This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

In May 2010 Albert Greer told me, “Our goal is to be as good as the best classical type choirs from the big centers.”

I think many people would agree he met that goal many times with how the Cellar Singers performed.

A the time he also said he was working about 80 hours week and in true Yogi Berra fashion it amount to, “It’s about half time (as organist at St. James’ Anglican church and teaching at York University), the Cellar Singers is the other half and then all the other things are the other half.”

Albert Greer Feb 23, 1937 – May 9, 2024

He began as the Cellar’s conductor in 1977. His last concert with the Cellars was May 3, 2012. He had taken time off as a high school music teacher in 1976 to come to Orillia to figure out if he could make a career doing something else, which turned out to be taking the organists job, hitching up with the Cellars and getting a job offer at York.

While in his prime, Albert was the go to soloist for many chorale groups to perform the role of Evangelist in both the Saint Matthew and Saint John Passions of J.S. Bach.

Albert was also the premiere soloist for Heirs Through Hope by Robert Fleming, Lustro by R. Murray Schafer, and La Tourangelle by Istvan Anhalt. When the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir recorded Healey Willan’s An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts, Albert was the soloist. You can listen to several pieces of music he recorded here.

Albert Greer’s office, 2010.

He was also the conductor of the Ontario Youth Choir (1974) and the Couchiching Young Singers (1990 – 1996).

His arrangements of They Shall Grow Not Old and In the Bleak Midwinter are quite popular pieces to perform.

In 2012 he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.

Albert died May 9. His health had been failing for some time.

He was a gracious, knowledgeable musician, always willing to take some time to talk about music, or any of the concerts he was involved with.

The Cellars became one of the great musical groups in Canada and we are fortunate to have them right here in Orillia, and were fortunate to have Albert leading them. Many communities wish they had an Albert Greer.


Bruno Kirby as Tommy Pischedda: “Excuse me, are you reading Yes I Can?”

“You know what the title of that book should be? Yes, I Can If Frank Sinatra Says It’s OK,  ’cause Frank calls the shots for all of those guys. Did you get to the part yet where uh… Sammy is coming out of the Copa? It’s about 3 o’clock in the morning and, uh, he sees Frank? Frank’s walking down Broadway by himself…”

At this moment Nigel Tufnel raises the partition in the limo cutting Pischedda off, which annoys Pischedda.

“You know, it’s just that people like this… you know… they get all they want so they really don’t understand, you know… about a life like Frank’s. I mean, when you’ve loved and lost the way Frank has, then you, uh, you know what life’s about.”

That scene has stuck in my mind since the first time I saw it. I could relate to the play on manufactured public image against reality. Off the stage Sinatra had a reputation just like any other tough guy.. On stage he was without peer.

I knew about Sinatra, didn’t really like his music. My dad didn’t like my music (though oddly he made sure me and my brother were in front of the TV when the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan – the first time; he did have a sense of history in the making) and I didn’t like his.

Then one day I heard a tune called Ballet in Brass, a song from an album recorded by Les Brown’s band in Studio A (left speakers) and Vic Schoen’s in Studio B (right speakers). The music was written in such a way it flowed from side to side. It was recorded in 1959 and was quite a feat to pull of.

That was in 1974 and I began a 25 year search for that album.

Two things happened because of hearing that music. One, Les Brown, the band leader for Bob Hope specials made music like this!

Rick Stephenson

And it played a role in a friendship with Rick Stephenson.  After a concert he did at the Opera House, he invited me and my girlfriend to his place for a drink afterward. Of course we talked about music and big bands (Rick was the leader of the Endangered Species Big Band) and I was in the middle of telling him about this amazing music I only heard played by a few other groups, but I could never find the original album, when he excused himself.

Chit chat with the ladies was interrupted by my ears coming to attention. I was hearing the music I had been talking about for real. Rick had that album.

Somewhere between then and then I learned Les Brown was also the bandleader for several of Sinatra’s recordings, so I began to listen to them with a different perspective and had come to appreciate Sinatra as an extraordinary singer – but the bands and arrangements kicked a$$.

So when I sat down to hear Rick’s performance with his band doing an all Sinatra show I was stunned by the way he sang the tunes and how the band played.

I’d heard people try to mimic the voice and style before (and frankly almost all the clone bands and artists fail to my liking), but this, this was incredibly good, so true to how the recordings sound. Rick’s voice is as dead on as it can get, and he can do the unique phrasing Sinatra did. No cheese or bad acting required.

Almost all the live music we hear is cover versions. Smart musicians don’t attempt to become Memorex machines and do the songs their own way and usually do them well. It’s the ones who reach for something they don’t possess that turns me off. Very few, Ken Brennan, John Stinson, Michael Bell, Ian Jutson and Andy Mauck happen to have the voices and musical knowledge to get on a stage and convincingly recreate the giants they are covering.

Rick is also one of those. When he sings the first thought is – boy does he ever sound like Sinatra. As the song and songs pass by you start to wonder how is it possible to fool my ears like this.

Rick is not Sinatra, he’s Rick. But like a drummer who has studied everything Buddy did, or a trumpet player who practised every day until the high notes Maynard could hit become easier to play, or a pianist pulling off Rhapsody in Blue as well as anyone (capturing not only the notes, but the feel), Rick knows his material and he’s blessed with similar sounding vocal qualities to sing a convincing Sinatra book.

