This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

Apparently, Christmas Prelude, our little kick-off to the Christmas Season around here was taken literally by someone. It snowed all day last Saturday, concert day, the way it’s supposed to Christmas Eve and at times at white out speed. Apparently it was not enough.

The Orillia Concert Band missed the coincidence to end coincidence by not having Let It Snow on their danced card. They also didn’t have Winter Wonderland  among the stack of charts on their music stands.

This would have been the year to have Russian Christmas Music on their menu; this bit of musical imagery adequately summons theater of the mind reels of cold, snowy Russian winters most of us never experienced except by watching Doctor Zhivago. What I want to know is who in the band has the connection to the weather gods?

The concert opened with a new-to-us tune, Sparkling Lights, and the familiar Carol of the Bells. The Carol is one of those tunes I think many people would say, “oh that tune,” after hearing it, but only having the title to work with beforehand. We all know the melody, but I think we forget because it (there are two competing versions – with words, and instrumental – which became popular), moves too rhythmically and is not easily sung, though hummable.

It’s like The Christmas Song. Ask people to hum or sing it. Unless you are from a certain era, and even then, most people draw blanks – until you recite Chestnuts roasting…. – that’s as far as you need to get and people pick up the rest. In both cases we all know the music and the titles; we just don’t always connect them to each other.

Some songs are funny that way. There are pop tunes in the same category. How does a song become popular, but few know the name of it? If John and Paul named the song, Of Course, we’d all call it She Loves You anyway and draw blanks if someone asked to play Of Course. The lesson for songwriters, draw your song title from the first line or make it the bulk of your chorus.

Christina Bosco was the OCB’s guest and she sang Mel Tome’s biggest hit (it was not Nat King Cole who wrote it) and Mary, Did You Know?, Do You Hear What I Hear and added words to Leroy Anderson’s staple, A Christmas Festival, which is a medley arrangement of familiar carols often performed as the instrumental it was meant to be. Christina has one of those voices, pure as the driven snow (I know, I know. but I couldn’t resist) which cuts through any accompaniment without having to use a microphone. Oddly, the piano backing her up on Mary sounded mic’ed and she still overcame that with little effort.

Returning to Leroy Anderson, The OCB didn’t play Sleigh Ride and I’m glad to know that someone else agrees it’s one of those tunes a band, orchestra, or assemblage of Kazoos needs to do at a Christmas concert. “What? No Sleigh Ride?” I heard at the end of the concert. I firmly believe this tune should be the defacto end of all Christmas concerts – obviously with an encore of We Wish You A Merry Christmas. No band will ever hear a complaint like ‘not that tune again’ and it sets a mood such that people would actually look forward to exiting the hall into a snow storm.

The OCB did a shorter version of this concert in the afternoon. The afternoon gig was devised for the curmudgeons who don’t want all those kid’s anxious antics disrupting their enjoyment of the show. Indeed, an answer to a question I never had before popped into mind during the afternoon show – how long does it take during an hour-long concert for the little ones to get antsy? About 48 minutes is what I came up with.

That was about 5 minutes after Santa made the rounds passing out candy canes to all the kids – heck I even got one. Hey, just because I don’t act like an adult most of the time…  Suitably, this occurred during the one tune every kid knows other than Jingle BellsRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The afternoon brought together most of the necessary elements for the perfect Christmas atmosphere. Good music played well, snowy weather, and lots of happy kids present for our amusement.

A sign of the times. Normally this concert has an intermission. The before, during and after concert times is when I get to say hello to people I don’t see often. It’s the one time of the year I feel the warmth of the community and part of why at this concert once upon a time is when I realized I was home. That feeling didn’t happen as much this year. I did speak with a few people, but not the dozens of years past. People are just not ready to hang around in large groups and most people vacated quickly. Even the band left pronto and I didn’t get to say hi to the many members I know.

It may sound like there was much to find fault about from this concert. That is not the case. Music makes us think, and quite often about the things from our lives we associate from those tunes. A shabbily played concert would have sent me down a different path as I write, but the OCB hit all the right notes and the effect was to appreciate the moment as it was and to think of the associated times.

If you weren’t able to go to the Christmas Prelude, you can watch both concerts on the band’s Youtube page.

OK Computer

I have spent a week and a half and counting without being able to connect to the internet. This hampers the ability to get stories posted, but with the aid of the Orillia Public Library and Creative Nomad Studios, I’m able to make it look like I’m keeping up.

There has been a major adjustment here at the home office. It not might seem obvious, but try not being able to connect for a week or more and you will begin to understand how large a role the internet plays in your daily life. The first hour of the day looking at Reddit and following those links to the stories of the day and next Facebook needed to be filled. It’s never too early to pick up my sticks and practice, but I think my neighbours might have a different opinion.

