This week in Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

The bottom of every email I get from The City of Orillia states we are city of 31,000 people. Stats Canada says the catchment area is 119,000.

So when you think about the odds a concert can be held like the coming out party for St. Paul’s Centre’s restored Steinway piano last Saturday after noon – with 9 musicians of the kind the 300 in attendance enjoyed – you have to sit back for a second to appreciate how lucky we are.

Every one of the performers lives here– well, except for Doreen Uren Simmons, but she used to terrorize stages here for a very long time. It would have been 10 if not for Michael Jones injuring a wrist earlier in the week.

Sure most towns can put together some kind of show with 10 musicians or bands, but if you were at St. Paul’s you could make good money betting other places could not reach the caliber of what we saw.

Not a chance.

Each performer could have played their music on a stage in Toronto to an audience paying higher ticket prices (this one was a pass the hat, sorry, collection plate) and fit right in with other musicians brought in from out of town.

We heard Blair Bailey and Jacquie Dancyger Arnold do Eine Kleine Nachtmusik as a duet. Not a shortened arrangement, but three of the four movements.

Blair also played a Chopin Polonaise. Doreen followed right away with a Chopin Prelude. Blair switched to organ and Don Atkinson played an Utterback piece and one from Haydn as a duet. Lidwien Wesselingh played something not familiar, Three Dances by Jurriaan Andriessen.

This is not music one decides to do on a whim. You have to practice it several times, then several times more, in order to be able to play it for an audience, and then you still need the sheet music in front of you if you are involved with other performances because there are just too many notes on the page to remember them all.

To say hearing each of those played so well was incredible is understatement. Then there’s Ross Love. Now it’s not impossible to memorize a piece of music. Play it a couple hundred times and it’s easy to do. Ross chose to do Glinka’s The Lark. This piece starts out relatively easy, and became more complex as it progressed. Much more complex. I think he was reading the sheet music off the back of his eyelids because he sat down, closed his eyes and went to work. It’s rare to see someone so engrossed with the music they are making they could be anywhere, in front of anyone, and to the performer the world just doesn’t exist but for the sound you are making. That’s what I saw happening. I’ve seen it a few times before and those performances are always ones you can’t forget.

Blair Bailey
Blair Bailey

Then Blair Bailey did the unthinkable. He told us since Michael couldn’t play, he was going to do the piece instead. It’s called After the Rain, the title track from Michael’s 6th album. There’s only a few million copies of Michael’s recordings floating around out there. This is the kind of music he makes.

I thought, oh this ought to be fun, because Michael’s playing is so idiosyncratic, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing any of his tunes and getting the same kind of mileage out them. How hard did I think it would be to pull it off? Michael told me he’s never heard anyone else play any of his music – until Saturday. Did Blair do it? He did. It was not the same as Michael would have done, but as close as it could be with a different set of hands working the keys. It’s a shame more people weren’t there to witness this particular unique performance.

There was a standing ovation in the middle of the program for Marta Solek. She’s new here, but not new to the great stages of the world. She played cello while Blair backed her up with some Brahms and Saint-Seans The Swan from Carnival of the Animals. I had to laugh, Roy Menagh, the MC for the day, told the story Saint-Seans hated Carnival and wouldn’t let it be published until after he died. It’s only his 2nd most popular piece (I’d argue Bacchanale is #1).

Near the end of the program Deep and Deeper sang the duet from the Pearl Fishers. That would be John and David Jefferies. You hear John sing and think, wow he can get those low notes, then along comes David from the basement.

Blair and Jacquie closed out with a duet, The Skaters Waltz. You all know the melody. But you never heard it done the way they played it because Autumn Debassige wrote the arrangement. And for someone so youn,( we seen her sing and act several times) it is amazing to think she can piece together a concert piece like that.

And it all started with Chopsticks. Seriously. 13-year-old Patrick Piao started the show with a bit of schtick, telling Roy he wanted to play the elementary school staple but with chopsticks. Cheesy? Yes. I don’t think anyone could pay me to write something like that for the stage, but there it was. It soon turned into an 8 hand showpiece with Roy, Blair and Jacquie joining in. It was bit crowded at the keyboard.

So here we are 5 days later and I’m still pondering (shut up Pinky) how it is this stunning kind of performance can come out of one tiny population. I’m also thinking about how hard it is sometimes for our local musicians to get an audience when there is so much great talent. Why is it people will pay 50 bucks to see a show at the Opera House by Joe Schmedly from Saskatoon and right up the street is something as good, if not better and there’s only a handful of people taking it in?

Simple math tells me most of you reading right now missed a performance of the ages. I feel sad about that. It’s like seeing a meteorite whiz by and you are the only one who saw it, it’s kind of hard to share the experience with anyone – words are not enough, you had to be there.

There’s A New Kid In Town

*  So, speaking of Saskatchewan, I noticed a rather small post on Facebook for a music video. It was on one of the various Orillia oriented pages, so I clicked the link

Very nice. Good, clean sound, good song construction, visuals of Preston, Galt and Hespler I recognized, nicely shot and edited. So who is posting stuff on an Orillia page, I thought.

