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::: New! :::
Jeff has been meandering his way through life with songs and stories for many years. Finding the humor in unexpected places and delivering it in a way that only Jeff can. Connecting the dots, or maybe helping to erase them. It is a delightful blend of music that has flavors of blues, gospel and hints of The American Songbook.
For a new twist on some old yarn....
Read more here.
I play bass guitar (currently a five string "MTD").
I've played in churches (I'm part of a folk group in a Catholic church at present), pubs - nasty and nice, concerts, coffee houses and assorted other environments.
I've played in duos, full bands (three, four, five piece) and other configurations. I've had the good fortune to be part of a number of recording sessions as well.
I play by ear and use chord charts frequently. I am learning to "read" but am at a beginner level in that regard.
There are very few types of music that I don't like. I've played rock, country, gospel, reggae, folk and even some classical at a semi-serious to pretty serious level.
I'm a sucker for a great melody, a cool riff or a worthwhile lyric. If all three elements converge in a song great; I will, however, settle for one or two of them. :-)
Read more here.
"Rebel With a Cause: Innovation and Grace in the Music of a Reinfeld Boy." By Judith Klassen.
In Sound in the Land, edited by Maureen Epp, and Carol Ann Weaver, 112-24. Kitchener: Pandora Press, 2005.
The increasing influences of globalization on the creation and dispersion of popular music, via new technological media and the advent of transnational recording companies, has sparked among ethnomusicologists a new interest in tensions between local and global contexts for music. Some have championed the ways local musicians have maintained aspects of community tradition in transnational media. Others have stressed diversity within communities, arguing for the role of "micromusics" in multicultural societies. While related to these initiatives, my questions are somewhat different.
What happens, for example, when we encounter a musician whose musicking seems neither explicitly local nor global? One who remains an integrated member of the immediate community, while challenging its conventions? And what happens when this musician is also Mennonite – a member of a religious group that values community but whose churches enact this value in myriad ways?
Abram M. Friesen (1909 – 2002) used music as a joyful expression of his Christian faith throughout his life. Born in Reinfeld, Manitoba, he was an active pastor, musician and producer, working with four different radio stations in Canada and the United States before hosting Videon Cable television's "Happy Home" program in Winnipeg for 25 years. Influenced by the sentimental songs of popular musicians like Hank Snow and Jim Reeves, and fascinated by new media technologies, Friesen's musical style and television persona took shape. While his name and performance style – when coupled with the thematic content of the Happy Home telecasts – may seem to allow for the easy placement of Friesen's music, his musical pathways take on new meaning in the context of his Old Colony Mennonite heritage and subsequent affiliations with other Mennonite denominations. Herein we encounter the tension between religious devotion and popular musical style, as Friesen utilized precisely the tools that his home church initially rejected (guitar, electronic recording devices, television and radio), to follow his "calling" to Christian witness.
When I began this project it seemed obvious that in order to become better acquainted with A. M. Friesen, a 25-year icon of public access television in Manitoba, it would be necessary to immerse myself in the video recordings of the "Happy Home" telecasts. I soon discovered, however, that Shaw Communications Inc. – the company that took over the Videon Cable network in 2001 – no longer holds any of the programs in its archives, having "recorded over" or otherwise disposed of them in the (roughly) ten years since Friesen's last broadcast. Thankfully, Edna Friesen (A. M. Friesen's widow) has kept some telecasts from the late 1980s and early 1990s in her possession. These recordings, along with some home video footage and a few cassette tapes generously loaned to me by other family members, have formed the primary material for this study, supplemented by interviews and various articles written by, or about, A. M. Friesen.
