Ever wonder why fiddle music is considered Canadian? Or why the exciting sounds of samba have come to define Brazil?
Those are the types of questions that intrigued Harrison Festival Society director Andy Hillhouse when he undertook his PhD. Now, he wants to bring those discussions to the community in a new lecture series put on by the festival society.
Hillhouse has his PhD in ethnomusicology, a discipline that looks at the cultural context of music around the world. For him, it was an opportunity to dive into the globalization of folk music.
“I wrote a lot about festivals in my dissertation, and about musicians touring the festival circuit,” he said, “and what that’s doing to the idea of folk music on a global scale.”
Since defending his dissertation in 2013, Hillhouse has lectured on similar topics for students at the University of Toronto and other schools. Although most of these lectures have been academic, the topics are a perfect fit for the Harrison Festival Society, he said.
“Our mandate as an organization, as well as doing shows and having fun, entertaining performances, it’s also about educating as we entertain,” he said. “To celebrate culture and cultural diversity. And to teach people about culture in a way that is engaging.
“A lecture series just seemed natural for me to do what I enjoy doing, which is talking about music … and the culture around it, and also very much in keeping with that we’re about as a society.”
The lecture series will open up the Ranger Station Gallery to interested patrons three times over the next two months, and take a closer look at how music creates a national identity.
The first lecture, taking place on Monday, March 4, will invite people to take a closer look at the Canadian association with fiddle music.
“It’s an instrument that crosses a lot of cultural boundaries,” Hillhouse said. “There’s Indigenous fiddle traditions, French-Canadian traditions, Anglo-Canadian and Scottish. It’s just like the story of the fiddle is the story of Canada in many ways.”
The second lecture, on April 1, will look at the national importance of samba in Brazil, something Hillhouse said was “an interesting comparison to Canada.”
“Brazil is really interesting because you get into Carnival, and the parade,” he said.
The final lecture, on April 29, will turn to European classical music in the late-19th century, which began to take influences from local folk songs in the service of nationalism.
“I’m showing that … question of who are the folk of a country, who becomes identified with a traditional culture of a nation,” Hillhouse said.
Each lecture will start at 7:30 p.m. at the Ranger Station Gallery, and feature videos and music to help participants experience the topics; admission is by donation.
Although the concept is still new, Hillhouse has high hopes for the lecture series — which he hopes to bring back next year if the reception is good.
“I hope people come away with feeling like they’ve learnt something a little deeper than what they know,” he explained. “There’s not enough time in a concert to really understand where the music comes from, and what kind of ground it grew out of.”
“I hope that people feel like … the next time I go hear samba, rather than it being like a bunch of nice grooves … I’ll have an appreciation of where it came from and why it has meaning to people.”