This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

Sometimes I feel sorry for some of you. We have so many talented people here in Orillia and I feel so lucky I get to see some really great art, well done plays, read stories from very good writers, and hear great original music (or stuff others wrote) being played excellently and I only wish you could have seen some of it. We’re going down the music rabbit hole today.

We have several top of the heap music ensembles, several getting to that position, and including bands and solo artists more than a dozen others who are only a few adjustments away from being consistent contenders. When it comes to the large groups I don’t understand why the concert halls aren’t filled to capacity for every concert of the Silver Band and the Cellar Singers. You won’t get to experience a better performance by going to Toronto (plus you’ll still have a couple bucks for a beer afterward for the same money).

It is the kind of music? You need to broaden your diet if that’s the case. I think good music is good music regardless of the genre. Sometimes it’s good to hear a different version of a favourite song, like when the Orillia Silver Band did Good Vibrations a couple weeks ago, excellent arrangement, played excellently. Hearing the Cellar Singers do anything is candy for the ear. Experiencing the work of Bleeker, even if you don’t like rock, reveals nuggets of greatness.

By the way, the Cellars have a concert Saturday night at St. James’ Anglican. They’re doing contemporary works and you can get tickets at Manticore Books or online.

Then there are the magical moments. Lately the OSB has been providing most of those, but last Saturday night it was Liz Anderson who was the guest of the Orillia Concert Band at their St. Paul’s Centre concert giving a stunning performance.

She’s always been a favourite because she’s the kind of performer who, when she decides to sing a song, she prepares and she makes it her own. She’s not a Memorex tape regurgitating exactly what you remember from a recording by someone else.

She began with Gord’s If You Cold Read My Mind. There have been several who have tried to do that song. In fact, at Roots North Rose Cousins began her set with that song.

This was different. It was magical. She did it slower, altered some of the melody, not a lot, but just enough to put her personality into it. I know others mess with the familiar and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In this case she put new life into a song as Gord recorded it will stand for lifetimes to come. I was breathless as she was winding it up. Who could think a beautiful song like that could be made more beautiful, but she did it. Unfortunately there isn’t a recording you can hear because I believe it would become a hit.

It’s a shame only about 200 people heard it. We’re a very small club. No one else will get to experience what we did. Liz might sing it again in some other setting, but it won’t be the same (might be better, but the way the stars lined up, the acoustics of the room, the dead silent attention of the audience and band, the performance, it will be tough to replicate).

It’s a sign of true musicianship when a performer knows exactly how far to stray from the way an audience remembers a song and bring the audience with them. Case in point is when Liz did At Last. We all know the tune made famous by Etta James. Note one of the lyric left me puzzled. Not that it was wrong. It was in a different key and Liz started so high in her upper register I couldn’t imagine where she’d go with notes two, three and so on. I think everyone else had a similar thought. It was suspenseful. When Liz got through the first couple lines you could feel the relief vibes from the audience, relief that Liz hadn’t mistakenly started in the wrong place, relief she hit the notes higher in the scale solidly, and relief that it was good. Better than good.

The band had moments too. The OCB is improving their sound each time out. There’s still some work to do, but overall it’s a lot better than a few years ago. They still sound good, there are certainly other bands that don’t perform as well, but as a group gets better, it’s even more important to sound as one.

That said, they are choosing some good arrangements, which is half the battle. No one wants to hear uninteresting music, even if it’s familiar and translating popular or classical works to a wind ensemble can fall flat faced easily. It’s also the case at concerts like this you’ll hear tunes written specifically for bands no one has heard.

Tunes like Robert Buckley’s The Gathering of Eagles. This was 4th in the order and the point where the OCB really showed what they are capable of. The chart isn’t easy and the band acted as one getting every nuance across. It seems like the OCB has one or two tunes in every concert where all the players do their best. The closing piece, James Hosay’s And the Multitude of One Voice Spoke was another. The band has a sizeable percussion section and music director James Hilts chooses at least one piece every concert to showcase the folks hitting things in the back row. And he should because percussion is the one section most bands of this type are weak in and the OCB doesn’t have that problem. The drummer in the other back row appreciates it.

Hugh Coleman

And, Hugh Coleman earned a standing ovation for his clarinet solo work on Carl Maria von Weber’s Concertino for Clarinet. He intentionally all over the map with notes and speed. One of these days we’re going to hear him play something difficult. Just kidding, it takes years of playing to be able to pull of a piece like that.