I gave up cable years ago when I realized everything I would watch on a TV broadcast I could also watch online within a day or two, so that wasn’t an option. Now without the connection I can’t even do that. Instead, I listened to a couple audio books I downloaded some time ago and never got the chance to hear. One, Debt, The First 5000 Years, by David Graber is fascinating. I found myself replaying parts of it several times to really understand the points. The corollary areas of economy, monetary systems and interest naturally become part of the story in Graeber’s thorough examination of how our present situation and popular conceptions came to be.

The first thing one learns is the historical development and underpinning of our capitalist system of economy is more robbery than Adam Smith’s quaint idea of a balanced exchange of goods and services for money (you’ll also learn where Smith got his ideas). That notion arrives with a thorough demolishing of the idea capitalism could survive without government handouts (i.e welfare), which is contrary to everything boardroom chair warmers tell us. In fact, Graeber finds the International Monetary Fund, a mafia of sorts, creates more indebtedness than prosperity it purports to achieve – and wouldn’t function without American military might. In fact the entire economic system of the world depends on the American military in order to work. This is something the Chinese are beginning to upend. If you truly want to understand why things are the way they are, and hope to navigate the obstacles set before you to achieving personal economic health, you need to listen to, or read, this book.

The second, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, by, Arlie Hochschild, is an examination by a sociologist from the other camp who just doesn’t understand why people keep voting against their own interests. She thought the best way to understand the conditions was to go and meet people who routinely and proudly shoot themselves in the feet on their turf.

If you guessed she picked a southern U.S. state to embed herself, advance to Go. She chose Louisiana, the one state winning the right to be dead last, or trying real hard to be, in every measure of well being. It is also the most polluted state of the 50, which is the ever present backdrop to each interaction and area of examination; it is so pervasive in Louisiana it affects every aspect of life there.

She found the people who vote conservative are not different than democrats and the policies they unreasonably hate, they just have a cognitive dissonance come into play at the voting booth. She found most of the people she encountered have the same hopes, dreams and desires as their liberal northern neighbours, they just think bringing a screwdriver to nail up a frame for a house is the best answer to their problems – and no one can convince them of the error of their thinking.

Conservatives in the U.S. are analogous to conservatives around the world. While they have painted a picture there is a world-wide socialist or communist cabal, they actually have developed a cabal for themselves and the policies and points of view of conservatives in the U.S. are much the same as those in Canada, Europe, Australia and South America (i.e. low taxes, no regulation, abortion bans, intertwining state and religion and two guns in every bedroom). Interestingly the chair of this world-wide consortium, the oddly named International Democrat Union, is none other than Stephen Harper.

What this book does well is show us the thinking is filtered by hatred of welfare for their neighbours while loving the welfare thrown at corporations (particularly the oil companies polluting their land, drinking water and their health), racism toward groups – but oddly, not toward their immediate neighbours- and almost fanatical religious belief is abundantly clear from their own words. What the book doesn’t do is provide the rest of us with insights and tools to show our otherwise thoughtful yet wayward conservative neighbours the reality they believe is really the biggest con job ever. It’s a great examination of how a population becomes and stays hoodwinked and would be a good companion work with an examination of how the chain pullers operate so successfully, which come to think of it, the other book is a good candidate.

More Than Just Music To Listen To

Another result of not being able to connect is I was able to listen to music without distraction. One evening I loaded up my VLC player with music from my classical folder. I spent an hour and three quarters reclining in a dark room (yeah, in bed) listening to Overture to a New  Era, Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, Holst’s, Jupiter, Gorb’s Awayday, Bernstein’s Mass Suite and Slava, Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, Zdeněk Lukáš’s Musica Boema: Cantabile, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Respighi’s Pines of Rome before falling asleep. It was the longest stretch of time I spent in ages focusing only on what entered my ears. I selected from the whole downloaded music folder and the playlist order was random. Had I realized next on the playlist was Ron Nelson’s Rocky Point Holiday, my second most favourite orchestral work after Copland’s Appalachian Spring (also on the playlist but last in the order; I think it was playing when I woke up, but that was pre-coffee so I can’t say for sure) I would have fought to keep my consciousness present for a few more minutes.

That’s my list, not the one critics of serious music would put together, which tells me something about the pretentious taste of most of them. My list is a damn sight more stimulating, despite falling asleep – at the end of the day. While listening, I thought of how foundational a lot of those pieces are to the music made today. I heard bits and pieces, and a lot of constructive elements that are present in modern movie and video game music. Most of it is 100 years or older and yet it, or its descendants, surround us all the time. I think anyone serious about understanding how to make music of a lasting nature would do well to give those pieces a listen. Even if you only play guitar, how to create drama, playfulness, bliss, contrast and many other moods, or simply how to create an a-ha moment is present in those pieces and listening to how those masters did it would be a lot better than having a screw driver as your only tool to build a frame for a house.

