Monday, June 15, 2009

John's legacy

John Kavanagh died a few days before I arrived in Nova Scotia. I did not know him well, he arrived here after I left in the '80s, but I was aware of his presence here. He worked part time in the bookstore and was very active in the local music scene. He died as a result of an unfortunate accident, snorkelling with his wife. They were avid snorkellers, which you'd have to be if you regularly snorkel in the North Atlantic.

John was a musician's musician, a teacher, a sidesman, a master of many instruments, a composer, the inspirer of many musical talents. As one star musician said, He made me love music even more. His passion was the ukelele, he also played guitar, viola, cello, bass, just about anything with strings. His repertoire included all forms of music from classical to jazz, folk, roots and pop.

On Saturday a memorial concert for John was held at Ross Creek Centre for the Arts. An absolutely lovely setting for such an event, and after three days of drizzle and heavy rain, blue skies reappeared spectacularly as a stunning backdrop. You couldn't ask for a more perfect day.

I went to the memorial with Ruth, our intention was to stay only a couple of hours but we stayed for the entire event, only leaving at sunset. The music was uniformly great, it is hard to pick out highlights.

There was a standing ovation for a pair who made a special appearance, they were en route from performances in Toronto to Oregon but made a side trip here especially for John. They played ukelele and cello, and I have gained a whole new respect for the ukelele listening to them. Of course, John was a master of both instruments.

Another ukelele player came up from Halifax, resplendent in white shirt and red bow tie, the perfect outfit for playing uke!

John's wife Mary and his son Alex played with many of the musicians, and there was a performance by two of John's nephews.

Heather Kelday and friends delivered a great performance of a song about tubing on the Gaspereau that had the whole audience singing along; tubing the Gaspereau is a fundamental initiation rite of living in the Valley.

The finale had just about every musician present up on stage singing and playing a great song about wide open heart.

There was potluck dinner during a brief break. Mike showed Ruth and I his latest project at the Centre, the conversion of an old boat into a stage for an upcoming play.

I'm afraid I hit a blood sugar low just before dinner time, one person attempted to engage me in conversation while I was in the dinner line-up and I rather curtly interrupted him to get some food onto my plate. I feel bad about that, but at the time I felt like I had no choice, I really really had to eat!

I spoke briefly to one of John's best friends Jack in the dinner line-up. By this time I had had a couple of mouthfuls of food so was a little less rude. Jack greeted me and said how nice it was to see me again, then said that it was a good thing that he knew me from back in the '80s because if he had met me in the last five years he would never be able to remember my name. But since I was an old friend, he remembered me! And my name! We commiserated on the failings of memory.

I was touched by the story John's wife Mary told about Jack, how in the hospital when John was in the final coma, Jack came to play mandolin at his bedside for over an hour.

I haven't done this, but I am told that if you Google "Kavanagh ukelele" you can find out much more about John.


Steven said...

I'm really enjoying your trip to Nova Scotia...keep it up!

Zabetha said...

Thanks Steven, and I know you are into old photos so check our Baxter's Harbour Blog ( for some of our old photos of the Harbour. We're having quite the time tracking down photos to post there!

Barbara Anne said...

Go in peace, John. What a great send off you were given!

Hugs to you, Anne. Oh, and keep some hard candy with you if low blood sugar is a problem (not sugar free).

20th Century Woman said...

What a great way to say goodbye to a musician, and a great way to spend a day.

Wisewebwoman said...

What a lovely time, Anne, through your writing I'm there!
I'm the same with low blood sugar too and I keep a few nuts and dried fruit on me as I'm too addicted even to hard candy to keep it around.
John sounded like a wonderful talented man and he will be missed deeply. No greater tribute.