The Art of Mariposa

Before getting off my little lecture I need to say something about the Mariposa Arts Theatre. Last week Jeff Daniels (Looper, Dumb and Dumber) was on Seth Myers’s show and spoke about the theater experience (he’s currently playing Atticus Finch on Broadway) and he mentioned only 2% of Americans have ever been to see a play. I think it might be higher in Canada, but not much.

MAT doesn’t have much of a problem getting an audience, they usually sell out their runs, but if you’ve never been to see a play you are missing one of the great experiences. Especially a MAT play. Those folks have really got putting a production together down to a science, so much so, they purposely assembled a crew of rookies for Educating Rita, all women too. Director Stacy Schat took the notion of mentoring inherent in the story too literally and thought it would be good for the company in general to engage greenhorns on the backside of the stage, pair them up with some of the experienced crew and learn how to mount a play.

The thing is, no one ever notices the work the crew does – unless it’s not good. How many people know Brian Halbot and Wayne Lennox have built every set for as long as I can remember (they did this one too)? Sometimes it’s to someone else’s design, but the point is unless the set doesn’t work for the play, no one notices.

Shimera Dione has stickhandled the make up for most MAT plays too, and often has other s working with her, but she’s the designer. Again, who among you knew that?

Rachel DeChamplain and Robert Knapp in Educating Rita

So when no one notices the work of Joan Mizzy-Fry,  Frances Gelder, Vicky Anderson, Cheryl Van Vliet, Ada Malmstrom, Laurel Dewar, and Roberta Ewing it’s the highest compliment. Their work just makes it easier for the actors, Rachel De Champlain and Robert Knapp in this case, easier. It makes it easier for the audience to stay focused on the actors and the story. It lets people like me who watch plays a little differently than most, look past the actual performance into the script as it’s unfolding and  to think about directing and acting choices.

A little bird told me there a few tickets left and there are performances Thursday, Friday, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon left in the run. You can get tickets online.

And the point of all the above is to urge you to do something different. When these groups start their performance seasons in the fall, go see them. I’m sure you’ve all been to Casino Rama or some other concert by famous people. Seeing the best of our local talent isn’t any different. You’re going to enjoy it. Next fall it would be nice to have company in the back row and a full house in front of me because these groups, and others, deserve to have it.

Speaking Of Talent

Alphabreff (Zain Campbell) has a new album. It’s called Pulp. It’s not the recording he set out to make. He was close friends with Nelson Bell for whom the Youth Centre is working very hard (and very successfully) to establish a recording studio in his memory. Zain is one of the prime movers in that regard. Needless to say, Nelson’s death affected Campbell. That and the unsurety of life all young people carry with them came out in the music and lyrics.

Alphabreff (Photo Supplied)

Zain said it’s a darker set of songs than he had in mind when he started to make the album, but it is what it is. What it is are 8 really well constructed pieces of music. I think a few of them are very worthy of becoming popular in the mainstream.

The orchestrations are more complex and layered than someone at the beginning of a career would normally create. The singing and rapping are thoughtful, and he uses other voices/performers as leads in places. In short is a more sophisticated set of tunes than I expected to hear.

And there’s a variety from song to song instead of staying within a narrowly defined sound. Zain said it’s not an album, playlist of mixtape. He calls it a sound track, which owing to the time in his life, the circumstances and events he’s going through, is a good description.

He also told me he went through a period of writer’s block, trying to reconcile the recording he intended with the feelings of losing a friend. He broke it by coming up with an approach only a good musician, someone confident in their abilities could come up with. He set a time limit, 2 hours per tune, to record whatever came to mind, lyrically and musically. I hope I don’t have to say anything about how unusual it is to do this, how badly it could go. That it came out sounding as good as it does is remarkable.

Pulp will be released publicly July 13 on various platforms. I’ll update you what those are when it happens.

Grey Eyes  (Photo Submitted)

And, Grey Eyes has a couple of new tunes available on Bandcamp. It’s a bit of a departure from their previous music in some respects. I like their other music, but these ones I really like. Aaron Mangoff is one of our best songwriters, with Matt Copeland (drums) and Myke Caouette (bass) fleshing out the arrangements.

Thumper, is the song which to me is the indicator of change for the band. Harmonized vocals are a feature of the song and I’m not so sure Aaron has done that before. Walking Backwards has some elements in the guitar work that remind me of Rush. I can’t wait for more of this stuff.

Matt is also the drummer in a band called Reay. Their website has the truest string of words I’ve ever seen, “Right out of the “Who the hell are these guys?” category.” I’ll say. For someone who likes to think he knows everything going on around here, I had no knowledge of this group (Bayze Murray, Sean Murray, Ryan Smith and Chad VanDusen are the other band members).

