Emilyn Stam and John David Williams – Honeywood
Of course, you’d like a trip to Europe, but there’s a pandemic on, tethering our wanderlust to places here at home. But we can conjure our wanderings in other ways, listening to this lovely music being one.
This beautiful album, Honeywood, immediately transports you to the villages, small towns and cities of western Europe where bal folk dances have been taking place since time immemorial. This is music made for rondeaux, schottisches, waltzes and mazurkas; music that lifts your feet and compels you to move to the beat of the music. But it’s not just for dancing – it’s equally enjoyable for those who just like to listen, at a concert or at home.
The creators of this music are Emilyn Stam, extraordinary five-string fiddler, pianist and accordionist, who grew up in British Columbia mentored by the late Oliver Schroer, and her husband, John David Williams, an equally extraordinarily talented clarinet and diatonic accordion player. The two met in 2011 in the musical mélange that is the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, and nothing has been the same since they discovered their shared musical sensibilities and love for improvisation and composition. Emilyn and John are an outstanding musical team and have composed together eight of the fifteen tracks on this album. The other seven are traditional tunes from Holland, France and Germany.
Honeywood is a place in central Southern Ontario. There is a camp in the forest there where the annual bal folk camp weekends, (The Big Branch Festival, initiated by Emilyn and John,) have been taking place every September for the past few years. That camp also served as the venue for Emilyn and John’s wedding and is a fabulous place to commune with the natural world while making music. It was a very natural fit to name the new recording after this place which inspired them so much. John and Emilyn were also stirred to composing by spending two years in the Ottawa Valley, living in a hexagonal cabin surrounded by pine and birch trees and surviving the relentless winters there. Isolation is fruitful indeed, even when there is a reluctance to disrupt the tranquil stillness of the winter forest.
Today, the couple lives in Guelph, ON, surrounded by friends and a community of lovers of music and dance. To celebrate Honeywood’s release, they’ve done a series of physically distanced backyard concerts recently that were sold right out. Guests bring lawn chairs and sit in distanced circles for a safe outdoor concert experience. By all accounts, the music was really well received. (You can sign up for future concerts on their website.)
Emilyn and John are also exploring opportunities for making music on front lawns and in the streets wherever they are invited. They feel that the current pandemic is a chance to explore different ways of making music accessible to everyone.
Joining Emilyn and John on this recording, and some at the concerts, are musical friends, collaborators and special guests: Tangi Ropars on chromatic accordion, Alan Mackie on upright bass, Nathan Smith on fiddle, Kyle Waymouth on banjo, Lolita Delmonteil-Ayral on diatonic accordion, and Camille Raibaud on mandolin. Musical guests on the album filled out the arrangements beautifully.
I cannot say enough how listenable this music is. Whether or not you’re used to hearing trad music from other Canadian sources, Emilyn and John’s Honeywood is a complete breath of fresh air.
And, if you’re a musician who is fascinated and can’t wait to play these tunes, there is, in fact, a lovely tune book. The physical CD, download, tune book and more are all available through John and Emilyn’s website: