Music and Writers: Woody Point, Newfoundland

Driving back from Rocky Harbour (Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland) to Corner Brook, I decided to take the turnoff to Woody Point and check out the activity in that wonderful gentrified outport.

The festival “Writers at Woody Point,” now in its eleventh year, was in full swing, and so, too, was Gros Morne Summer Music, which started twelve years ago (for more information about these events see http://www.writersatwoodypoint.com and http://gmsm.ca).

I hadn’t planned in advance to take in any particular event, but my driving into Woody Point coincided with an afternoon performance by Gros Morne Summer Music at their newly purchased and renovated St. Patrick’s Church (“an 1875 neo-gothic outport church,” as described on the music festival’s website). I caught a serene and magical performance, which boasted clarinettist Christine Carter, pianist David Maggs, cellist Diederik van Dijk, and vocalist Yvette Coleman.

Gros Morne Summer Music Concert, St. Patrick's Church (David Maggs and Yvette Coleman)
Gros Morne Summer Music Concert, St. Patrick’s Church (David Maggs and Yvette Coleman)

The highlight of the afternoon was Coleman, a versatile singer who is accomplished in many different genres. Coleman performed a number of arias, including one from Puccini’s La Boheme.

Sitting in the church surrounded by a world-class performance and musicians, which included Brahms’ famous trio for clarinet, cello, and piano, I couldn’t help thinking how the experience (or afternoon) was so strangely wonderful.

There is no pretension in the setting of Woody Point. The landscape, like the culture of Newfoundland and Labrador, is rugged and unassuming. One could just as easily take in such a performance in jeans and runners as one could in finery and feel perfectly at place, though the quality and calibre of the afternoon would be just as at home in Carnegie Hall as it was against the backdrop of a Newfoundland outport.

After this show, it seemed natural that I could simply wander down, as I did, to see writer and scholar Stan Dragland read from his work The Drowned Lands (Pedlar Press 2008). I have long been an admirer of Dragland’s work, in particular his scholarship as a Canadian critic and the impressive book he published in 1994, Floating Voice: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Literature of Treaty 9 (Anansi 1994). Dragland seems to be more invested these days in producing creative work rather than literary criticism (albeit, a creative act in its own right, as I have always argued), and his creative output remains as world class as the criticism he was renowned for as a Canadian professor.

Dragland’s reading and the afternoon performance by Gros Morne Summer Music were two events I simply stumbled into after arriving in Woody Point, and the quality of both performances in such a pristine and beautiful place made me think again about the relation between setting and art or setting and production. Does setting produce a certain kind of performance, or are certain kinds of people—artists and producers—inclined to share certain kinds of things in certain kinds of settings?

What I do know as an observer and audience member is that fine art and expression stand on their own. They do not need ostentatious surroundings, and, in fact, the quality of fine expression seems to stand out more, perhaps, in humble atmospheres (which might also be breathtaking).