This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

Saturday night is for live music. The Orillia Concert Band is playing at St. Paul’s Centre and Reay has a gig at the Geneva with VK and the Legends of the Deep opening.

While I’m sure some of you have taken advantage of following the links I’ve provided at times to hear Reay’s album, Butterfly Tongue Revisited and there’s probably a few of who haven’t, yet.

When you’re done reading this column, please go and have a listen, maybe buy the album, maybe decide to go their show.

Sean Murray spent 15 years with the songs kicking around in his head. I’m sure they went through many revisions and fine tunings. The result is a very well produced album. There is an overall sound to it, but each song has a style and sound of its own which keeps your interest to the end.

I said after the first time I heard the music (well, I listened several times before writing about it) it was the best sounding album anyone in Orillia has produced, except for Gord.  This is considering there have been many great albums made by our musicians. I think Bleeker’s album due in May will be every bit as good based on the few tunes I’ve heard from it.

In a way the idea musicians today are doing such good work, not just in Orillia, but everywhere is a relatively new phenomenon. I had a conversation yesterday about this very thing.

When I was younger, the talent pool was pretty small. There were some good musicians, but the ones who clearly were in a higher class were few. I grew up in the same neighbourhood as the guys from Max Webster and there was no one else on their level. In fact when I was younger there were very few drummers who could really play, while today I’m constantly seeing live and on video drummers who are exceptionally talented and skilled.

Today, the opportunities to learn are far greater and right here in town there are dozens of musicians, young and old, who can play rings around each other in different ways. Looking beyond Orillia the story is the same.

I think Youtube has something to do with it. One can spend a week watching tutorial videos about how to learn the mechanics of any instrument, how to practice properly, how to add new skills, how to record yourself or others just like the pros in Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, or Nashville do, it’s almost endless the amount of resources there are.

It’s allowing more people to create. Granted there is still a quality to the ideas that comes into play and the vision of what the completed art needs to be which some are better at than others, but the idea Sean Murray can make a record that say in the 70s or 80s would have been a worldwide chart topper, on his dime, with quality local talent is almost accepted as typical these days.

VK and the Legends of the Deep

That I say all this not to pedestrianize the achievement of the Reay album (or VK’s either) but to marvel in today’s technological environment someone like Sean is able to give us music of such high quality when just a few decades ago he would never have had the opportunity.

And about VK’s newest album, Charm, it’s Steve and Marnie Van Kessel’s third. Each one has been better than the one before as the song writing improved, their insight into recording what they hear in their minds gets better, and they recruit and surround themselves with great musicians. Take some time to give their album a listen as well.

When I get to the Geveva I want to see a packed house because both bands deserve that kind of audience. The show starts at 8:45 p.m. and you can get tickets here, or at Allleycats Music & Art or at the door.

Orillia Concert Band

I may be a little tardy to the above because the Orillia Concert Band’s gig starts at 7:30 p.m. at St. Paul’s. Continuing on the path I created for myself above, these folks should have a packed house too, there’s room for 300 or 400 depending on how they arrange the seats.

This is not the same band as two or three years ago when James Hilts was starting out his aerobic conditioning program in front of the players. It’s still a work in progress, which happens when the players are dentists, or bankers, or pilots by day and musicians on weekends.

It is very difficult to train everyone in methods of making music as a group at any time, harder with a once a week rehearsal. There is so much to work on, learning to play at the right volume level, every time; learning how to express the same musical intent with each member of your section, every time; learning being close when attacking or ending a note is not good enough when you and those beside need to be precise or it will not sound as good. There’s more to it, but just those things alone are hard to achieve and pull off in performance.

As an example, I was listening to a recording by a well-known orchestra the other day, a recording I regularly play. This time however, I paid more attention to how they were playing and thought, wow, they sure don’t execute very well. I made a mental note to find a better recording because I know every time I listen to it from now on I’m going to hear the mistakes and not the music.

The OCB has improved greatly with those things, and I think they are playing more challenging music at the same time. It’s the difference between perfecting a march (which the OCB always seems to play well for as long as I can remember) and perfecting something like Fight of the Bumblebee which is a much more difficult piece of music to play than most marches.

This might sound like they’ve gone from rags to riches and that’s not the case. They were pretty good before James arrived. They’ve just undertaken to do some finer tuning of their sound as a band. Each step toward greater perfection takes a lot of hard work. Taking a group from a 70% level to somewhere north of 85% isn’t too hard. Getting from there to 90% is twice as hard and each percentage point of proficiency beyond that gets art least exponentially harder to achieve. The OCB was hitting somewhere between 85 and 90 in their Orillia Wind Ensemble days, they weren’t bad by any means. They’ve since cracked 90 and each improvement is exciting for me to hear, and I hope, for you too.

To add icing on the cake, not only will you hear the OCB do tunes from movies, but their guest performer, Cassie Dasilva will be playing some of her songs in each half of the concert. I’m pretty sure I was present the first time Cassie got on a stage and performed all by herself. I can say each time I hear her she’s better. Better at performing and has written better songs. Aside from her music (listen to Still In Love and Welcome to My Castle which she will sing at the concert), she’ll have the OCB behind her to sing Skyfall and Blue Moon.

The highest priced ticket is $30 (family rate, 4+people) and the lowest $5 for children (free under 5) and you can get them at the door.

