Lizzy Hoyt finds the individuals lost to bloody battlefields
MUSIC by Gregory Beatty
While studying in France several years ago, Calgary musician Lizzy Hoyt made a weekend trip with friends to Vimy Ridge — the site of a major World War I battle where Canadian troops seized a strategic escarpment from the German army. Casualties on both sides were high, and in 1936 a towering limestone monument was erected to commemorate the dead and wounded.
“I knew a bit about Vimy Ridge, but not a lot,” says Hoyt. “Being there in person really brought it to life, and got me thinking about the personal side of what had happened. You stand in the trenches, and suddenly you see every young man that you know. And you realize that had you lived a hundred years ago they would have all been there.”
That experience inspired Hoyt to write a song called “Vimy Ridge” that appeared on her 2010 CD Home. The song was written from the perspective of the girlfriend/wife of a man who died at Vimy Ridge, and later, with the aid of her sister, a French-based visual artist and musician, Hoyt shot a music video at the memorial which won acclaim at several major film festivals.
With her latest CD New Lady on the Prairies, Hoyt delves further into the turbulent history of that era, with a special focus on her own family’s settlement and war experience.
“These are stories I’ve heard my granny tell since I was little,” she says. “But I’ll be honest, it took until I was an adult before I really started to appreciate hearing them. When you get to be a certain age you can start imagining what it would’ve been like because the people are all similar in age to you.”
The title track, for instance, was inspired by Hoyt’s great great aunt, who immigrated to Montreal by boat from Ireland, and worked as a housekeeper before marrying and moving with her husband to homestead in Alberta.
Similarly, “White Feather” tells the story of Hoyt’s great great uncle who was one exam away from becoming a doctor when he was shamed by his girlfriend and others into enlisting to fight in the Great War, and was subsequently killed.
The CD’s October release coincided with the centennial of the start of WWI in 1914. It also comes at a time of rising international tension in the Middle East, Ukraine and elsewhere, which our own federal government is recklessly inflaming to boost its sagging political fortunes.
“It was important for me to bring forth the personal side of the story,” says Hoyt. “As much as it would be great to compose a song that was a history lesson, I’m really trying to emphasize the fact that there was loss and that many people were affected.”
Recorded with contributions from Grammy-winning mandolin player John Reischman and Juno-winning fiddler/flautist/whistle-player Jeremiah McDade, New Lady on the Prairies sees Hoyt expand her interest in Celtic and bluegrass music.
“One of the things I love about traditional music is that you’re part of a lineage,” says Hoyt, who will perform in Regina with Keith Rempel (upright bass) and Chris Tabbert (guitar/mandolin). “It’s easy to think of an old guy in overalls chewing on a straw and playing banjo, but if you look at the number of fiddle associations and bluegrass jams across Canada, there are lots of young people who are interested in traditional music.
“That’s doesn’t mean I feel I have to perform a traditional repertoire in a traditional setting for the rest of my life,” she adds. “But any form of music where you can learn from a previous body of work and hone your skills as an instrumentalist or singer — for me, that’s very important.”