"Heave Away!": Fountain School alumni unite for a musical tribute to the Class of 2020

- June 11, 2020

Fountain School alumni perform in this still from the "Heave Away" video.
Fountain School alumni perform in this still from the "Heave Away" video.

Dalhousie has been finding alternative ways to celebrate the graduating class of 2020 who are unable to gather together this year due to the COVID-19 crisis. The online initiatives have included virtual celebrations, video messages, an online space to provide a platform for the university community, friends and family to share congratulatory messages with graduates, and most recently, a music video recording created and performed by Dalhousie alumni, faculty and staff.

Sheila Blair-Reid, Dalhousie’s assistant vice-president, alumni and external engagement, had been reflecting on how the social isolation caused by the coronavirus has inspired thousands of musical performers to move to digital spaces to bring comfort and uplift spirits in a time of crisis and isolation.
“The Fountain School of Performing Arts and East Coast talent are second to none,” says Blair-Reid. “Like the many researchers at Dal working to find COVID solutions and many of our faculty, students and staff offering their service to this crisis, I felt strongly that our talented alumni from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences must be a part of this movement. What better way than to include them in congratulating the class of 2020 who can not come together for their normal ‘sociable’ and musical infused celebrations at a time they truly would love to do so.”

Blair-Reid, along with Jacqueline Warwick (director of the Fountain School of Performing Arts) and Lori Ward (director of development) worked with Dal Student Affairs to pull together a focus group of students to decide on a song that would make them think about heading out for a social night and to celebrate graduating. They landed on "Heave Away," which many know best by the 1998 version performed by the Newfoundland band The Fables.

Dr. Warwick adapted the lyrics to Heave Away for this performance to recognize Dalhousie’s graduates who are facing these unprecedented times of this global pandemic.

“Heave Away was a great choice for this project, because the metaphor of a ship setting out for a journey is so apt for convocation,” explains Dr. Warwick. “In keeping with folk traditions, we adapted the lyrics, keeping that rousing chorus and adding new verses to suit our current circumstances. I hope everyone who hears it will want to sing along!”

A collaborative composition

Dr. Warwick reached out to Fountain School alumni Jack Bennet and Rachel Delano (who are two of the three co-hosts of the local Halifax community-based singing event, The Big Sing) to help pull the performance together.

“We were thrilled to be involved in this project!” says Bennet. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we've been running many online sing-a-longs through The Big Sing's social media pages in lieu of our regular in-person events, and this was the first time we were able to facilitate a harmonized music video. We're very grateful to be recognized and invited to participate.”

Bennet explains that he and Delano, along with their Big Sing co-host Caitlin Bowers, sat down to learn the song and started inventing harmonies based on the chord progression that would be easy to learn, balance and arrange through a virtual environment.

Dr. Warwick managed to wrangle a dozen alumni including musicians, vocalists and actors plus Fountain School guitar performance instructor and versatile musical legend, Scott Macmillan, to contribute talents to the online performance.

“The graduates of 2020 don't have a chance for a big group celebration,” says Macmillan. “It was an opportunity to help them out.”

A showcase of camaraderie and community

Along with Bennet and Delano, alumni of Dalhousie’s music and theatre programs that participated in the performance include Rosanna Burrill (of the band Hillsburn), Ellen Denny (stage theatre performer known locally for her performances at Neptune Theatre), Nathan Simmons (rising star in theatre and television), Andrew Chen (actor and former co-host of Dal This Week), Dilshan Weerasinghe (guitarist and finalist in Dal’s 2019 Three Minute Thesis competition), Lucas Hernandes-Nascimento (opera singer), Kinley Dowling (singer/songwriter and soloist and former member of the band Hey Rosetta!), Maureen Batt (soprano, artistic director, producer and educator), Brad Conrad (member of the local group The Mellotones), and Gina Burgess (stage performing violinist and music teacher).

Ellen Denny recorded her voice track for the production from her home in Toronto, Ontario and was delighted to be asked to participate in this performance. “I hope [this song] will give this year's grads a sense of camaraderie and community as they move into their next chapter, and help them mark this special occasion - even if physical distancing makes it look different this year.”

Halifax-based Maureen Batt was also happy to take part. “I hope the video gives a lift to the grads. Having graduated from three universities, I know I'd be devastated to miss out on traditional celebrations for this milestone. I really hope that the grads are able to find something that gives them cause for celebration, closure, and excitement — they deserve it!”

Gina Burgess recorded her part from Windsor, N.S. and hopes this music video will help the grads of 2020 feel connected to their classmates, professors, friends, and overall community they created while here in Halifax. “I hope it inspires them to keep the connections they made and to always remember fondly their time at Dalhousie.”

Dilshan Weerasinghe recorded his part of the performance from his apartment in Halifax and was happy to learn that this year’s graduates were still going to be able to share a celebratory send-off in place of a convocation ceremony. “That ceremony is such a celebratory moment, surrounded by your peers and the people who helped you to get there, so it’s definitely a tough loss. But I hope this can be a little bit of a fun send-off that still makes graduating something special and something to remember for this year’s grads.”

Forging connections

Bennet adds that it was exciting for them to be able to connect with these alumni. “We knew some of them personally, and others we knew by reputation. The whole experience reminded us of the wide network of Dalhousie arts alumni working in the Maritimes.”

Blair-Reid is very happy with how the music video turned out. It was compiled and edited by Dalhousie’s Director of Creative Services, Paul Williams — a musician himself and an alum of Dal’s theatre program.

“The goal was to make our graduates feel celebrated and welcomed into the alumni family,” Blair-Reid says. “We want them to know that despite not being able to cross the stage and shake their hand that we are proud and excited about their future and that we will continue to support them.”

"Heave Away," Dalhousie style

Lyrics adapted by Jacqueline Warwick

Come get your duds in order, ‘cause we’re bound to cross the water
Heave away! Me jollies, heave away!
Come get your duds in order, ‘cause we’re bound to leave tomorrow
Heave away, me jolly boys, we’re all bound away
There’s some that’s bound for Whitehorse and there’s some bound for St. John’s
Heave away! Me jollies, heave away!
They all set out from Halifax, where we still cheer them on
Heave away, me jolly boys, we’re all bound away
They came to learn and study, oh they came to us at Dal
Heave away! Me jollies, heave away!
From many different countries, and Dalhousie welcomed all
Heave away, me jolly boys, we’re all bound away
2020 brought a virus, oh it pushed us to the ground
Heave away! Me jollies, heave away!
Dal’s spirit is the stronger, for you’ll never keep us down
Heave away, me jolly boys, we’re all bound away
Remember all the times you had, on campus and in town
Heave away! Me jollies, heave away!
And when you come this way again, we’ll see you all around
Heave away, me jolly boys, we’re all bound away
You're captain of your own ships now, the world is yours to see
Heave away! Me jollies, heave away!
So merrily let yer voices ring, congrats on your degrees!
Heave away, me jolly boys, we’re all bound away
Heave away, me jolly boys, we’re all bound away
Heave away, me jolly boys, we’re all bound away


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