A. M. Friesen's early encounters with music were in no small part affected by his Old Colony Mennonite upbringing. In his own words: "You see, I grew up Old Colony – Alt Kolonien – and they didn't believe in music, so we didn't have music." Friesen's passion did not go unrecognized, however, and he notes that it was his father who bought him his first guitar: "My dad, he thought that I could go into music and he bought me a guitar, and-ah from there I went!" The love for music that Friesen developed in the years that followed seems to have been matched only by his evangelical fervour, and the two have become intertwined in his life stories such that one is rarely separated from the other. Friesen recalls the night in 1937 – during an evening church service in Winkler, Manitoba – that he first discovered the "joy of salvation," and it is this experience that he cites as pivotal for his life choices:
Friesen's evangelical vigour was expressed in many ways, especially through his service as a pastor, and later, on radio and television. After moving away from the Old Colony Church and becoming ordained into ministry with the Rudnerweider Church north of Winkler MB, his church ministry eventually led him to found the Winkler Gospel Mission Church in 1954, a fellowship which emphasized mission and evangelism and included frequent participation in gospel revivals around Manitoba, and later, "from coast to coast."
When speaking with Friesen, or reading articles written by him, however, it is not his ordination or specific church affiliations that are emphasized; instead we find stories of starting a Sunday school, a church choir and a young people's group. Motivated by what he saw as a misunderstanding in "most churches" as to the centrality and nature of grace and salvation, Friesen embarked on his life path, albeit with some resistance from those around him. In his own words:
I believe in grace. By grace are you saved. And the-ah churches wouldn't go for that. They thought it was-ah grace plus. There is no salvation "grace plus." It's only grace. And you see, that's why I started a choir, I started a young people's meeting, started a radio and television, and all this met with great opposition. But, finally, finally, finally they gave in and I had the privilege of visiting many, many, many different churches with great results.
Notably, it was not just Friesen's emphasis on grace that created controversy in the congregations in which he was active. His children recall an incident when, after starting a church choir, he carried a piano into the sanctuary (where it stayed) because he felt that instruments were useful tools of worship, and not agents of distraction as they had been commonly understood. Friesen's strong views on music and worship were equally matched by an evangelical vigour behind the pulpit. Remembering her father's preaching style at that time, daughter Marion Penner recalls a "fire and brimstone" approach, stating: "he was out to convert!"
When asked what sort of "issues" were discussed, she goes on:
Aside from theological convictions that were radical vis à vis Old Colony and Rudnerweider beliefs, we discover in Friesen a man who "was always on the cutting edge" of technological developments as well. His children remember cutting "rose-coloured plastic records" of guests to their home, their father's construction of a motorized, propellor-driven "snowflyer" used to take the country doctor on winter house-visits, and his fascination with new recording and visual technologies; so much so, in fact, that his obituary states: "At the age of 93 he was still operating his computer and taking and printing pictures of friends and family using his digital camera."
I mention these things, not merely to celebrate Friesen's endearing characteristics, but because of the challenges they present to assumed notions about what it means to be Mennonite, what it means to be amateur, and what it means to be 93. By emphasizing the sometimes radical stances taken by A. M. Friesen during his life and ministry, we discover that, in many ways, Friesen worked outside of the boundaries of a "Mennonite boy from Reinfeld."
Using his guitar, electronic media and television – precisely the tools which would have been questionable in his home church – Friesen sought to follow his "call" to Christian witness. In so doing, he embodied an innovation which was consistent with his theology of grace – that the love of God and the salvation of humankind is not contingent on one's actions or musical preferences, but is rather a gift freely given to those who believe.
A. M. Friesen, as depicted on the Happy Home telecasts of the 1980s and 1990s, maintains a passion for sharing the love of Jesus, however he shows little sign of the fiery preacher previously described. What we find in the host of Happy Home is a gentle performer who seeks a relationship of reciprocity with his audience; writing, receiving and reading letters, greeting the camera staff on the air, and sending "hellos" and "thank yous" to his viewing audience. Friesen also places much emphasis on friendship in his telecasts, speaking to viewers by name and mentioning specific weekly celebrations, meals, or other events to which he has been invited. Commenting on a similar technique used in some religious radio broadcasts of the southern United States, Howard Dorgan writes: "I was often amused by such program episodes. Later, however, that amusement was changed to a deep respect for the tradition, recognizing the role such reporting played in the lives of the listeners."