You can hear what I’m feebly trying to convey Saturday night at St. Paul’s Centre when he performs what promises to be an extraordinary concert with the Orillia Concert Band at 7:30. There might be some tickets left online (only ten left earlier this week), but they kept 50 of the 400 seats out for sales at the door, so if you go early enough you might get in. A second concert Sunday at 2:30 p.m. also has tickets online (maybe a few more available than for Saturday) and 50 at the door too.

Leacock Medal

The spate of concerts earlier in May kind of robbed space for passing on the Leacock Medal for Humour short-list.  Eleven books instead of 10 made the cut this time because when the reading panel voted 3 books tied for 9th.

The list includes: Erin Bow for Simon Sort of Says, Ali Bryan for Coq, Suzanne Craig-Whytack for What Any Normal Person Would Do, Gregor Craigie for Radio Jet Lag, Patrick deWitt for The Librarianist, Rick Mercer for The Road Years: A Memoir, Continued…, Lucie Page for Lost Dogs, William Ping for Hollow Bamboo, Sam Shelstad for The Cobra and the Key, Ron Vincent for Life at the Precipice, and Deborah Willis for Girlfriend on Mars.

Two-time Leacock medal winner Terry Fallis will host the Meet The Author’s and Student Writing Showcase June 21 at Hawk Ridge Golf Club. The CBC’s The Debaters host Steve Patterson is hosting the medal dinner the next evening. You can get tickets for either event now online.

The Shorts

  • Arts Orillia has their Theatre and Cross Connectivity program again this year. It’s May 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the Opera House. The event features the result a two-week program for youth lead by Simon Malbogat (Mixed Theatre Company). You can find more information and get tickets online.
Couchiching Ice Huts, Travis Shilling
  • Orillia Secondary School music parents association have a raffle on. Top prize is a Travis Shilling oil painting. There are 9 prizes all together, including gift cards, and golf. You can get tickets at Blossom Plants & Goods, 11 Peter Street South. Draw date is May 23 at the spring concert.
  • The next Orillia Vocal Ensemble fundraising concert is May 22 at St. Paul’s Centre. The program features music by Bruce Cockburn, Gord, and Stan Rogers. Admission is by donation and proceeds will go to the Quota Club of Simcoe County.
  • The Orillia Community Children’s Choir has a concert May 25 at 2 p.m. at St. Paul’s Centre. Joining them are some members of the Orillia Vocal Ensemble. Tickets are $10 at the door.
  • Mariposa Arts Theater is holding auditions for their fall production, Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy. They will be May 24, 25, and 26 at their rehearsal hall. Josh Halbot is directing. You can find out all the details about the character descriptions, audition requirements and how to become part of the burlesque ensemble online.
  • The success of the first two Back to the 90s Video Dance Parties was so good ($14,000 raised in December), Derick Lehmann has a third one happening May 25 at the Roller Skating Place at ODAS Park. This time around the fundraiser is to buy bikes for kids. Get tickets online.
  • The new date for Lighthouse’s concert at the Opera House is September 20. In the mean time kids are going to love the live action show Dinosaur World Live May 15; comedian Derek Seguin is in May 16; and the Laugh For Lake Simcoe fundraiser with Ron Josol, Fiona O’Brien, and Jeff McEnery is June 22. Get tickets for any of these shows  online.
  • Anne Walker has Jowi Taylor with Six String Nation (featuring the guitar made from parts donated by famous Canadians) in for the next of the summer concerts at the Coulson Church on May 26. Joining him are John Prince, Patty McLaughlin and Anne Walker. The rest of the schedule is: June 23 Tannis Slimmon and Lewis Melville; July 28 Wendell Ferguson; Aug. 25 Anne Walker; and Sept. 29 Blair Packham. You can get tickets online.
  • Canada Day is returning to Couchiching Beach Park and the organizing committee has some room on it, and they are looking for sponsors and people to volunteer the day of. You can find out more online.
  • The Orillia Museum of Art and History has the 27th annual International Women’s Day Art Show in the main gallery; you can also see an exhibit of work from an art program for kids called Regent Park Public School Grade 6/7 Garden Design Program; OMAH opens Backra Bluid an exhibit of works by photographer Stacey Tyrell May 18. OMAH is looking for a couple board members. You can apply online if you are 18-years-old, live in Simcoe County, have references and are a member of OMAH, but not an employee or related to one. May 10 they have a Mother’s Day Wine and Paint night lead by Peter Fyfe; the May 15 History Speaker’s Night is with Dave Dawson who will talk about the history of the Packet and Times and Beyond; it’s online and you can register here… St. Paul’s Centre has the Call to Action 83 Art Project in the Ogimaa Miskwaaki Gallery. Hibernation Arts has a new ODAC collection for the month. Zain Campbell also has a collection of  his paintings on the wall. Peter Street Fine Arts has a collection of work by Gina McHugh featured in May. ODAC artists have a show up in the Green Room at the Opera House, and they have a new show, Spring Awakening up May 18. Cloud Gallery’s next Collector’s Corner artist is Brigitte Granton; they also have has Lisa Hickey in May 18 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for their next installment of the Meet the Artist series.

  • Couchiching Craft Brewing has Jeremiah Hill in to play May 11; Valerie Burns and Dave Chun May 12; Jakob Pearce and Dave Hewitt May 18… Quayle’s Brewery has Ron Whitman playing May 11; Jojo May 12; Chris Staig May 16; Rebekah Hawker afternoon May 18 and Kyle Wauchope evening May 18… Lake Country Grill has Even Steven playing May 11 and Samantha Windover May 22… Picnic has Mark Thackway in May 19.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia and Images Supplied) Main: Albert Greer Feb. 23, 1937 – May 9, 2024

Rants & Raves

Support Independent Journalism