Bach Off

The Cellar Singers did Bach’s St. John Passion Saturday night at St. James’ Anglican Church. They had their largest audience of the season on hand for the 2 hours of performance time it takes to present it.

I’m not going to take issue with anything the choir did, or the soloists, or the orchestra because as a performance they all turned in a good one. It’s the composer.

Bach was prolific, writing new music of length at a pace of at least one new piece a week and there are some pieces of his that are truly magnificent. This one however always leaves me lukewarm.

I’ve got to hand it to the orchestra and Blair Bailey for all the isolated chords and fundamental notes they had to time right. The music accompaniment for a good portion of the oratorio is what by today’s standard one would call sparse and sparse is a lot harder to perform than a black page of notes. When you compare to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, or his Goldberg Variations it’s like the difference between traffic on Coldwater Road on an early Sunday morning to Friday at 4:30 p.m.

Even when it comes to melody, having heard the Cellars do the Passion many times, I sat in the back thinking it lacks any melody of the kind one could whistle on the way out the door or recall at any time.

From a musician’s stand point there are many technical reasons to think this piece of music is great, but if I were to try and get someone who knows nothing of Bach interested in his music there are dozens of other things he wrote I’d use as a first taste long before I’d recommend the Passion.

Granted as a performer, this music is very challenging and I just risked having a lot of people wondering If I lost my mind saying what I said above, but when I think, “If I was hearing this for the first time, and wasn’t a musician, would I like it?” I have to answer, no.

A good comparison is Frank Zappa. He wrote some absolutely and technically amazing music, some of it even got played on Top 40 radio. I think he was a composer in a league by himself. On the other hand he also wrote some stuff that is almost unlistenable and unlikable to anyone but an accomplished musician.

In the case of this concert, one has to get past the notes on the page and engage with what the performers are doing. On that count they all did very well and kept me interested throughout the performance.

The next concert the Cellars have is May 2 and they’ll be doing Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.

The Shorts

*  Orillia Secondary School students are doing Disney’s High School Musical March 4 to 7 at the school. It’s the first musical being done in the new school. You can get tickets ($15, $10 for students & seniors) at the school office.

*   The Orillia Silver Band has their 70th anniversary concert at the Opera House Mar. 22 at 2:30 p.m. with a second performance Apr. 4. The guest musicians are Even Steven and Lisle. They have more guests, Ruth Watt, Chris Newton, Mike Hill, Linda Rodenburg, Dave Town, and Steve Clarke, who will be telling stories about what happened in Orillia during those 70 years. Advance tickets are on sale for $5 off until March 17 and you can get them online. They are doing the first movement from Beethoven’s first symphony, Verdi’s Anvil Chorus, and Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture.

*  A career was launched at Mariposa years ago, and this year Serena Ryder is coming back for the Mariposa Folk Festival. I remember well how people reacted to her first performance. It was the first time since the festival came back to Orillia where people were talking about the new artist days afterward. Also added to the festival line up are the The Arrogant Worms, Ice Cream and Begonia.  And mark Mar. 28 down for a return of Union Duke to Orillia for a Mariposa-in-concert gig at St. Paul’s Centre. Get those tickets here.

*  Have you got Roots North tickets yet? They have a great line up for the main stage at St. Paul’s Centre. See Steve Poltz (Mariposa last year), William Prince (played here two years ago), Begonia, Wild Rivers, Lydia Persaud and Craig Mainprize. Get tickets here.

*  OMAH has a new fundraiser called Speakeasy Night. It happens Mar. 27 at the museum. This is the first time they’re doing their spring fundraiser at home. There’s always lots of food and music – with jail cells thrown in for good measure this year. Tickets are $50 and $75. There are only 40 of the latter and you get special treatment. The monthly history speaker’s night is Mar. 18 at 7:30 p.m. and the Orillia Silver Band’s Neil Barlow and the band’s quintet will be there to play and talk about the 70th anniversary of the band. The annual International Women’s Day Art ShowShe Shoots… She Scores  and Tracey Lawko’s At Risk hanging around to look at.

Marcia Armstrong @ Peter Street Fine Arts

*  Hibernation Arts has their Spring Group Show opening Mar. 7 at 1 p.m.; Jakob Pearce plays the gallery concert Mar. 11 at 7 p.m. Lee Contemporary Art has 14 artists participating in the annual Paper exhibit and Peter Street Fine Arts has new work by a new artist, Marcia Armstrong, featured this month; the opening reception is Mar. 14 at 1 p.m..

*  Coming up… the Brownstone has an Open Mic Night every Tuesday; David James Allen, Terry Savage & Courtney Dubois are in Friday night; Saturday see new art by Bones (Dylan Court) – he’s calling it An excuse to stay home and Paul Court will be playing his music… the Hog N’ Penny has Sean Patrick & The Davis Family Singers in Friday night…  the Jazz Byrds play Sanafir every Saturday evening… MAT’s next film night at the Galaxy is Mar. 18 is with the Canadian (Quebec) movie And the Birds Rained Down at 4 and 7 p.m. … Ashley Mac Isaac is playing at St. Paul’s Centre March 17 and you can get tickets here.

(Photos Submitted) Main: Orillia Concert Band (by Greg Pauk)

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