By John Swartz
A funny thing happened, not on the way to, but at the Opera House last Sunday. It was the annual Christmas concert the Orillia Silver Band puts on.
The band was doing their usual stellar job and had reached the last segment of the first half, the request/sing-a-long part. A few years ago Neil Barlow, the conductor of the OSB, threw it open to the audience to shout requests and the band was miraculously ready to play them, having brought the sheet music for almost every imaginable tune you can think of.
For several years I would use my teacher voice to get Sleigh Ride rendered. This year I didn’t have to, but someone else on the other side of the house was asking for it, to which Neil said they put it on the program this year so the band would play it later.
Last year the band put a twist in, if you requested, and the band could do it, you could (read, implored) get up to the front to a microphone and sing it; it could have been they were doing it before COVID shut everything down.
So this fellow requests Let It Snow. He got up to the front and proceed to belt out the tune with an off the score ending Neil directed the band to run with, holding out the last chord while the singer gave the ending some icing. The audience loved it.
To everyone there it was obvious this guy was not an average singer. And it turns out, as Neil tossed a couple questions to him, he’s from Ukraine and is an opera singer. This was his first, other than a couple of occasions to sing at functions of the Ukrainian community in Barrie where he lives, to do what he does in Canada.
Dmytro Garbovskyi, 34, is from Kharkov, but had been living for 10 years in Russia. He came here with his wife and son 8 months ago, settling in Barrie because a friend from home was already there.
“When Russia invaded Ukraine, I started to bring the light to my coworkers and everyone I know. After that I started to have troubles in my theater,” he said. “The last ten years I was playing with these guys and they just changed their mind about Ukrainian people and the special agents told me I must shut up my mouth or I will go to jail.”
He started making plans to get out. It took 6 months to get a visa. He sold everything and after one aborted attempt to get out, got to Canada with only the jacket and shoes he happened to be wearing on Sunday (and with, of course, his family).
If one follows the news, there aren’t too many Ukrainians in Russia who aren’t either in jail, or unaccounted for.
“(It’s) very hard. Last time I was in Ukraine was almost 6 years ago and a lot of my friends living there now, I can’t really understand how they live.”
His professional credentials are very good.
“I was starting in Ukrainian university in Kharkov (Kharkiv National University of Arts). Then after that I work in Russia in one of the best theaters in the world, Mariinsky Theatre (Saint Petersburg Russia).”
He wants to be able to work as he’s been trained.
“I’m really hoping, but unfortunately nobody knows my voice here in Canada.”
It’s a shame we don’t have mechanisms to get professionals using their expertise in their new home. We all know the stories of doctors and engineers driving taxis, and Dmytro’s story is similar.
“Now I’m working here, construction, every day and I have a second job here, delivery man.”
Let’s hope 2024 gets him on his way to becoming a Canadian/Ukrainian opera singer.
The OSB second half is where the meat of the program was, with almost all the selections being out of the ordinary, challenging pieces of music, which the band played superbly.
Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays, And All That
Here we are, year end. The season this time around seems different. I’m not sure what it is. I don’t feel as cheerful as past years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still cheerful, but not as loudly as an amplifier anyone in Spinal Tap would be boasting about.
I don’t sense others aren’t feeling much differently. Maybe it’s because all we have are the dirty remnants of the last real snowfall, and there is little prospect the kids will wake up Christmas Day to a winter wonderland.
Maybe it’s because all around us, there are people determined to ruin Christmas for everyone with protests. Maybe it’s because there is a vocal minority determined to shame any of us who choose to extend the idea of Christmas to everyone regardless of persuasion by saying Happy Holidays, or as Orillians are quick to pick up (in light of our tree) by saying Happy Festivus.
Maybe it’s because we all know someone who is battling our ruined healthcare system, or scrapping to get by to pay the rent; our government seems to think we are the enemy and instead of doing things to help, makes things worse.
Maybe it’s because we all know someone we don’t want to see because they can’t have a conversation anymore without dragging idiotic topics into it.
There certainly is no shortage of things to be anxious about.
We should acknowledge we are fortunate to be in Orillia. Most of the shenanigans happening on our TVs and computer screens aren’t happening here. We treat each other like the friends we are. We open ourselves and our wallets to help those who need help. We are great people in a landscape of a seemingly falling apart society.
In my experience we have a great community attitude and I am grateful to be here. Grateful my kids live here where it’s relatively safe compared to other places. Grateful my town always seems to be trying to make it’s greatness better in progressive and positive ways. I am grateful for you.
I hope each of you gets a gift you didn’t expect and serves a function in your life you didn’t know you needed to make better. I hope Christmas passes at your homes in peace, (at a certain point, make them doubles for Uncle Chad or Aunt Karen to speed up sleepy time, just time it right).
Merry Christmas everyone.
The City is once again having a New Year’s Eve party. It’s at the Orillia Recreation Centre from 5 to 7:30 p.m., and if I have to say December 31, go to the back of the class. Aside from all the things one can do at the rec center, they are bringing in what looks like a ton of other things to have fun with.
As a former parent of rugrats, my strategy would be to let them see the inflatable things, throw them in the pool for a bit, let them eat all the popcorn they can handle – all before they notice there’s cotton candy.
If they are older you can take them to Rotary Place for free skating between 1 and 3 p.m. If they are not older, take them anyway, you need some entertainment too and some of the best Youtube videos I’ve seen are of kids trying to skate.
Orillia transit is free to ride from 4:45 p.m. to 1:45 a.m.
If none of that does it for you Yuk Yuks New Year’s Eve is happening at the Quality Inn. The comics are Matt Lund, Justin Shaw and Scott Faulconbridge. Diner and the show is $150, show only $95. Call 705-326-7343 for tickets.
Everything else slows down for the next couple weeks. I was going to suggest you might take some time to visit OMAH, but I just found out they are closed between Christmas and January 2.
And if you are just finding out you forgot to get Aunt Karen something for Christmas, see my column from a couple weeks ago; there are some things you can get to make a lasting impression and do it online; then all you’ll need is an envelope (maybe card) and a printer.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia and Images Supplied)