Ray John­son: I Know that Voice

The Compass - - OPINION - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net

Ray John­son is one-third of the mu­si­cal com­edy troupe known as Buddy Wa­sis­name and the Other Fellers, in­clud­ing Kevin Black­more and Wayne Chaulk.

Ray is also known as the au­thor of “... and I owe it all to Brid­get and John,” his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy in which he shows how he was “in­flu­enced by the sto­ries, char­ac­ters, mu­sic and songs passed on to me so many years ago.”

Now, in his sec­ond book, “I Know that Voice: Ru­ral New­found­land and Labrador Songs, Recita­tions, Ac­cor­dion and Fid­dle Tunes,” he in­vites read­ers to “in­dulge in the rich mu­sic of yes­ter­year.”

In an email in­ter­view with this colum­nist, Ray says, “By no means do I feel the word ‘ru­ral’ is os­tra­ciz­ing my work in terms of ... get­ting it into the hands of just ru­ral read­ers; in fact, most of the peo­ple I have spo­ken to in the ur­ban cen­tres have in­formed me of their ... hav­ing come from a ru­ral com­mu­nity.”

Mu­sic is very much a con­stituent com­po­nent of Ray’s life. To ex­plain the power of mu­sic that keeps peo­ple com­ing back for more, along with what it means to him per­son­ally, he calls upon the Chi­nese philoso­pher, Con­fu­cius, who said, “Mu­sic pro­duces a kind of plea­sure which hu­man na­ture can­not do with­out.”

Ray adds the power of New­found­land and Labrador mu­sic “was driven by means of the spirit of the cod that brought fish­er­men and their wives to th­ese shores, who were great storytellers, singers, mu­si­cians and dancers, etc.”

In his own case, the in­flu­ence of oth­ers led to his pro­nounced “love for this place and, of course, the joy, plea­sure of mu­sic” in open­ing an av­enue of ex­pres­sion for him.

As a bonus for those who pick up his book, Ray has in­cluded a CD fea­tur­ing a se­lec­tion of tunes he recorded as a solo artist from 1969 to 1982. It gives the lis­tener another op­por­tu­nity to lis­ten to a per­former with a de­cid­edly par­tic­u­lar di­alect, whose haunt­ing tones “take the lis­tener to his or her home where their heart seems to dwell on the place they love, left, etc.” He hopes it “will give in­sight into how mu­sic and song were part of (my) up­bring­ing, as well as how (mu­sic and song) played, and con­tinue to play, a vi­tal role in the so­cial well-be­ing of the peo­ple of ru­ral New­found­land and Labrador.”

He be­gins with his com­po­si­tion, “My Isle of Song (Over­ture),” which he wrote to ex­press his deep and undy­ing love for the prov­ince. It’s ded­i­cated to the mem­ory of the 251 seal­ers who per­ished in two sep­a­rate seal­ing dis­as­ters in March 1914, the SS New­found­land and the SS South­ern Cross.

“The melody,” he states, “re­minds me of who we are and why this place and its peo­ple are cher­ished and loved by so many.”

John Reynolds of VOCM Ra­dio sug­gests that “Fishin’ in a Dory,” a popular tune writ­ten by the late Paul Em­ber­ley of Bay de Verde, with mu­sic by Ray, “caught on like cold beer on a sum­mer’s day.”

The mu­si­cal selections on the CD have been tran­scribed for the sake of those who wish to per­form the pieces them­selves.

“It is my firm con­vic­tion,” Ray says, “that the tra­di­tional mu­sic, as I know it, if it is to sur­vive in this prov­ince for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, there must be a con­tin­u­a­tion of young lis­ten­ers, per­form­ers tak­ing on the role as their par­ents, grand­par­ents, that only can be de­liv­ered if taught in our schools, but more com­pul­sory than what is be­ing shown right now in many of our in­sti­tu­tions here in New­found­land and Labrador ... I would pre­fer to see a stu­dent hav­ing to pass a folk­lore course as part of the school stud­ies in or­der to grad­u­ate.”

He would be grat­i­fied if his work “should end up in the class­room as part of the cur­ricu­lum, as well as a study for stu­dents grad­u­at­ing from univer­sity.”

It’s great when young peo­ple ap­proach Ray and com­ment on his dis­tinc­tive mu­si­cal style but, he says, “it’s when they take that mu­sic and ap­ply it to them­selves, whereby they reap the ben­e­fits for their own plea­sure and, yes, a ca­reer that, in some way, en­light­ens their soul and al­lows them to re­main in this prov­ince where all this started in the first place.”

Ray con­cludes, “The peo­ple who live in New­found­land and Labrador are an en­dur­ing breed. We are peo­ple who are proud of our her­itage, cul­ture and mu­sic. May we never let it die!”

“I Know that Voice: Ru­ral New­found­land and Labrador Songs, Recita­tions, Ac­cor­dion and Fid­dle Tunes” is pro­duced by DRC Pub­lish­ing of St. John’s. — Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached

at bur­tonj@nfld.net

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