Oration honouring Pamela Morgan
Friday, Oct. 12, 2007 Sir Wilfred Grenfell College
In the year 2007, it is still something of a wonder to cast our eyes around this auditorium and realize that we are sheltered today in a house that Joey built. Of course, like everything else associated with our first post-confederation premier, this statement is a slight exaggeration. The five temples to arts and culture that were constructed across the province in the dying years of the Smallwood regime were funded mainly through public money, federal and provincial, although this particular structure was supported as well by the beneficence of Bowater Newfoundland and Lundrigans Ltd. of Corner Brook. Visitors from other parts of Canada marvelled either at the farsightedness or at the quixotic nature of such a project undertaken by the poorest province in Canada. Meanwhile, within the province, appreciation was anything but unanimous. In those days, the words “arts” and “culture” reflected a strong sense of social hierarchy, and it was not long before Ray Guy memorably re-christened the buildings “tarts and vulture” centres. In 1974, when the popular theatrical troupe, Codco, and the Newfoundland music group, Figgy Duff, took the stage at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, it was considered by some almost akin to a gang of teenaged vandals desecrating a church. We have come a long way since 1974.
So too has the woman we are to honour here this morning. Pamela Morgan grew up in a house full of music. Classically trained, she came to traditional music as a teenager, at the age of 18 joining Figgy Duff, the ground-breaking Newfoundland celtic rock band founded by Noel Dinn. Inspired by the revival of Newfoundland culture then underway, the band became leaders in the struggle to manage cultural change with integrity and respect for the past. With Figgy Duff, Pamela Morgan was much more than lead singer. Although her dark and haunting contralto voice became one of the signature features of Figgy Duff’s sound, she also was Noel Dinn’s chief collaborator in the production of their four albums, contributing beautiful original arrangements to songs that had usually been sung a capella, and providing instrumental accompaniment on piano, synthesizer, organ, guitar and tin whistle. A thorough professional, she is accomplished on all of these instruments but her tin whistle is like Orpheus’ flute magical, seductive and life-restoring. And like Orpheus, she would have gone to the Underworld to rescue her friend and colleague when Noel Dinn died prematurely in 1993. That was not possible, even for her, but she secured the rights to Figgy Duff’s music, started her own record company, Amber Music, and she has maintained the legacy of the group ever since.
Pamela Morgan continues to develop as a singer, musician, producer, song-writer, composer and arranger. Three superb solo CDs and two collaborations with Anita Best have followed the retrospective she did of Figgy Duff’s best work. She has produced solo CDs of Anita Best and Emile Benoit, and most recently an album to celebrate the twentieth edition of the annual March Hare Literary Festival. After an early initiation into Newfoundland theatre as a performer with the Mummer’s Troupe in The I.W.A. Story, she has returned several times to the stage to provide music for Shakespeare’s The Tempest at the Trinity Festival and Frank McGuiness’s Mutability at the Grenfell Fine Arts Theatre (where she was also guest artist); to perform in the Al Pittman West Moon to Ireland tour; and currently to write and arrange a folk opera entitled The Nobleman’s Wedding. All of her endeavours are defined by a commitment to the highest performance standards, and by generosity and grace in her dealings with others.
I present to you for the degree of doctor of letters (honoris causa) one of our province’s finest, most enduring and most endearing artists, Pamela Morgan of Grand Falls.