian,” an iconic train that winds through the wilderness of five provinces: from Ontario to British Columbia and back again. This train goes through Winnipeg, Edmonton, Jasper and Kamloops, but other than those cities, the scenery is mostly of remote landscapes: far from highways and reminders of daily life.
While aboard The Canadian, I performed two-to-three shows a day, for about 45 minutes each. I played and sang for both economy class passengers and sleeper class passengers in their dome cars. During train stops in Winnipeg and Jasper, I did shows in the hall of the stations. When I first started performing, I did longer sets (over an hour) but I quickly realized that if I continued at this rate, I’d be hoarse by Saskatchewan. Singing over the hum of the engines, the clinking and clacking of the steel wheels and the general dry air inside the cars required some adherence to vocal hygiene rules. (Such as shortening sets.)
After my performances, I’d put down my guitar and people would tell me their stories. An older American gentleman told me that on his first visit to Canada as a teenager, he tried to impress Canadian girls by telling them he was a Californian surfer and nearly got himself into a skiff with their boyfriends. Another American, a young man, was on the train with his newly-wed wife on their honeymoon. They added to my music session by singing several Stan Rogers songs by memory. A shepherd from Manitoba told me he started a sheep farm because his wife wanted better quality wool for knitting, and now he has over 600 sheep.
One passenger, who went on to become a friend, told me she was on her way to Victoria after being in Toronto. Her father had recently passed away and she’d been cleaning out his earthly belongings in Ontario. The woman carried a model boat with her that her dad had spent years building. He had told her that when he died, he would be sailing the Northern Lights in the sky. In fact, several passengers said they saw the Aurora Borealis as we passed through the night somewhere in Manitoba. Perhaps he was indeed sailing up there. The woman also told me that my song, Dig a Hole, resonated with her as it brought her father’s presence closer to her on the train.
Dig a Hole is a song about my grandfather providing for his family during the Second World War in Europe:
His wife watched from the rubble of their house
she hid their secret and blew the candles out,
recalled his promise to provide
to protect their fortune for their only child.
She said, dig a hole, dig it deep
and save what you can
we’re all living in fear and suspicion
Dig a hole, dig it deep
and save what you can
‘cause better times are coming, better times are coming back.
Sometimes I wonder if my songs serve any purpose other than just giving me a creative outlet. Then, conversations like the one above happen and I’m reminded that you never know what a song can do for even just a moment in someone’s life. A song seems like such a simple thing, a string of notes and words, but it’s a way to keep people close to us no matter where they are. A song is a way to share how we’ve been impacted by them and what they mean to us. Being on the train reminded me of this: my music is rooted in people’s stories… and people want to share their stories. The railway is a great venue for this. I shared my stories through music while others shared theirs through a simple conversation while we all rattled through the Canadian wilderness.
There's still more train stories to come. I'd be honoured if you'd sign up for my mailing list to receive upcoming news about the album, which will contain the songs mentioned in these posts. Got ideas, comments or questions? Post 'em, or contact me...I'd love to hear your stories, too.
Have you looked at a Canadian $10 note lately? If you have, you’ll have noticed a train weaving through a mountain range. On the bottom of the image the text says: “The Canadian.” This is the iconic VIA Rail train that winds through the wilderness of five provinces where you’ll see forests, muskeg, shimmering lakes, large rocks, flat fields, meandering rivers, prairie sunsets, rolling hills, waterfalls, mountain peaks, elk, and possibly herds of bison, amongst many other things.
I got to be a part of the great Canadian railway trip as part of VIA Rail's "Artist-On-Board" Program. I’m not completely unfamiliar with travelling on VIA Rail. I frequently used a commuter train between Kingston and Toronto when I was at university. However, the trip from Toronto to Vancouver on “The Canadian” is a completely different rail experience. It’s an historical voyage, not just a jaunt from city to city, which runs on one of the longest railway lines in the world: 4,466 kilometres (2,775 miles) of track. The Canadian’s shiny steel train cars were built in the mid 1950’s, and although updated, still remain true to their classic, luxury vintage feel. There’s a dining car, multiple dome cars for viewing scenery and comfortable sleeping cars.
I was accepted to VIA’s program for this fall and hopped aboard The Canadian for a memorable journey on November 1, 2016 at Union Station in downtown Toronto. I can’t exactly say I “hopped” as I was lugging along a suitcase, a guitar, a mandolin, as well as my laptop and notebooks. The two- week trip would take me and my folk music from Toronto to Vancouver and back again.
I was mildly anxious about how my music would be received by the train passengers. I was performing my carefully-crafted-yet-to-be recorded songs to audiences who had no idea who I was. This performance pressure eased quickly though as I began to chat with fellow passengers and realized we all had a purpose for being part of this experience. Some people had closed a chapter in their lives and were starting a new one by moving across the country. The trip was their time to reflect. For others, they were on a long-awaited vacation. My purpose was to play music and share my songs.
The building of the railway across Canada was paramount to connecting our county and building our new nation. It made a mark in the life stories of many Canadians, one of whom I highlighted in my song The Right Side of the Tracks. It’s the true tale of a railway foreman, who worked in Northern Ontario and whose life was so interconnected with the rails that after retirement, he continued to check the tracks anyways. When he passed away of a heart condition, he was found on those tracks, no doubt checking the rails one last time.
I know this train man’s story because his daughter is my friend. It is especially meaningful that I performed this song on the train on the anniversary of his death, Nov. 2, while the train was snaking its way through the remote Northern Ontario wilderness where he had worked. He would have been 100 years old this year.
You always lived on the right side of the tracks
railway work put every shirt upon your back
trains run on time when you’re manning the line
and you’ll die on these rails when your last train rolls by.
My journey on Canada’s railway reminded me why I write and sing: to preserve and share the stories and emotions of the things that build our lives and the events that shape who we are. I’ll tell some more stories about my trip in the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned.
On Another Note: A fellow passenger (an engineer-turned entrepreneur of unique handmade biking accessories: www.oopsmark.ca) took a time-lapse video out the window during the course of the trip and wrote his own blog, which you can view with this link. I recommend it!
Definition of Art Beat
An opportunity for performers who are registered delegates at the annual Folk Music Ontario conference to ‘extend’ and ‘reach out’ to the host community. Performers act as volunteers by donating intimate, acoustic one-hour performances in local schools, seniors’ residences and long term health-care facilities.
2nd place Brian Lynch: “Perth by the Tay”
3rd place Doris Folkens & Heather Elliott : “The Fields of Perth”
We would also like to thank our judges Susan Code, James Keelaghan and Joel LeBlanc.