I almost don’t miss my busted modem.

The Shorts

Catching Up With Friends – Swartz, Ken Norman, Joel Alleyne In Rochester, NY.
  • The Orillia Silver Band’s Christmas concert happens Dec. 12 at the Opera House. They have Jazzamatazz as their guests. If you saw them at the Jazz Festival you know they were stupendous. The band’s not too shabby either. In fact, you might be getting tired of me saying they are one of the best performance ensembles I’ve seen. I spoke with Neil Barlow, the OSB’s conductor, at the Christmas Prelude and he said the band is in good shape, despite the layoff and has programmed one piece (he might have said two) arranged by my old friend Kenny Norman, who passed away in May. I wrote about Ken’s contributions to modern arranging and making better brass instruments here. Get tickets at the box office.
Mayor Steve Clarke and Michael Knight with New Christmas display
  • Streets Alive doesn’t rest. You may have noticed painted Christmas trees attached to light posts downtown – that’s a Streets Alive project. If I remember correctly Leslie Fournier said there are 48 of them downtown. And speaking of downtown, the Downtown Management Board has some new decorations, the lit trees and deer, and archways at the foot of Mississaga and in front of Impression House (for photo taking)  are new this year. Those are courtesy of a grant from Hydro One. There are also 50 remade baskets hanging from the light posts. Orillia Power, Town’s Jewellers, and Jack and Maddy’s sponsored the displays and the electricity to run it all.
  • Did you get a season ticket here for the Orillia Concert Association’s excellent series? You missed the premiere of Peter Stoll’s concert last weekend, but it’s been recorded and you still have three weeks to watch it. You’ll get the details how when you get your ticket. It’s only $70 and I dare you to find a better deal to see four concerts of this type anywhere. Four, you say? The next and first in person concert of the series is February 20 with Sonic Escape (Maria Millar, violin and Shawn Wyckoff, flute) at St. Andrew’s, followed by the Hog Town Brass March 27 at the Opera House. The final concert is May 1 with the Toronto All Star Big Band.
  • At the Opera House… not really a Christmas thing, the Music of the Night concert happens Dec. 11; Barrie’s Theatre By The Bay is bringing a production called Revival to the Opera House Dec. 18. Al tickets are available at the box office online
  • You can still catch last week’s Orillia Regional Arts and Heritage Awards program on OMAH’s Youtube channel.
  • The 7th annual Ugly Sweater Bowling Party happens at Orillia Bowl Dec. 17. There are only 4 lanes left to reserve. The beneficiary this year is the Sharing Place Food Bank. Register here.
  • The Lighthouse has a fundraising concert with the Steel Horse Gypsies (New Moon Junction opens) Dec. 11 at St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are a $20 donation, or you can go to the Lighthouse website and pick items to donate instead from their wish list.
  • Music… Fionn MacCool’s has Elizabeth Anderson playing Dec. 9; Olivia Duck and Michael Martyn are in Dec. 10; Even Steven is in Dec. 17… The Hog ‘N Penny has Jakob Pearce playing Saturday night; Sam Johnson is in Dec. 11; Thursday nights it’s trivia time at 7:30 p.m. … Zachary Lucky is doing two shows Jan. 14 and 15 at Picnic Snackbar; get tickets here.
Art By Norman Robert Catchpole
  • At the galleries… Craig Mainprize had a show at the Lone Wolf Café last Thursday with some new, and great pieces of Algonquin Park scenes hanging around. Hibernation Arts opened new space in their shop, in the basement, the show is called Underground Art; also see this month’s featured artist (and recent OHAR Award nominee), Norman Robert Catchpole’s work; also see the exhibit called Mary Rose Matted Art which is small, $20, pieces with proceeds going to the bursary fund in Mary’s name; Dec. 9 Dennis Rizzo is in to read form three books he’s published ($10 at 7 p.m.) – A Short History of Orillia and both the Mariposa Exposed volumes; Dec. 16 Alex Andrews is in to play at 7 p.m. ($20); … Kyle Sorenson’s solo show at Cloud Gallery  opens Dec. 10 (tickets – free)  … OMAH has the fantastic, annual Carmichael Canadian Landscape Exhibition  and a stunning exhibit of portraits by D. Ahsén:nase Douglas you have to see… Dave Beckett has a show at Tiffin’s Creative Centre opening Saturday at 10. a.m. … Peter Street Fine Arts has their annual 6×6 show up (great, inexpensive, original art for gifts)… the Arts District Galleries are having an Art Hop Dec. 11. Link peter hibernation

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia and Images Supplied) Main: Santa was at the Orillia Concert Band’s afternoon concert last Saturday.

Rants & Raves

Support Independent Journalism