The Gift of Mu­sic

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Len­noxville

You can hardly con­sider your­self a Town­ship­per if you haven’t at­tended at least one event that fea­tured the live mu­sic of The Castaways. That group has been play­ing its ‘old-time coun­try’ mu­sic for peo­ple, free of charge, for more

than twenty years, as at home in front of a group of se­niors in a se­niors’ res­i­dence as they are in front of hun­dreds of spec­ta­tors at Hat­ley’s Canada Day.

“We’ve played from Stanstead to Rich­mond and all points in be­tween. We’ve played in the St. Pa­trick’s Day Pa­rade in Rich­mond, the Border­fest pa­rade in Stanstead, the Friend­ship Day Pa­rade in Len­noxville and at many se­niors’ homes. Bunny had a lot of con­nec­tions; he’d take on these jobs and we would fol­low,” ex­plained Robert Wooller­ton, the last of the orig­i­nal band mem­bers who in­cluded Bunny Smith and Eddy Custeau, both now gone to the big jam ses­sion in the sky, Alice Cameron and John Mac­don­ald. “It’s been a fun twenty years,” said Robert who plays gui­tar in the band, adding: “As Bunny used to say, as soon as it stops be­ing fun, we quit!”

In ad­di­tion to Mr. Wooller­ton, to­day’s mem­bers of The Castaways are Leta Dustin, Ann Craw­ford and Chilston Low­ery who has been on a ‘hia­tus’ for health rea­sons but is hoped to re­turn. “We’ve been for­tu­nate to have Elmer An­drews fill the spot for now, as far as the fid­dling goes,” men­tioned Robert.

Leta Dustin, who got started with mu­sic in the Boyn­ton dance­hall about seventy years ago, plays the pi­ano in the band. “My ma wanted to play vi­o­lin so she taught me how to chord the pi­ano when I could hardly reach the ped­als!” said Leta who took up pi­ano play­ing again in the 1980’s, af­ter re­tir­ing. “Eileen Drew was try­ing to learn the vi­o­lin and wanted some­one who could chord the pi­ano. I’m re­ally thank­ful Eileen got me back to my mu­sic,” said Mrs. Dustin who also plays with The Ju­biloes, an all-girls band. “Mu­sic has filled up my re­tire­ment years and I’m thank­ful for all the peo­ple I’ve played with. I miss Eddy – was he ever fun to play with be­cause he liked the fast mu­sic; he played a lot of reels.”

Ann Craw­ford grew up in Water­ville but has lived in Len­noxville for the last thirty-three years. She has sung and played gui­tar with The Castaways for about eight years. “I started on the key­board but then Robert taught me how to play gui­tar,” said Ann who now tries to learn a new song on the gui­tar ev­ery week. She can also play the fid­dle, although she only takes it out once in a while. With a keen un­der­stand­ing of the power of mu­sic, Ann learnt how to play the fid­dle af­ter her hus- band, Gor­don, moved into a long-term care fa­cil­ity. “I learnt his favourite tune, “Lit­tle Girl”, and then played if for him on Christ­mas.” Be­sides the places

men­tioned pre­vi­ously, The Castaways have played in com­mu­nity cen­tres, churches, day cen­tres for se­niors, at Ma­gog’s Se­niors’ Day, Town­ship­pers’ Day, and at Town­ship­pers As­so­ci­a­tion’s in­ter­gen­er­a­tional events. “We’ve played for birth­day par­ties and other gath­er­ings. We don’t charge, but we ac­cept do­na­tions for the gas ex­pense and we’ll also ac­cept a meal as pay,” ad­mit­ted Mr. Wooller­ton.

Last Thurs­day, the tunes of The Castaways had peo­ple toe-tap­ping and danc­ing on the dance floor of the Ayer’s Cliff Le­gion Hall where I in­ter­viewed the band’s mem­bers. “He taught me to play gui­tar but he won’t help me with the singing,” joked Ann, re­fer­ring to Robert. “We’re all am­a­teurs and just like play­ing to­gether. Don’t ask me to do a solo – that’s not up my al­ley!” men­tioned Robert.

Amazed at how busy the group was, I asked if they’d played any­where else that week. “This week we’ve played four times! I don’t keep track of the mileage; when the gas tank is low I just fill it up,” said Robert.

“One time when we were play­ing at a se­niors’ res­i­dence in Rich­mond, there was a woman ly­ing on a stretcher lis­ten­ing to the mu­sic. I said to Ann: ‘Look at her toe.’ It was tap­ping away to the mu­sic. That’s our pay.”

Photo Jour­nal

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

The Castaways, along with a few mu­si­cal guests, get ready to play at the Ayer’s Cliff Le­gion last Thurs­day. Seen in the photo are (l. to r.) Ge­orge­line Char­land, Elmer An­drews, Leta Dustin, Beth Hartwell, Ann Craw­ford and Robert Wooller­ton.

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