By John Swartz
I could use this week’s column to pull your leg in the standard “hey, it’s April Fool’s Day,” kind of way. Regular readers know I rarely pass up an opportunity to have some fun. Good on those of you who laugh in the right places.
However, I haven’t given the occasion much thought like I usually do when this column appears on April 1, so I’m not going to whip something up that’s almost believable. One of the causalities of the pandemic is my sense of time (not the playing music kind). I still struggle to get a sense of what day it is, what the date is, and how close events are to now. Had my formerly top notch awareness of those kinds of things been in shape I would have produced something the whole town would be talking about. I didn’t catch the virus and have brain fog (hey, you in the back, stop laughing), it’s just the months of not having to worry about any of those temporal things became a bad habit.
I could say Paul Langlois of the Tragically Hip is going to play a gig here in Orillia and I want you to know I’m not pulling your leg. He will be playing here in July at the Mariposa Folk Festival. He’s got a new band with Greg Ball (of Kingston, guitar), Joe Carscallen (Kingston, guitar), Matt Mulvihill (bass) and Bill Anglin (drums), written some new songs and includes some of the old tunes in his performances.
The Paul Langlois Band is one of 7 new acts added to the summer festival lineup. Danny Michel, Ammoye, Fast Romantics (band member, Kirty, used to live way out there on Fairgrounds Road and went to Patrick Fogarty), Keith Mullins, Les Fireflies, Lucy Wainwright Roche, The Paddling Puppeteers and Tim Greenwood have also been added.
At last weekend’s Echoes of Mariposa concert at St. Paul’s Centre Gord Ball said that ticket sales for the festival are running ahead of last year. Keep in mind Mariposa called last year’s festival a sellout. Already there are no more camping tickets available.
Speaking of which, Echoes was asold out show. James Gray and Josh Kvasnak did a thoroughly entertaining first half set. It played out like a summer workshop with each taking turns performing their tunes, and sometimes joining in to support each other. Josh is a member of The Doozies and right away set a lighter tone for the night.
Union Duke had all of the second set to play with. This quintet has a bit of fun on stage, and have developed a good following. It caught me off guard when about half the audience joined in (took over) the singing on one of the tunes. I knew they were popular here because they’ve played here so often and it never occurred to me fans would have their lyrics down.
Reflecting on past Mariposa off-season concerts (February Blues aside), they’ve managed to make them as much about having fun as well as being about the music. Every one I can think of has had at least one comedian on stage.
All of last weekend’s performers got their invites to the summer festival by way of an audition concert and straight ahead is Mariposa’s 2023 audition concert at St. Paul’s Centre April 30 at 1 p.m. This is a free to attend.
You may have noticed the downtown has some colourfully decorated Eggs attached to most things not moving (if you didn’t you should book an appointment). Having seen some of them, if I were a kid all stoked for the at-home egg dipping ritual I’d quit in embarrassment of the mediocre result in store compared to what’s on the street this year.
There are 50 of them on the street and another 25 decorated by kids in some store windows. It’s a Streets Alive project, so you know Leslie Fournier came up with the idea.
Some towns have a town crier, a town gossip, even a town drunk. We’ve got a town set decorator.
The Kids Are Alright
The first Orillia Sunshine City School Music Festival at Orillia Secondary School this week was very successful in that I’m glad to say music education in high schools is obviously better than when I was of that age.
All of the bands I saw played challenging music and had a good sound. It’s what every band director hopes to achieve, a good sound. To musicians it’s important and the term goes way beyond – can they hear us. It’s a qualitative thing.
It’s the difference to a listener of how two (or more) bands with the same instrumentation can sound very different from each other. It starts with playing the music correctly, in time and playing the rhythms correctly among the other members of your section and then with the whole ensemble. Then you have to learn how to balance your own playing with like instruments so you don’t stick out in the audio landscape and your section has to be in their place relative to the main musical line, prominent or subordinate.
A lot of bands don’t get close to achieving those two points. They either function as everyone being a star, or individuals have no concept of where they fit in the music.
The sound depends a lot on what the conductor stipulates. One conductor favouring a pyramid of tonalities from the basses on up, and another preferring a more even approach among the various voices.
Of what I heard from 8 bands there was good fundamental teaching evident that creating a balanced sound, students knowing their music and playing it correctly is at work. When I think back to my high school experience, music teachers were probably happy someone in the band knew their music and audiences could tell what the tune was supposed to be.
