This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

I’m sure most of you have your Christmas shopping done, right? Except for Uncle Schmedly and Aunt Zelda, who you once again forgot to put on the list, or maybe you just realized you have three kids, not two.

If they like art, you’re covered. Just head down to the Arts District, every gallery has stuff in just for Christmas. All of it original, all of it less than $100, and a good deal of that nearer $50. Don’t take that literally, the big stuff hanging on the walls goes for regular price, or double if you are me. Just ask what is available for Christmas and whoever is on hand at whichever gallery you are in will have lots of things to direct you to.

Art at Lee Contemporary

If you have someone who likes music, head to Alleycats Music and ask for the local stuff. Mike’s got VK and the Legends of the Deep, Reay, and Zachary Lucky vinyl and discs.

Or go to Manticore. The Orillia Silver Band’s newest disc (out last Sunday) Couchiching Classics, is available – and you might notice there are two other OSB discs at the counter. They also have music by Lance Anderson, Michael Jones and George Coventry.

Of course Manticore has books, and quite a few by local authors. They have Tom Earle’s The Hat Trick and Home Ice Advantage (young adult, and into hockey), Jim Watt’s Orillia’s Fallen, Randy Richmond’s The Orillia Spirit, Marcel Rousseau’s Camp 26, and our own Jim Foster’s The Crowning of Miss Mariposa.

All that stuff is on the south side of a table and easy to find. The north side seems to be taken up by all of Dave Town’s books; I recommend (for a quick reading) his The Brechin Riot, Taming Orillia’s Red Light District, and we can’t let Brechin have all the fun – The Orillia Riot. Those are only 3, there are 5 others to choose from.

If you want to laugh until you cry, or cry until you laugh, get any one of Sherry Lawson’s books. They’re tales from her life and those around her; you’ll learn something about Orillia and Rama while you are getting humourous nuggets of wisdom.

Dick Johnston’s sister, Penny, has a book out, Frozen Lies. Dave Armishaw has Poetic Musings: Life and Living. And the newest thing on the shelf, well, it’s on the counter at the cash, is Jamie Lamb’s Christmas in Mariposa. He’s crossing his fingers regarding the medal, if that tells you anything about the book. Speaking of medal, Manticore has some books by some guy named Leacock too.

Some of Dave Town’s books at Manticore

Bottom line, all of the people behind the art, music and reading material are your neighbours. Their stuff is quite good, excellent in most cases and when you buy something they made, they get to keep making – except for the Leacock guy, I think his making days are over.

Oh, and scour my columns of late, I’ve written about a lot of new music by locals and provided inks to download their albums. With all the ones which have Bandcamp links you can buy the music and send it by email to your far away loved ones.

If you want to give a time bomb kind of gift, get tickets to the Mariposa Folk Festival, the Roots North Music Festival, the Opera House summer theater season and Peter’s Players concerts. Months from now someone will be thinking, ‘I’m having a good time right now because of Aunt Shirley.”

That’s A Wrap

It was great way to close out the Christmas concert season on the weekend.  Sunday’s Cellar Singers concert at St. James’ Anglican Church threw me a surprise, and Sunday afternoon’s Orillia Silver ?band concert at the Opera House raised the bar again.

You can write the script for what to expect at a Christmas concert. It doesn’t matter who is performing. There’s going to be the usual Christmas carols and occasionally the odd tune someone dug up that hasn’t been heard in a century, or on this continent.

Often I will look up a song I’m unfamiliar with before a concert, any time of the year. I did not give Conrad Susa’s Carols and Lullabies: Christmas in the Southwest a preview and ended up suitably impressed and surprised when the Cellar Singers performed it in the front half of their concert.

There was nothing pedestrian about the 9 movement collection of Christmas related tunes Susa wrote, each using a style of a different country, most of them Latin. And it was not Latin in the sense of what the heck are they singing (many of the choral works use Latin text), but Latin as in, from Spain (7 of them), Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Of course modern Spain is a collection of regions, a few of which might not necessarily like to be part of Spain, and each has distinct traditional music when it comes to scales, harmonies, meter and rhythm, and a lot of the music which survived through the ages is associated with dance.

So you can imagine my surprise when instead of standard Bach or Handel I hear music that sounds like a mariachi band (briefly in one segment, but it was there) or something Joaquín Rodrigo might have written.

Susa comes from suburban Pittsburgh, went to Julliard, which is not really a good background to write music you’d have expected from a European. A 35 year residency with San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre where he wrote incidental music for, wait for it, their annual Shakespeare festival (they did other plays too, including being the originators on many plays destined for Broadway) is likely important.

