By Rachel Stern
Songs tell stories.
They can create an emotional moment. Evoke a memory. Or bring people together.
“I believe songs are written for a reason,” said Scottish-Canadian tenor John McDermott.
Songs have been a part of McDermott’s life since childhood. Sharing songs with others has created its own set of stories and memories.
McDermott remembers as a child when his family immigrated to Canada to Willdowdale, Ont., in 1965. One of the first things his father, Peter, did is go down one side of the street and knock on everyone’s door, introduce himself, and invite his neighbours over for a singalong. Maybe five people showed up the first night. Then the next week he introduced himself to the other side of the street and invited them to the house.
“We got to know our neighbours … this crazy family of 12 kids,” said McDermott.
It became a weekly event and soon almost everyone along the street attended.
“Everybody had their own song,” said McDermott. “My song was always Danny Boy and my brother’s was The Green Fields of France.”
McDermott said his music career developed through a series of collisions.
“I had no intention of getting into the business,” he said. “I was 38 when I started.”
He was working in the circulation department of Toronto Sun, but made the decision to take a chance.
“I took a leave of absence in case I fell flat on my face,” he said.
At first he toured as the opening act for The Chieftains. Then in 1993 he started touring with his own band. McDermott realized he made the right decision when he performed to a full house at the Rebecca Cohn Theatre in Halifax. The crowd was so “thrilled” and determined for an encore that the concert continued for four hours.
“Once I got a taste of it I realized it was something I could do and wanted to do,” said McDermott.
Since that time, McDermott has become an internationally recognized recording artist with multiple Juno nominations and platinum, double-platinum and triple-platinum albums. The only musical training McDermott had was at St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto. He attended the school for two years.
He’s known for his commitment to veterans and for the past few years has been raising money to help expand the palliative care unit at the Veterans Centre at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital. McDermott’s father, who was a veteran, told McDermott a year before he died he needed to give back.
“You have to promise me to give back to veterans because the veterans gave us this great country,” said McDermott about his father’s request.
His latest album is Raised on Songs and Stories (Part One). Portions of the song Auld Lang Syne is woven throughout the album. McDermott said it is something he always wanted to do on an album, have the tracks connected by an instrumental piece. The album features songs such as Leezie Lindsay, Yesterday’s People and Flower of Scotland.
The history of each song is explained in a special section on the album cover. The album is one of a pair McDermott is working on. The first is dedicated to Scottish songs and the second will feature traditional Irish songs. Instead of using a song to tie the album together McDermott said there will be people who will tell a story about the song to introduce it.
McDermott performs at the Sid Williams Theatre, Sunday, April 17 at 7:30 p.m. as part of his Traditionally Yours tour.
Tickets are $47.50 and are available by calling 250-338-2430 ext 1. or visiting sidwilliamstheatre.com