Monday, September 2, 2019

A truly amazing story

Before I tell my amazing story, you might like to see this:

It's a song I learned in the early 80's from a wonderful folk singer named Joan MacIsaac. Joan was a warm and wonderful person who performed locally, and we had a few common friends who would let me know when she was performing so that I could attend her shows. I loved the song you see above from the very first time I heard it. So I borrowed some money from a friend, bought Joan's Wintersong album, and committed those lyrics to memory almost immediately. I wanted to sing them for my high school friends at a party we had right after graduation, before we made our way in the world. I remember Joan mentioning that she liked to sign off on her personal letters with the song's title, and I've adopted that, too, often shortening it to just, "Hovering, Maria," when I write to my friends who have heard me sing the song. That would include my best friend, and friends from summer camps where I met some pretty special people.

After finishing university, I traveled around North America and Europe for a year with a performing group where I made some more life-long friends. I taught the song to some of my cast mates, and we sang it to the rest of our cast at a year-end talent show. And I also sang Joan's "When I Can't Play" as my grande finale, inviting them all to sing along. Needless to say, they loved it.

A few years later when I attended our Edmonton Folk Music Festival, I felt like I'd been punched in the gut when another performer mentioned that Joan had died, still very young, and with so much talent untapped. He sang "Wintersong," and I sat and cried. Joan had been so positive and encouraging of me and my rather inferior talents, and when she sang, she shone like the sun. The music world dimmed for a time -- and I was really sad when my record player needle wore out and I could no longer listen to her album. But it's a rare occasion when I don't play "I Hover Over" on my guitar, though I realize now that I've got it a little bit "wrong," probably because of all the years of singing from my faulty memory! I've sung it for many special people over the years, usually when there was soon to be "miles between us..." that, of course, "don't mean a thing..." because "we conquered them so many years ago..."

It was a chilly day in February of 2010 when I realized that an over-seas friend was celebrating her birthday, so I sent her an email signed, "I hover over your left shoulder." She responded within the hour, saying, "I remember! But I can't remember the melody!" Having nothing better to do right then, I set up our digital camera and started to make a video, but Buddy the Budgie struck up a scolding ruckus. So I opened his cage door and the second take is what you see above. I couldn't have planned it better myself, with him sitting on my left shoulder being his boppy little self! He was chattering up a storm, all his favourite phrases, like "Whatcha doin?" and "Hey, Buddy!"

Worried about copyright infringement, I searched the internet to see who I could ask for permissions before posting the song, and even tried to look up Joan's record label, but came up empty as Joan's music was written pre-internet. Taking a chance that no one would object, I uploaded the video, and sent the link to my friend overseas, who was very pleased to sing along. The video has also made the rounds with other cast mates and a few high school buddies.

A couple of years ago, I was snooping around YouTube and found that a certain Paul MacIsaac had put many of Joan's songs up on the platform. I sat and listened to them all, and sent a little note via his YouTube channel to thank him, but whether he saw it or not, I don't know. I'm not sure how these things actually work a lot of the time, so maybe it didn't get through.

Fast forward to this year. I keep some of my videos on this blog in the far right "Songs" tab under the header picture above, and have received some wonderful comments over the years from people who knew Joan MacIsaac, or who wish they had. But in April, something really special happened. I received a message from one of Joan's immediate family:
Hi Maria. I have always enjoyed your videos of you singing Joan's music. Your joyful delivery is reflective of the encouragement and caring in her music and warms my heart and soothes the feeling of the loss of her incredible voice and talent. I am so grateful that you posted those when there was nothing out there of Joan's music after her death. I am Joan's sister Molly and had sung with her as a duo before she went solo... I witnessed the creation of many of her songs and there are still many more that were never published. Our brother Paul posted her music after you did. All our family had the opportunity to watch your videos and were grateful and encouraged by it. It was due to our great loss that there were years of silence. But now the music is still circulating and encouraging others as it was meant to be....
I responded immediately, so thrilled to have heard from Molly. I asked her where she was writing from and whether her family would prefer that I take my videos down. Unfortunately, there was no way of knowing whether she would ever see my message. I heard nothing further from her, and because her comment was "Anonymous," I had no contact info. Suspecting that Joan had family connections to the Maritimes, I thought Molly might live there. I gave up, hoping that somehow she would know how much I appreciated hearing from her.

In mid-July, I attended my nephew's wedding here in Edmonton. It was a lovely event, an opportunity to really enjoy the party and dance up a storm with my hubby without the responsibilities we had at our daughter's wedding two weekends before. I was thoroughly enjoying myself, being a bit of a goof, leading a chorus of That's Amore to get the newlyweds to kiss, and introducing myself as "Auntie Maria" to tell a story about my groom nephew for the same reason. My sister-in-law and I were very much enjoying dessert and a bottle of red wine when a small, attractive and sharply dressed woman with her hair in a silver bob came to me saying, "You don't know me, but I know you, Maria. You've sung my sister's songs on YouTube, and I've been so grateful for that!"

My chin dropped to the basement. "Molly??!!"

We were immediately wrapped in each others' arms and laughing at the quirkiness of life bringing us together as guests from opposite sides of a wedding. Molly is a dear friend of my new niece-in-law's family, and we have had several lovely email exchanges since that evening. There's no denying that she and Joan are sisters. And there's yet another connection between us -- my son-in-law has a close friend named Claire, who is the niece of Molly and Joan.

I am flabbergasted by all these sudden connections, and I think it's safe to say that Molly is, too. It has meant a lot to me to reconnect with someone so close to Joan, and it meant a lot to Molly that I thought to post a few low-budget home videos of Joan's music online when the loss of Joan was still too painful for her family to do it. As Molly says, sometimes we do these little things, put a little positivity out there for the world, with no way to know how far the ripples go.

It's been amazing to have these ripples come back to me with a new friend. I hope to sing with Molly sometime soon. Her family and mine both like to have singing parties, so perhaps we'll attend each others' somewhere down the road.

In the meantime, here is Joan singing the song that started it all, as posted to YouTube by her brother, Paul. No one can beat this -- she was an excellent guitarist, and I still just love her voice! Enjoy!


Unknown said...

Maria, it was great to read this story and how it did come together. So glad you did get to share, meet and now almost be family.Wow!

Maria K. said...

Wow indeed! Everyone who hears this little story is amazed, and I'm still shaking my head! Thanks for your comment!

Unknown said...

Hi Maria,I have been a fan of Joan’s since way back at the South side folk club in Edmonton.I was playing a crackly old vinyl of Wintersong this morning and thought that I would love to find the tabs for I hover over.(my guitar playing is limited to tabs)Do you have any idea where I could find the song with tabs.
Thank you,
Bob McGee
Vancouver Island

Maria K. said...

Hi, Bob,

Sorry, I don't know if tabs files would exist of any of Joan's music. I had to sit down and figure things out by ear as I'm a self-taught guitarist. Maybe you can write your own tabs version and share it with the world?