How can you live in San Diego for 35 years and not soak up the local music, how can you not be curious about the origin of the modern forms of the music you hear all the time and if you are a composer, not let it find its way into what you write.

The accompaniment was by guitar, harp and marimba. Michael Savona was last here playing guitar as part of Liona Boyd’s concert a year ago, Sanya Eng played harp, and Ryan Scott played marimba. One or two of you might recognize the name Ryan Scott, he grew up on Bass Lake.

The combination of those instruments gave another layer of authenticity to the music. The simultaneous sound of plucked strings and hammered notes on the marimba has a very different sound than piano and really gave the music an extra layer of authenticity. After the piece as finished, Scott played a piece, solo, Keiko Abe’s Mi-Chi. Everybody seemed to be impressed he can handle 4 mallets at the same time, for me it was the control he had with the dynamics and accented notes, and for his roll quality.

The big piece in the second half was Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, which he wrote riding a boat back to England from Canada just in time to catch the beginning of World War II. In this a segment is devoted for the harp where Eng got to show her chops. Savona played a piece after the Britten was done. He returned to the Latin mode for a couple pieces classical guitarists tend to play together a lot. Again with these two, the technique and chops are on full display.

The choir sounded the best I’ve heard in a while. The first half material was not from the box of music they normally pull their sheet music out of. When you get into idiomatic music, with different complexities than what you are used to, there can be trouble, but in this case it seemed to bring them up to a standard the Cellar Singers are known for.

Orillia Silver Band’s Randy Hoover
(photo by Philip Jackman)

Sunday, the main floor in Gord’s Room looked very full for the Silver Band’s concert. You might recall a comment last week I made about Jingle Bells and I was sure the Silver Band would come up with something different. Well, this version certainly is different, and if you click the link to listen, just know the OSB played it better (I chose to link the best version I could find).

I also made a big deal out of a piece arranged by Ken Norman because he’s a friend of mine. I never heard the Sacred Christmas Sing Along before, or I’d have known what to expect. That said, I should have expected Ken would write a piece with no melodies present. It’s a sing along, the audience provided the melodies for the tunes in the medley arrangement. The band was just there to keep everybody in tune and in the right key, well almost everybody.

Trust me, I can picture the night Ken came up with the idea, and then him explaining it to those he wrote it for. He does like to throw a curve ball now and then, OK, a lot, just usually not for an entire composition.

The band put their audience request in the middle of the second half instead of at the end like previous years. Neil Barlow, asked for people to suggest carols. Of course you know I wanted to hear Sleigh Ride, but it’s not really a carol, so I shut up for about four requests (though I did hear my pick being tossed out from the other side of the room a couple times). Then Neil said, “let’s get creative.” The door opened and I asked for Sleigh Ride. While the band only played a verse and chorus of the carols, they did all of Sleigh Ride.

Now available at Manticore Books

I don’t know if people had noticed just how well this band plays up to this point in the concert. I did and they were on top of their game, but with Sleigh Ride it should have been evident to even the least musically inclined this band is exceptional. Well done folks, better than the last two times.

The level of musicianship the OSB has was maybe not as obvious with the next piece because Santa Claus made an appearance to read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. The band served to provide mostly sound effect accompaniment, but with the starts and stops in and around the spoken lines they showed how much of a unit they are.

And that’s it for all the Christmas music for another year. From here on out, it’s this kind of Christmas music, or maybe this.

The Shorts

*  The Sharing Place Food Centre did well over the weekend. The 6th Annual Ugly Sweater Bowling Party  last Friday night raised $3,300 and the Orillia Vocal Ensemble’s Thor Motors Christmas Concert Raised more than $7,000. 

*  Coming up… the Hog ‘N Penny has trivia night with Bill Dunlop every Thursday evening; Charlotte Unplugged in Friday night; Terry Savage plays Saturday night… Jakob Pearce plays every Thursday evening at Kensingtons… the Brownstone has Alex Rabbitson’s Invitational: Great Women in Song with Jenny Davis and Sean Patrick, Olivia Duck, Sam Johnston and Alex Rabbitson Thursday night; Morgan Rider and The Doozies are in Saturday night (this is going to be great); every Tuesday is open mic night… the Jazz Byrds play Sanafir Fridays and Saturdays…  Lake Country Grill has Even Steven in Dec. 31.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia, and Submitted)

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