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Rough Notes

Traditional yet with fresh features, Rough Notes is an historically Canadian musical with rurals juxtaposed with royals, melding a mosaic of music about life, love and literary pursuits

whirling in on the winds of WWII.

Rough Notes 
on being awarded
a $20,000 grant
from Can. Coun.
for the ARTS!

About the musical Rough Notes,
and McKencroft Productions 

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Rough Notes the historically-based Canadian musical in which the Rurals meet the Royals.

 It’s the eve of  our nation entering WWII – another great horror, so soon after the FIRST… and 3 diverse Canadian couples at different ages and stages are about to be vastly affected. Here the Scottish, French and Wolastoqiyik/Maliseet-tribe rural peoples of New Brunswick are juxtaposed with the real-life representative Royals, combating a spy and an undercover female journalist at Rideau Hall, Ottawa.  The joys and sorrows of this tense time in our history are also witnessed from the eyes of a 7-year-old boy, the daughter of the first woman of colour to graduate from the University of New Brunswick, and world- famous author John Buchan, Governor General of Canada - who has only a month to live and in which to leave his final legacy to the arts, to the environment, and to humanity.

There are many facets to this new Canadian musical. Scroll below, or visit the specific category pages at the top... The PROFESSIONAL WORKSHOP page shows  our most recent developmental work...

Synopsis of the Show :


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1939 Canadian Rurals (in Victoria County, New Brunswick) meet Canadian Royals (real life Governor General and world-famous author John Buchan and his family and staff* from Ottawa).  It’s the eve of our nation entering WWII , and the first reigning monarchs to ever visit Canada have just returned home after much fanfare (all arranged by J.B. himself). In the little rural mountain town of Perth Junction, N.B., a crowd gathers at the train station to  "Greet The Great" as they arrive with books and conversation for all.  Three comedic fictional characters, an unpracticed bag-piper, McLaughlin, and his two friends: French fiddler and lumberjack Guimont, and a conservationist maternal leader of the Wolastoq(Maliseet) First Nations' Gookum Perley Bear, (the latter based on 3 real women) represent many of the founding families of our country.  Two teens, Pete and Beth, discover their love for each other there in that last 'innocent' summer. And back in Ottawa at Rideau Hall the staff of J.B., (many of them real-life characters who have helped develop the culture and conservation of our nation), struggle to see their boss and idol begin to fail health-wise as he is forced to sign with P.M. Mackenzie King, the declaration that puts us back into the travesty of war once again. With only a few months to live, both young Pete and world-weary Lord Tweedsmuir struggle to leave their legacies behind.

      16  original songs which include the era's swing-style with fast-paced upbeat dance numbers are included as well as several soaring ballads in 3-part harmony, a bittersweet  lullaby and 2 heart-wrenching love duets. In addition, 3 humorous songs are an integral part of the total of 5 different comedic characters who weave their way through the scenes which otherwise are emotionally-charged with tension and longing.  Issues that are still currently relevant such as the loss of the arts in our communities and schools, the plight of the suffragettes and feminism, AND the disappearing Canadian wilderness are poignantly lamented as they were passions of this particular Governor General . (*Buchan, Lord Tweedsmuir, was responsible for introducing the Gov.Gen. Literary Awards, while Lady Tweedsmuir’s rural library scheme was sought after by New Brunswick after its success on the prairies.  They both were responsible for setting up Ottawa Little Theatre’s Playwriting Competition,  the oldest of its type still offered in our nation today. Several of our National Parks are due to J.B.’s dedicated work and historically Canadian moments such as his meetings with Grey Owl, a faux-pas by CBC Radio when war was declared, and an anecdote about a much-beloved New Brunswick teacher are all incorporated into this nationally-important story.)

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CCultural Diversity AND Exceptional Figures


Rough Notes recognizes many of Canada’s diverse and exceptional figures; in fact it does this first-and-foremost, even above a story-line/plot. Not only does the musical present comedic but heroic characters that represent the FirstNations, Scottish, and French rural peoples, but there are appearances by strong feminists such as Margaret McAlpine, daughter of Tilly Winslow, the first woman of colour to graduate UNB and who went on to teach many and Genevieve Lipsett who was the first female journalist to be allowed into

Ottawa’s Press Gallery.





 And as for accomplishments,  John Buchan, our much-beloved Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir, was responsible for introducing the Gov.Gen. Literary Awards, while Lady Tweedsmuir (and Ruth Redfern’s) rural library scheme was a huge success not only in remote areas of the prairies, but also in New Brunswick.  Both Buchans, with the help of aide-de-camp Freddie Pereira, were responsible for setting up Ottawa Little Theatre’s Playwriting Competition, the oldest of its type still offered in our nation today. Several of our National Parks are due to J.B.’s dedicated work and iconic Canadian moments such as his meetings with Grey Owl, a faux-pas by CBC Radio when war was declared and the loss of page5 of MacKenzie King’s speech are all a part of this performance of our living history. By either working with the many participants throughout its development or later, in reaching out to include audiences, Rough Notes will enhance the knowledge of our shared past and commemorate those who helped make Canada what it is today.

Gookum (Auntie/Grandmother) Perley Bear and John Buchan - conservationists along with Grey Owl

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The Timeliness/Relevance


Exactly 80 years later, and at a time where literature, history, the arts, feminism, cultural diversity, and the environment are once again being ignored and repudiated by North American leaders and thus by our education systems, this musical strives to embrace all those topics in subtle ways that blend and meld.  They were the issues to which Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir (John and Susie Buchan) most directed their positive attentions. And while they did so much to help move Canada forward in these areas, it is horrifying to see these crucial concepts of humanity falling through the cracks once more.

    Rough Notes, we think, has the potential to remind us of the crucial significance of all of these.

In addition, in the last 5 years, TWO J.B. biographies have been published, one just this year by his grand-daughter, Ursula Buchan.  See "In Development" category for more on these

J. Ivanel Johnson is the librettist, lyricist and composer for Rough Notes, Cameron Slipp is the arranger of the music, and both playwright Ryan Griffith and Musical Theatre/Operatic performer Curtis Sullivan have been crucial script advisors.  In the autumn of 2020, TNB A/D arranged for Charlottetown Festival A/D and Musical Theatre actor Adam Brazier to do dramaturgy work on it. The autumn of 2022 saw over 120 people involved in bringing a professional workshop of it to two performances at Second Wind Music Centre in Bristol, NB. (see Prof. Workshop page here on this site, listed at top).  In the spring of 2023 the Playwrights Guild of Canada arranged for Musical Theatre playwright/composer phenom. Britta Johnson to mentor the work. Also in the spring of 2023, some (dis)Abled Sheridan College Musical Theatre students in Toronto featured songs from Rough Notes in their classroom presentation.
A supportive group of New Brunswick volunteers called McKencroft Productions have developed it through its initial stages. See some of the biographies/credentials in the "In Development" section (category can be clicked on at top of this page) Thanks also to Venture for Canada and many Kickstarter backers for initial funds to assist in getting the music notated/arranged in 2020.

Thanks to Canada Council for the Arts for their generous grant in 2022, and then supported by grants from NB Tourism, Culture and Heritage and the Carleton North Community Fund. See also, the next page "The Professional Workshop/CCA grant".

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People Involved

J. Ivanel Johnson

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Some of the very first members of McKencroft Productions,

at the first table-read of Rough Notes,   in June 2019,

Perth-Andover, New Brunswick, Canada

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Johnson, above with 2022 ACTRA Woman of the Year Juanita Peters, and below, with New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, both audience members for the professional workshopping of Rough Notes in October 2022 (see sep. page)

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