A TV crewman holds a chalked sign in front of the camera, another lifts high a banner with words on it, and the show gets underway
A camera man at the back of the room yelled, "30 seconds," and someone held up a banner with the words:
Sing along in chorus
Hum or whistle or shout
There's room for all in the hootenanny hall
So come on let's sing out...
And about 400 University of Manitoba students sitting on the floor of the agriculture building auditorium blossomed into song.
It was one night this week and the university was joining Oscar Brand to video-tape three half-hour programs for CTV's Let's Sing Out show.
"Please don't look anywhere but straight at the performer," said Mr. Brand. "Sing twice as loud as you normally would and if you notice that the camera is focused on some one beside you don't poke him."
Despite the cameras, the instructions and the professional calibre of the show, it was one of the most spontaneous hootenanny's [sic] the university has ever held.
Mr. Brand kept everyone comfortable with an unlimited supply of ad lib humor and an entertaining and versatile group of performers.
"It's not enough to be absorbed," he said. "You have to LOOK absorbed." He explained afterwards that everything he says is spontaneous.
Brand's show has been on for three years now and is in the top 10 rating, but the 45-year old artist says that writing is really his career. He's just written a Broadway play, The Joyful Noise, which he says will go into rehearsal in March. He is presently working on a novel.
Originally a Winnipegger, Brand spent his childhood alternately this city, Minneapolis, Chicago and New York. He was working on a farm on the United States-Canada border when he decided to go to college. He decided, he says, "because it was free."
He majored in psychology, because that was the only course he did well in, and practiced for a while but decided that he didn't want to spend his life at it.
"A writer - that's all I want to be," he says.
Two of his television shows have been up for Emmys, he's written movie scripts and is currently planning for an NBC show called The First Look, a program of original songs for young people.
Brand is also co-ordinator of folk music for New York City's municipal radio station and has been presenting a program every Sunday since 1945 - Folksong Festival. He does a show for the social security department of the U.S. government that is broadcast over 1,880 stations.
Speaking of Let's Sing Out, Brand says the only problem is that as soon as a show has made it, it gets taken off the air. "So I don't know why we're still on."
This week, his show was composed of talent from Saskatchewan to New York. It had the traditional long-haired grubby-shirt types, blonde Joan Anderson from Saskatchewan, The Three's A Crowd group and the hit of the evening, the Chapins.
The Chapins are a family foursome from New York City who explain that they don't need sideburns and tight pants to get a message across.
"We have a message," say 22-year-old Harry, "but our message is positive."
The Chapins, who write and sing what they call Chapin music, are composed of father James, 46, a jazz drummer by profession, 18-year-old Steve, 20-year-old Tom and Harry, 22.
"We have another brother James but he's tone deaf," they explained. "Besides, he's studying American diplomacy."
The Chapins decided to go professional in June and since then have been on the Merv Griffin Show, a counterpart of the Tonight Show, played two and one-half weeks at a New York folk-singing mecca, The Bitter End, and have just auditioned for a recording contract with RCA Victor.
"Chapin music isn't typed in any way at all," says Steve. "But all our songs say that we believe in living life to the hilt and taking all the risks. We do everything from pop to rock and roll to folk and show music."
Most important, the Chapins enjoy what they are doing and inject a youthful vigour into their numbers. They claim the whole family is creative. One grandfather was an American painter who did covers for Time Magazine, another was a critic who is up for the Gold Prize in American Letters.
The family has been musical as far back as they can remember. Steve took piano lessons for four years, Tom studied the clarinet and Harry studied the classical trumpet for 12 years.
Eventually, however, Steve wants to be an engineer, Tom a teacher and Harry a motion-picture writer.
"But for now this is enjoyable," says Steve.
Although the Chapins haven't become well-known in their field yet, they have bookings now to play at various American colleges, and are leaving a very favorable impression where ever they go, not only as performers, but as energetic and happy people.
Dave Van Ronk, a bearded gravelly-voiced blues singer, appeared on the program coming from a sojourn on the folk-circuit in England. And Pat Sky, a Canadian working out of Greenwich Village, entertained with his own protest songs, guitar in hand and mouth organ between his lips.
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