Monday, July 03, 2017

Thoughts from Chris White about "The Far Saskatchewan"

My friend Chris White is a pillar of the Ottawa folk music community -- a multi-talented singer-songwriter, a veteran radio host, a festival organizer and a leader of singing groups.
A while back he was kind enough to send me a copy of some thoughts he shared with his men's singing group, Brothers Aloud, which I am resharing with his permission. Thanks, Chris!

P.S. You can listen to "The Far Saskatchewan" here, and purchase a copy here.

Hi Tom,

Every singing group I lead loves "The Far Saskatchewan".  I thought you'd be interested in this message I sent to the Brothers Aloud men's group after we sang it last night.



---------- Forwarded message ----------

Hi Brothers,

Congrats on an excellent singing session last night.!

As requested, here are the lyrics to "The Far Saskatchewan" by Ottawa singer-songwriter-storyteller Tom Lips, along with his thoughts about why that particular song has been so popular over the years.  In addition to the reasons he offers, I would add that the actual *sounds of the words* play a huge role in the song's popularity.  There are long, open vowels and resonant m's and n's throughout the song, especially in the chorus.  Those sounds make the song ideal for singing, and the long, open vowels are also a perfect way to express the openness of the prairies.

   You'll understand why my thoughts_ still fly
   Where half_  the world_  is made of sky_
   And you'll understand why I dream_ upon_
   The far_ Saskatche-wan
   The far_ Saskatche-wan

Another huge strength of the song is that it starts with a personal story set in the past and develops through the third and fourth verses into a universal story that includes the listener.  That same trajectory underlies some of the world's most powerful speeches, including Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream".

There's a nice rendition of "The Far Saskatchewan" at by someone named Michael Braley.  He doesn't get the lyrics and chords quite right in a few places, but that's "the folk process"!
Tom's website is