The band is Jeremy Brendan Day and the Resistance. It turns out Jeremey has been living in Orillia for a couple years. He was born out west, but grew up near Cookstown (well, he says between Barrie and Cookstown, but I’d never mention Barrie) and lived in Kitchener and Ottawa for several years each.

The song is called Stupid Town, but as mentioned the visuals are from the Cambridge area, so it’s not a making fun of Orillia kind of thing ala Nate Mills. It’s also not a shot at Cambridge.

One thing grabbed my attention right away, the drumming and the recording of the drums. I wasn’t surprised to see he had Al Cross doing the work. The other musicians are from the Kitchener-Waterloo area.

Jeremy has an album’s worth of material he’s releasing in early April and another in late summer. He told me he’s putting a band together and organizing some performances. You can find out more at the link above.

Nai Children's Choir
Nai Children’s Choir

OVE Does It Again

The Orillia Vocal Ensemble concert Sunday afternoon at St. Paul’s Centre raised $3,000 for the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka Skid Watson Fund.

Around 250 people made it out. It’s a little light for an OVE concert, but likely many stayed home waiting for the storm that was supposed to make Sunday afternoon seem like paradise – on Baffin Island.

The OVE had the Nai Children’s Choir from Toronto perform a good portion of the program. The choir is made up of Syrian immigrants. One of their first exposures to Canadian life was a stay at Geneva Park in 2016. They’ve been back every year for a weekend and Roy Menagh and members of the choir have made themselves available to help the choir. This is the connection to the YMCA.

A choir of mostly little ones from the Orillia Music Centre also joined the finale. I honestly don’t remember what they sang because I was too busy laughing at how primary grade aged children can steal a spotlight on stage doing everything but the very thing they are there to do.

I didn’t recognize most of the music. The Nai choir introduced us to music they are familiar with, but we would never have the chance to hear.  I did like Bob Buckley’s This Is My Home the OVE did. It’s a very nice piece.

The Shorts

*  Saturday the Cellar Singers have a concert at St. James’ Anglican Church. They are doing Bach’s motet, Jesu, Meine Freude, and Eleanor Daley’s Requiem. Tickets are $25, $10 for students, and you can get them online, or at the door.

*  The Roots North Music Festival main stage performance schedule is out. On April 26 it starts with Arianna Gillis, then Rose Cousins and Ron Sexsmith closes out the night. April 27 its Vk, Alysha Brilla and The Weather Station. Both nights you can check out the art market when doors open at 6 p.m. at St. Paul’s Centre. A weekend pass is $45 and you can get them online or at Alleycats Music.

Lee Contemporary’s first exhibit of the year, a group show, A Different Reality, with Patti Agapi, John Goetz, Jeff Nye, Scott Sawtell and Frances Thomas opens Saturday at 1 p.m. Hibernation Arts opens About Women Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. Zephyr artists Patricia Beecham, Catherine Cadieux, John Jacquemain, Beverley Pearl, Gwen Reilly, Jean Sanders, Gayle Schofield and Murray Van Halem have the feature wall at Peter Street Fine Arts… Gayle Schofield has a show, Digital Warp, at Tiffin’s Creative CentreOMAH has the International Women’s Day Art Show, the student art show, Legacy Landscapes and OMAH @20 in various galleries.

*  The Washago Song Writing Contest deadline is getting closer. Write a song about Washago, record it on video and submit it to by Mar. 15, 2019. There are prizes, $500 for the winner. The top ten get to perform their entry at the Washago Community Centre March 31. I’ll be one of the judges.

*  Coming up… Tickets are on sale right now for Matt Andersen at the Opera House May 8; The Orillia Concert Association has a Tribute to Rick Wilkins (noted composer and sax player) Sunday at 2:30 p.m.; Classic Albums Live is in Wednesday with The Beatles – Help!…  the Brownstone has Ellen Froese, Campbell Woods and Nicholas Faraone Feb. 27; Low Country Hill is in Friday night; Jimmy Wants a Skatepark – a fundraisr for a skate park – happens Saturday night with art by Bones and music by Matt Miller and Vexhead… the Hog N’ Penny has The Sean Patrick Trio in Friday night (saw them a couple weeks ago, very good); also very good is Chris Thompson playing Saturday night… Lake Country Grill has Daryl Alvaro in the 27th; Chris Lemay is in Mar. 6… the Geneva has Women in Rock (Gearl Jam, As Is, Sarah Stinson) Mar. 8 for an Elizabeth Fry Society fundraiser; tickets are $25 in advance; the Polyester Slackers are playing a fundraiser for Mariposa House Hospice Mar. 30 (tickets at 705-326-3595, 705-329-0202 or Electronic Lifestyles); Outside I’m a Giant is in Mar. 22; Run Rabbit Run (another great band) is in Mar. 23 with Parham’s Cross.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)

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