I’ve been teaching music, mostly guitar and piano, for 25 years.I am a specialist with children. Dr. Fisher, who was the chairman of the music department at the University of Alberta, invited me to do a lecture on children’s music for his students.
I teach with the philosophy that if kids are happy while learning, they will learn to love music and practice, without having to badger them to practice. I am known for my children’s concert performances: for 200,000 kids in about 25 years of performance (every elementary school in Alberta).
Many of the kids who relate to me best are the ones who love dogs. My performing golden retrievers have performed with me in all of my school concerts and Rusty knows over 100 commands and words. I’ve learned that letting kids pat or play with Rusty before each lesson for just 2-3 minutes makes kids feel relaxed, involved and want to practice so they can come back and see him. For kids that are allergic, I put him upstairs.
I guess I’ve become world renowned even without my dogs. I have performed and written all the songs I sang for the kids’ TV series Storytime which was sold around the world, so I’ve been seen on TV in 26 countries, on 6 continents, 13 times a season.
Ma Fletcher (musician and more) began as a member of the early scene, when the 60’s and 70’s were the era of experimentation with claims of new freedom in a modern society. Music was one aspect of that journey in Canada and in Toronto it had a lot of its beginnings in the folk music scene. It spawned Joni Mitchell, Bruce Cockburn and Stan Rogers.
Ma Fletcher was also part of those beginnings, and brings with him a ton of experience playing folk music rooted in the acoustic guitar.
With a background of seven years in each of classical piano and classical violin, Ma quickly picked up the folk guitar, while getting his degree from the University of Toronto and later studied classical sitar for 2 years with Shambhu Das, an advanced student of Ravi Shankar.
At that time he also joined forces with one of Canada’s top “folk” groups, the Perth County Conspiracy, living with them and performing at the Black Swan Coffee House in Stratford, Ontario. He supported himself, variously as entrepreneur wine-maker, guitar teacher and later as an early para-medic at the Rochdale Free Clinic in Toronto, before courses for para-medics even existed.
“I have always felt a need to be involved with people, to give to others: to do my best at whatever I do with honesty and integrity whether treating people, performing or teaching.”
Ma’s instrumental experiences.While working as a para-medic, he also joined the group of a dozen folk musicians called Cedar Lake, which included such greats as Stan and Garnet Rogers, and Willie P. Bennett. After moving to Edmonton in the late 70’s, he became a portrait photographer for 2 years, at the same time becoming “The Guitar Man”. This was his weekly instructional newspaper column on playing the guitar, for the Edmonton Journal, Edmonton’s largest newspaper.
Ending his photo portrait period, he started teaching guitar to 6 students in his home basement. Within 4 years, he turned 6 students into 2,000 students around and in Edmonton, teaching introductory to advanced folk guitar (which included blues, fingerpicking, flatpicking and open tunings), vocal instruction and more, at Ma Fletcher’s School of Guitar. When CTV invited him to audition for the singer-guitarist role in the national children’s series, Storytime, Ma’s career came to a major fork in the road. He made the audition and wrote all of the sixteen songs he sang on the show, which had never happened in the 5 years of the show. When the show ended, Ma decided to take two of the most important things in his life, music and dogs, and use them to entertain children full-time.
Performing before a gymnasium of school children.The songs he wrote and performed for the CTV show gave him international status, when 26 countries showed “Storytime” on TV. He developed eight shows for kids and families. They have been performed in Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, the North West Territories and the Yukon, and have been attended by total audiences of more than 100,000. Despite his large stage presence as a children’s performer (with sometimes a little magic), Ma’s Golden Retrievers inevitably steal the show. These Golden Retrievers are the most famous dogs in Canada, performing in over 1,000 shows and on TV with Ma. Their touring has taken them to over 90 festivals and fairs, as well as schools, community halls, curling rinks, children’s festivals, music festivals and agricultural fairs across western and northern Canada.
They are not “show dogs” but are actors, knowing over 100 commands and performing skits created by Ma, easily showing why noted psychologist-writer, Dr. Stanley Coren, rates golden retrievers as 4th in intelligence of 162 breeds.
Ma’s musical influences include: Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Ravi Shankar, Pagannini, Leonard Cohen and Bob Marley.
“I can’t explain why, but my musical spirit (my music angel?) has drawn me to meet some very prominent musicians: Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, Lenny Breau, Joan Baez, Ravi Shankar, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. The Riverboat Coffee House in Toronto was an excellent place to meet folk musicians. I saw Lenny Breau do an amazing show there. Even though I was only into folk guitar, I could feel the brilliance of his jazz playing. He actually accepted my invitation to do a workshop for the guitar class I taught in my home.”
“You did a better set than we did.” – Brownie McGee of the late “Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee legendary blues duo at the intermission at Myer Horowitz Theatre in Edmonton. Ma opened for them.
“That’s the best guitar workshop I’ve seen at any festival. Please join me at mine.” – Bob Brozman, noted American guitarist. at the Edmonton Folk Festival where Ma did an instructional hands on Blues Guitar Workshop, supplying guitars for the audience.
“You have the body of a ten year old.” – Stan Rogers, when Ma was part of the group “Cedar Lake”, a dozen musicians including Stan, Garnet, Willie P. Bennett and Ma Fletcher. They travelled in an old Ford school bus complete with a home-made wood stove and chimney. Ma was doing his daily exercises outside the bus at the time.
“I’d like you to do a special guest lecture for my Education Class on Children’s Music. I wish I could trade places with you.” – Dr. Fisher, Chairman of the Music Department, University of Alberta. “You are one of my grandchildren.” – Ravi Shankar
Ma would like to thank the late Virginia Cummings for her generous, kind and patient support in mentoring me and my dogs. She made the show, once a dream, into a reality.
Ma also would like to thank Dr. Lloyd Abbey for his kind and generous support, lengthy medical explanations and making timefor us between tours.