They have one tune to listen to from the album they are recording at Steve and Marnie VanKessel’s 112 Records and if Poison is the standard for the rest of it we’ll be hearing a lot more of these guys. Sean Murray has a fantastic voice and the song itself has all the elements one could want to make fans everywhere. I can’t wait to hear the rest of their music.

Ahead there will be a new albums from Bleeker this summer and VK is planning a new one later in the year. Should be a good time for real homegrown music.

Arty Stuff

Lee Contemporary has new paintings by Wes Trinier up. Hibernation Art’s next show, Dads and Grads has room for your work; email for details. There’s an opening for the show June 11 at 3 p.m. And, Raune-lea Marshall’s work is featured with an opening June 8 at 1 p.m. Peter Street Fine Art has Raune-lea Marshall as the featured artist for the month.

OMAH has a new show of Stephanie Whalen’s art, Reverie, that just went up. Also see Scott Sawtell’s Playful Banquet: An Anthropomorphic Apocalyptic Feast, and Mnjikaning: Mapping the Life of the Gaudaurs. OMAH is casting a net for pieces for the annual Carmichael Canadian Landscape Show. The deadline for submissions is July 26. Check out the rules online.

The Orillia Fine Arts Association has an exhibition/fundraiser for Mariposa House Hospice happening at Peter Street Fine Arts with the opening reception June 1 at 1 p.m.

The City is still looking for some artists to come up with a design for a couple pianos (one at the Port, another at Tudhope Park) anyone can try out – even Thundeclap Newman. There is an honorarium of $500 for each. See the details for submission online.

The City is also involved with two important events June 18 and 19. On the 18th an information night at 5:30 p.m. for the County of Simcoe’s Artreprenuer program is happening at City Hall. The purpose is for artists to find out what’s involved in a 15 week ($150) course in all the business kinds of things artists need to know to run the mundane side of their business. RSVP at

On the 19th at 5:30 p.m. they have, with the help of the Cultural Roundtable and ODAC a public forum at the Opera House. The subject is creative hubs. Of course you read about Creative Nomad Studios recently on SUNonline/Orillia and there are others in the works. You’ll learn more about them and get to chip in your thoughts. Some consultants from the Arts Build Ontario organization will be there too. As always there’s a half hour schmoozing beforehand with Zachary Lucky playing some music.

The Shorts

*  The Building Hope project has a fundraising concert happening Friday night at Casino Rama. The Country Gala features a speaker, Pat Nixon, photographer and author (Nowhere to Call Home) Leah Denbok will be there and Jason McCoy will have his band on hand for the country part of the evening. Tickets are $150 and cocktails start at 6 p.m.

*  Tickets are on sale now for the ShineBrite Festival at the Coldwater Arena. It happens June 8. The legion is operating the bar, the Lions Club of Coldwater is running a food concession, and there are 9 bands playing starting at noon. You can get tickets at TNT Fine Lingerie, or online.

* The Opera House summer theater lineup includes  Kristen DaSilva’s comedy, Where Are You; Foster’s newest, The Gentleman Clothier; and  Bernard Slade’s Same Time, Next Year. Tickets are on sale now and season tickets are a great deal.

*  MAT is having auditions June 22 and 24 for Unrinetown: The Musical at the Brammer Drive warehouse. For info on the roles or to book an audition time email

*  The Leacock Museum has some workshops happening (June 1, reading for writers with J.M. Frey; June 8, selling your book with Josh Poitras; June 22 podcasting with Amanda Cupido) and they draw on Leacock’s work for examples of what still works. Each workshop is $25, or $60 for the works. Call 705-329-1908 or email to register. And, get tickets at the Museum for the annual Leacock Medal dinner June 8 and the meet the author night June 7, both at Mariposa Inn. Ali Bryan (The Figgs), Mark Critch (Son of a Critch) and Cathal Kelly (Boy Wonders) are in the running – from emcee Ian Ferguson and the Grand Chief of Mariposa (formerly Mayor of Mariposa) Drew Hayden Taylor.

*  Coming up… the Jubilee Chorale, with guests the Sean Patrick Trio, have a concert June 2 at 2:30 p.m. at Westmount United Church… the Hog ‘N Penny has Craig Mainprize in Friday night; Jamie Drake plays Saturday night… The Brownstone has an open mic jam every Tuesday evening; the Hillbirds are in Friday; Steve Stacy plays Saturday night… the Geneva has the Rush tribute band My Favorite Headache coming June 15 and Eric Gales July 13; get tickets here… Chris Lemay is at Lake Country Grill June 5.

Rants & Raves

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia, Mike Beresford, Supplied)

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