By Christine Buchanan
Volume 15 Number 1
"Good fourtune" and a "misplaced front door key" led to the successful musical partnership and subsequent marriage of Rick Avery and Judy Greenhill. Since 1978, Rick and Judy, as they are known professionally, have gained an extensive following in Canada and elsewhere through their recordings, concerts, and workshops.
Rick, a civil engineer who had always enjoyed British traditional music, emigrated from Britain in 1970 and became involved with folk music in Toronto . After a short stint "building and designing sewers," he became a full-time professional musician. Judy, who was born in Toronto, also gravitated towards folk music after teaching and various other occupations, and performed in concerts and clubs throughout Ontario. Their meeting brought together a rich variety of talents as well as the blending of two remarkably compatible voices.
Rick and Judy have drawn on many sources for their songs, and have a great knowledge and respect for the origins of traditional music. They cherish both the different musical idioms and the varieties of human experience celebrated in folk songs. Their album notes often give extensive information on the background, associations, and meanings of their songs. On occasion too, they have not hesitated to adapt or add to existing songs, or to provide their own arrangements -- certainly legitimate and enriching features of folk music everywhere. Rick and Judy always indicate where they have made their own changes, and indeed encourage listeners to make their own personal improvisations and adaptations.
Their first album, Harbour Grace: Songs of Eastern Canada, released in 1981, established some of the distinctive attributes of all their recordings. First, there is an interesting variety of music, carefully selected. In this case, there are dance songs, ballads, a lament, and songs derived from the lives of the voyageurs, lumbermen, and fishermen. The musical mood changes from the rueful and tragic to the hilarious and rollicking, bringing Canadian history vividly to life in the process. Secondly, there is the effective melding of two voices, occasionally supported by other singers. The pair sing not only together, but sometimes alone, or in harmony, or in rounds, using their voices almost as instruments in the overall execution of the piece. Their crystal clear diction and sure technique are part of the professional quality one senses immediately. Thirdly, there is the skillful and selective use of a whole variety of folk instruments including the banjo guitar, mandolin, bass, bodhran, whistle, northumbrian small pipes, and others.
Rick and Judy's second album, Land of the Silver Birch ( 1983), continues their celebration of Canada in song. This time, the geographic areas covered extend from the Maritimes to include Ontario, Quebec, the Prairies, and British Columbia. Canada as a whole is saluted with a stirring medley including "When I First Came to This Land," which chronicles the struggles of the early pioneers, and the Canadian variant of the Woody Guthrie song, "This Land is Your Land." Additional instruments are heard, as well as some of those used in the first album; these include the accordion, fiddle, appalachian dulcimer, tenor and bass viol, jaw harp, along with special effects, such as appropriate fly noises in "The Blackfly Song!" Again, as in the first recording, other singers and musicians variously assist the principals.
Christmas is Coming, their third production, was recorded in 1984 in Rick and Judy's own living room. A fitting sense of intimacy is conveyed by the fact that Rick and Judy sing on this tape entirely alone, with only simple instrumentation, and even occasionally unaccompanied. The collection contains many well-loved Christmas pieces that have a new impact in their fresh and uncluttered treatments. As well, less familiar tunes, such as the traditional carol, "The Wren," the hymn, "Lord of the Dance," and the exuberant "Ring, Ring the Bell," are welcome additions to the often limited range of seasonal offerings generally heard.
The Rick and Judy Family Album from 1986 celebrates the events and flavour of family life and grows out of Rick and Judy's own experiences as parents of their young son Jonathan. More instruments are used here, including the psaltery, spoons, melodeon and even knee slaps. The exuberant accompaniment of a large chorus of friends of all ages gives something of the flavour of a live concert.
Indeed, concerts and workshops have been an important part of Rick and Judy's live! and work since 1981. Since that time they have given hundreds of concerts and programs, appearing in clubs, festivals (from Mariposa in Ontario to the Toodhay Folk Festival in Australia), schools, and libraries. In Ontario, they have often been affiliated with such organizations as Mariposa in the Schools, Inner City Angels, and the Toronto Musicians' Association Their children's programs combine lively participation in both songs and actions, balanced with times just for listening and informal teaching segments on the background to the music. In keeping with their commitment to achieving a smooth and professional presentation, Rick and Judy provide their own sound systems for most concerts. Recently, radio and television appearances have helped introduce them to new audiences.
It is clear that Rick and Judy, while having a special rapport and involvement with children, continue to appeal to adults as well. Their audiences often include a wide range of ages and, in fact, their recordings defy labelling as suitable for only a certain age. Rather, they seem designed to live with and grow with. Rick and Judy's music joyously exemplifies the universality and power of folk music to bring people of all ages together.
Harbour Grace (ie. Songs of Eastern Canada. J & R Records,1981. Land of the Silver Birch J & R Records,1983. Christmas is Coming (tape only). J & R Records,1984. Rick and Judy Family Album. J & R Records, 1986.