I caught our own high school bands on the first evening, Wednesday, and it seems to me they played with better control and fullness of sound than in past years. All four had their jazz bands performing. I think the Twin Lakes Thunder Jazz was the strongest and not because they had a few more musicians on stage than the others. Orillia Secondary’s band did very well with their first tune, Tango For jam Jam. They handled the syncopated rhythm very well. I think the difference was Twin’s playing felt like movement was happening, which is what you want a band to do with the music.
For example, on Friday Midland’s Georgian Bay District Secondary played a tune with a 6/8 time signature. While the band did it together, they were fighting the tempo, getting bogged down playing triplets when they should have been breezing through it. They just didn’t have a sense as a group of how to make 6/8 move. It wasn’t even close to a train wreck, but I noticed. Meanwhile Twin made Steppin Out With My Baby a gallant strut to the club under the lights of main street the song was meant to be, pushing the beat without speeding up.
Orillia Secondary’s traditional jazz band was outstanding too. They played their music in a Dixieland style, which means each instrument taking turns in each of the tunes with a solo section. The tunes weren’t as complicated as a bunch of weathered, New Orleans musicians would make them, but nonetheless the students displayed a familiarity of the genre. Of the 7 musicians I was particularly interested in Jack Smith’s trumpet playing. He’s got such a smooth and mature attitude toward playing I’ve only seen a few times in my life. If he keeps with it he’ll be going places.
Friday afternoon the Mayfield Secondary School senior band was on an entirely different level than the other bands I saw. They were the largest of the bands (6 double basses and two tubas) and played the most sophisticated music. There had to have been about 15 flutes and as many clarinets and I barely noticed them. Not a shrill moment did they produce. They blended in to the overall sound as well as I would have had them do if I was conducting, creating a texture of sound rather than a focus of ear scratching.
The first tune they did, Into the Raging River, was epic in length. It also had contrasting styles, tempos, dynamic elements and changing rhythms that made it exciting to listen to despite not being familiar with the song. The audience on hand gave them a spontaneous round of healthy applause for it.
Let’s digress to the audiences and other factors. I was mildly surprised so many people showed up to enjoy the competition. There were quite a few more than I expected on Wednesday. Granted many were probably parents, but still playing to an empty room no matter how well you are playing is not nearly as good as having an audience. Friday the cafetorium was pretty full most of the time.
And let’s talk about the environment. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The concept of using a cafeteria as an auditorium by tacking on a stage is an idea that needs to be beaten several times daily. It’s an abomination to think having music and theater arts students perform in such a crappy space is a good thing. Even the PA system is subpar, with too few speakers to adequately convey what anyone is saying in a way that doesn’t sound like one has cotton in the ears. While I complain about the music program I had to endure, my school, built in the 1920s at least had a proper theatre –with soft seats and a balcony no less.
And who ever designed this space, particularly the stage, obviously knows not one thing about acoustics. Wednesday’s bands played on the stage and Friday’s on the cafeteria floor. The sound Friday was so much better. It should have been better on Wednesday – they were on the stage, playing in a place ostensibly meant to be used as a performance platform and not a food fight arena. This is akin to shop students having to use tools sourced at Walmart instead of learning with professional grade tools.
Back to the bands. Mayfield played like a machine. Not without emotion, but as one. They were clearly the best of the festival. I didn’t get to see any of the Thursday performances, so take that as you will.
Of particular interest to me was hearing the Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute Senior Symphonic Band. The music teacher/conductor is Dan Austin. He graduated from Twin Lakes Secondary and was for a time a fixture on upright bass in several bands around here.
They played as well as any of the other bands, which, as I’ve inferred is quite a bit better than I expected. I think I was more tuned to experiencing the product Austin created because I’ve known him for so long, and enjoying seeing all his effort to build a program pay off that I don’t remember the specifics of what the band did. Having followed Dan’s story, there wasn’t much of a music program at GCVI when he started.
An interesting part of the competition is the involvement of the adjudicators. It’s not a case of play your stuff and on to the next band. One of the four judges took 20 minutes or so following each band’s performance to do a master class, going over some parts that could be improved quickly. Peter Stoll who has played here as a solo clarinetist a few times was one of the judges. I thought it was kind of humorous that all of the bands played better for the judges than they did for their teachers while in competition. I mentioned it to a music teacher and the response I got was rolled eyes and an ‘I know.’