This mutual intimacy bears much in common with the model of community radio offered by Lewis and Booth in their 1990 text, The Invisible Medium, wherein the listener is understood to participate as both subject and participant, allowing the station (or in this case, a particular broadcast), to "break through the isolation of separate constituencies." In so viewing this relationship, frequently assumed binaries between "active" media performers and "passive" audience members are challenged, and boundaries are broken down.
The intimacy afforded in this manner implies an openness and connection between Friesen and his audience, foregrounding familiarity – a characteristic which one might associate with a local performer. But does this reciprocity indicate locality?
Reflecting on the show in 1985 (after 840 telecasts), Friesen remarks on the letters he has received from such places as Africa, Trinidad, the Philippines, the USA, and London, noting that "by the grace of God, 'Happy Home' has been a blessing to people in all walks of life, all ages, and many different nationalities." Friesen's introduction to one episode encapsulates this interest in cross-cultural dialogue clearly, as he begins by welcoming the viewing audience to the show in five different languages! Given the numerous and overlapping constituencies represented by viewers, we realize that reductive assumptions about a homogeneous response to Friesen's work are misleading. To borrow from Abu-Lughod, "Television, in short, renders more and more problematic a concept of cultures as localized communities of people suspended in shared webs of meaning."
Friesen, Abe. 2004. Interview by author, 5 January 2004, Steinbach MB. Tape recording.
Friesen, Abe M. 2002. Telephone interview by author, 9 and 22 February, Winnipeg and Toronto.
________. 2002. Winnipeg, to author, Toronto, 26 March. Transcript in the hand of A. M. Friesen.
Friesen, Edna. 2004. Conversation with author, 3 January, Winnipeg MB.
Penner (Friesen), Marion. 2004. Interview by author, 5 January, Steinbach MB. Tape recording.
________. 2004. Telephone conversation with author, 19 April, Steinbach and St. John's.
________. 2004. Email correspondence with author, 20 April.
________. 2004. Email correspondence with author, 27 August.
Thiessen, Marv. 2004. Telephone conversation with author, 2 January, Winnipeg MB.
Friesen, Abe M. Circa 1980s. "Happy Home" telecasts. Personal collection of Edna Friesen. Videocassette.
________. Circa 1990s. "Happy Home" telecasts. Personal collection of Edna Friesen. Videocassette.
________. 1990s. Home video. Personal collection of Edna Friesen. Videocassette.
Froese (Peters), Jacob and Mary. 2001. Jacob and Mary's 60th Wedding Anniversary Party. Recorded by Judith Klassen. 23 December, Plum Coulee MB. Videocassette.
Friesen, Abe M. Circa 1980s. Hymn arrangements for synthesizer. From the personal collection of Mary Froese (Peters). Cassette tape.
________. Date Unknown. Arrangements of and accompaniments for hymns and personal compositions performed on synthesizer. From the personal collection of Edna Friesen. Cassette tape.
Reeves, Jim. 2003. Jim Reeves: Anthology. Produced by Rob Santos. BMG Heritage CD 82876 54849 2. Notes by Rich Kienzle.
Snow, Hank. 2001. Hank Snow: RCA Country Legends. Produced by Rob Santos. Buddha Records CD 74465 99789 2. Notes by Rich Kienzle.
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"First Live Show: A. M. Friesen, Monday, November 29th, 1976." Advertisement from personal collection of A. M. Friesen. Photocopy.
Friesen, A. M. "Happy Home." 1985. In Reflections: Winnipeg's Public Access Newsletter 10:3 (May).
________. "Happy Home." Circa 1980s. Personal collection of A. M. Friesen. Photocopy.
________. "Profile." Date Unknown. Personal collection of A. M. Friesen. Photocopy.
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_______. 1999. "Riffs, Repetition, and Theories of Globalization." Ethnomusicology 43/1: 31-65.
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