The phone rings twice. The number is blocked. I pick up the black handset.
It’s Sylvia Tyson, a legendary Canadian singer of folk country music. I am not expecting her call.
My hands start to sweat and I feel beads of moisture on the phone.
I speak to hundreds of people every year, but when it’s a celebrated artist, well, it’s different. More nerve-wracking, somehow.
An hour before I had put out feelers to interview one of the members of Quartette. They are Tyson, Cindy Church, Caitlin Hanford and Gwen Swick. The occasion for my query is A Quartette Christmas concert on Sunday, Nov. 29 at Morinville Community Cultural Centre.
Tyson tells me she’s aware no one notified me.
“But I thought I’d take a chance and see if I could squeeze it in,” says Tyson. Her soft low voice almost purrs. And as the interview progresses, her dry humour jumps out at unexpected points.
Quartette has celebrated 20 years on the Canadian music scene. In the last two decades the foursome released seven albums, performed with major symphony orchestras, hosted Christmas specials on television and received several Juno nominations.
The group first appeared at a showcase workshop of Canadian women songwriters in 1993 at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre.
“We knew each other’s material and we just started to sing. The response was instant. Within a week we were on Peter Gzowski (host of CBC Radio’s Morningside).”
The chips fell instantly in place. Here were four vocalists singing harmony with voices that were strikingly different, yet fully complementary.
Requests for a recording sprang up immediately and within seven months in April 1994, a self-titled album was released to rave reviews. Coast-to-coast theatre concerts, folk festivals and live radio appearances followed.
“As members we are separate but equal. We all have solo careers as well as other projects. Cindy for instance is very active with Lunch at Allen’s.”
Caitlin Hanford, sporting a traditional country and bluegrass voice, is heavily involved with roots-based trio The Marigolds.
Gwen Swick has recorded five albums with traditional folk trio Tamarack and as a songwriter has had several songs recorded on film soundtracks.
In addition to a solo music career, Tyson has also published her first work of fiction, Joyner’s Dream. It spans a family through eight generations and more than 200 years. And at the moment, Tyson is working on a second novel.
But Tyson’s first love is still music and reuniting with Quartette is essential to her creativity. As an ensemble, Quartette has weathered its share of highs and lows. But there’s no magic elixir to their two-decade collaborations.
“It’s all based on the fact we like each other and respect each other and want to work together.”
Not only has their friendship deepened over the years, but also their development as singer-songwriters has undergone a steady growth.
“We’ve all evolved as writers. It’s gotten better. Everybody knows their parts. Everyone submits songs and everyone has songs that are turned down. Some are not good enough or they don’t work in the context of Quartette.”
The Morinville gig is the start of a seven-stop tour of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Quartette has released two Christmas albums, the 12-track It’s Christmas and the 14-track I See A Star.
“We have some really good songs and the sound of our four voices harmonizing together is quite different. You can have four voices harmonizing and they sound nice, but we’ve been very lucky in our blend. It’s our own take on what harmony should be.”
The two-hour concert will combine time-honoured classics and original songs from the albums. After the concert, Quartette will be available to greet people and sign autographs.
A Quartette Christmas
Sunday, Nov. 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Morinville Community Cultural Centre
9502 100 Ave.
Tickets: $40 adults, $35 students/seniors Visit tixonthesquare.ca or call 780-939-7888 or at the door one hour prior to performance