Despite all of the above, we still have a way to go to catch up to the level of quality of American high school bands. That’s now entirely a matter of available resources and funding (we were lucky to have teachers like Suds Sutherland and Stan Passfield for so many years, so we were kind of oblivious to general conditions around the province). In the past my perspective has been about the general approach in this province, the lack of regard to teaching music in high school. We’ve now got good quality, dedicated music teachers, who chase quality with what they have at hand, do more than meets the eye and the kids today are bringing more talent to the mix than in the past.
It makes me happy to be able to write about these bands and be able to consider intricate details of what is occurring instead of trying to find the right words to say, ‘well, they’re trying.’
- Hawksley Workman plays at St. Paul’s Centre April. Get tickets online.
- The Roots North Music Festival is giving away 2 weekend passes, which includes an overnight at the Champlain Hotel, enter here. The Friday/Saturday events at St. Paul’s Centre are the hub of activity. The main stage menu sets (Friday – Tommy Youngsteen / The Ronnie Douglas Band) (Saturday – Meredith Moon / Kellie Loder / Michael Kaeshammer) are going to be really good. You can get tickets online.
- The Cellar Singers’s annual gala/cabaret fundraiser is April 15 At St. James’ Anglican Church. At this event the focus is on individual and small group performances that are more toward the fun side of serious singing. You can get tickets online.
- The Orillia Concert Band’s next event is May 13 at St. Paul’s Centre and their guest performer is Jacquie Dancyger Arnold. She’ll be playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Bach’s Solfeggietto. Also on the band’s program are Farandole, Moorside March, Nimrod, Lady of Spain. You can get tickets online.
- Twin Lakes Secondary School’s annual theatrical production is happening soon. This year it’s called Thunder Years. It’s a revue of the previous 49 student productions, kind of a 50th anniversary event. It happens April 27/28 at the school and you can get tickets at the school office.
- The Leacock Museum has two things happening. The submission period is now open for the K. Valerie Connor Memorial Poetry contest. You have until May 8 to send something in under three categories – adult, teens and children. The total prize pool is $2,000. You can find the nomination rules and registration online. And, the museum has a new exhibit, A Leacock Love Story. It’s about Stevie and Beatrix, not that other one. You can see it Wednesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until May.
- OMAH’s main floor has portraits of famous and should be famous women by Amanta Scott called Eyeing Medusa (Paul Shilling also has some work up in that gallery); in the smaller just-off-the-lobby room is work by David Alan Hill and Christine Mack called Beyond the Fence; upstairs see Gary Blundell and Victoria Ward’s Burner Herzog; and in the other second floor room find out the fascinating story of Great Tait: The True Story of Orillia’s First Millionaire. The next History Speaker’s Night is with Judy Humphries, head of the Gravenhurst Fire College archives, who will speak about the history of the now closed college; it’s going to be on Zoom April 19 and you can register online soon… Hibernation Arts has been busy; two artists are new to the gallery, Jennifer Lawson and Melissa Van Dam; Barbara Schmidt has returned with new work and this month’s guest artist is Ukrainian photographer Alina Hromko… Peter Street Fine Arts has art by Georgina Hackett – McHugh featured this month; she creates pieces with wood and on t-shirts.
- Couchiching Craft Brewing has Nintendo Trivia Apr. 5; The Ronnie Douglas Blues Band is in Apr. 7; Tamica Herod and Gerry Markman (Tamica is Liz Anderson’s cousin) play Apr. 8; Will Davis and Chris Robinson are in Apr. 9… Quayle’s Brewery has Mark Thackway playing Apr. 7; Patrick Hunter is in Apr. 8; Mitch Szitas plays Apr. 9… the Opera House has Ian Thomas in April 28; get tickets online… Mariposa Art Theatre’s next Film Night is April 12 with Riceboy Sleeps and Apr. 26 with Emily; showtimes are 4 and 7 p.m. at the Galaxy; tickets are $15 only at the door… Steve Parkes and Pete Sanderson host a new jam at The Sunken Ship (Tammie’s Place) Sunday’s from 6 to 9 p.m. starting March 19… Meredith Moon – with Sean Patrick – plays Picnic Sunday at 2 p.m.; the Griddle Pickers are in Apr. 23 (tickets)
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia and Images Supplied) Main: Orillia Secondary School’s Traditional Jazz Band