SoundBites

Mary (Fenwick) Christmas from MRU Conservatory

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“Do you have a piano teacher who can teach a 90 year old who hasn’t played in 30 or 40 years?” was the question that started it all.

Mary Fenwick, a 91-year-old resident of United Active Living’s Garrison Green community posed this question to Mount Royal University Conservatory.

The answer was ‘yes’.

Not only has Mary been taking private lessons throughout her nineties with Conservatory instructor Kathy Dornian, she has been offered to play as a featured soloist in the Festive Favourites series concert Sounds of The Season at the Bella Concert Hall on December 17th.

Fenwick claims this all started with her daughters who suggested, “If you do something you haven’t done in a long time, it’ll stimulate your brain.”

So, she took to the piano.

The reason was both emotional and logical, “If I take piano lessons,” she thought, “I’ll love it. There’s always a piano in the house.”

Like many budding pianists, there were challenges with practicing. “When I started, I practiced here,” she says, indicating the common area at the Garrison Green residence. But I had to come at either 8 in the morning or 9 at night… and that’s not when you want to practice.”

She opted, instead, to invest in her education. “I bought myself a Roland digital piano from Steinway. It’s in my room.”

The reaction hasn’t always been positive. “One of the ladies here, when she heard I was taking piano lessons said, ‘isn’t that an unrealistic goal at your age?’” Fenwick laughs off the critique, “I don’t have time to be a concert pianist. I’m doing it for my joy… for my soul. And I’m getting so much out of it.”

The idea for her to take the stage was originally misinterpreted. A suggestion was presented by Jean-Louis Bleau, Program Administrator, General and Orchestral Programs for Mount Royal University Conservatory for her to join the ensemble in a Christmas carol.

“I thought it was just to have a person in the choir,” she claims, “but the part was soprano and I sing alto.” Feeling that the vocal range might be too high, Fenwick approached Kathy Dornian saying, “I can’t do it cause I’m an alto.” To which, Dornian, who was in on the suggestion, set the record straight by asking, “What does that matter if you’re playing the piano?”

Bleau, who is also the conductor of Artio, the youth choir who will be onstage collaborating with the Calgary Youth Orchestra and Mary for her Bella debut, claims this casting is a no-brainer. “United Active Living sponsors our Festive Favourites shows,” he says noting that December 11th’s Winter Fantasia features some of the Conservatory’s youngest performers, while Sounds of the Season on December 17th is for the more mature performers, including Mary. “We thought it would be wonderful to involve someone as young and vibrant as Mary. Her youthful energy fits with this youth ensemble.” Bleau continues, “Mary’s the perfect example that the pursuit of music is a lifelong one.”

As for the repertoire for this combined ensemble, Fenwick pipes in, “I’ll be playing Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” She adds, “I’m playing the main verse and they’re singing the descant.”

Undoubtedly, all eyes and ears will be on Fenwick as she sits at the Steinway, not the least of which will be her two daughters who have planned to travel from Victoria and Cranbrook British Columbia. It’s somehow fitting that these concerts are primarily to bring families together to support the wonderful music education being offered all semester long.

But for now, Mary is strategizing for the big show. “I’ll practice this like crazy.” Smiling, she nods, “It’ll work out,” she says, then winks, “Kathy will help me.”

– JLove

 

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Musically Speaking: Chris Hadfield is the Real McCoy

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Chris Hadfield is Canada’s most authentic folk singer.

To some, this statement may feel as surprising as Bob Dylan winning a Nobel Prize. But like the latter, none could be more deserving.

In his sold-out performance at the Bella Concert Hall in the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts at Mount Royal University on Saturday night, he featured a lot of adventures and reflections with his adoring audience. But, most surprisingly for some, most reflections were conveyed through music.

Canada’s first space-walker, first astronaut to operate the ‘Canadaarm’ and first commander of the International Space Station is also mankind’s first person to record an album in space (Space Sessions: Songs from a Tin Can).

At the Bella, however, his feet were firmly planted on the ground. His geocentric approach to his storytelling included songs and stories of Canada’s prairie history, the Clifford Sifton’s campaign offering free land to European settlers in the early 1900s and a recent trip to the northernmost arctic tip of our country to explore the landscape, wildlife and effects of global warming. It was as if your favourite university professor pulled out a guitar to accompany his lectures.

In all ways, Chris Hadfield’s voice is absolutely authentic. It may not be the most melodious voice that has graced this concert hall, but it’s undeniably truthful.

The songs, which included a couple choice covers of east-coaster Stan Rogers tunes, were well chosen and very personal. He has a seasoned tone for folk tunes and a steady fingerpicking style that was well rehearsed before going to sleep almost every night on the International Space Station.

The original material offered thoughts on topics lightyears away from each other. From the heartfelt reaction to his pioneering family’s loss of an infant child (his great-uncle) to the joys of weightlessness in space, each experience was both emotional and real.

The notes he hit in his performance equalled those choice moments struck by some of the best folk singers heard in folk clubs or festivals proving that in all things he pursues, Hadfield finds a way to rise to the top.

For the countless who followed his five-month space residency online, there was no surprise that he was comfortable in front of any audience, but what the audience also learned about Hadfield is that he’s a bit of an entertainer. With several tunes penned by he and his brother Dave, he poked fun at our ‘Canadianness’. In particular, the one that brought down the house was his rollicking ‘love song’ about today’s modern man-cave, “Canadian Tire”.

As Canadians, we’re famous worldwide for being able to look at ourselves and laugh. Hadfield has looked at us in a way that few Canadians have, and showed us what he saw. Pioneers, explorers, storytellers are what motivate us.

The second half of the show focused more on his epic space achievements. With slides and stories of his, now legendary, spacewalks, he regaled the crowd with inspiring tales and stellar imagery. This is what his audience was waiting for.

When, like a veteran music act, he ramped up to singing the hit single, there were about fifty musicians that joined him onstage. Mount Royal’s Artio choir and members of the Academy, Conservatory and some professional ensembles including the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra assembled to back him up for tunes like Is Somebody Singing, a co-composition with Hadfield and Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies. When it debuted, Hadfield sang from space while Robertson was simulcast with 70,000 school children across Canada. Though there were fewer participants, the resonance of the song and its meaning were well-represented.

In closing, he played the single. David Bowie’s Space Oddity as recorded and filmed on the International Space Station. At the insistence of his son Evan, he carved out precious time in his scientific work to release a video the day before he flew back to earth. It has been seen by over 33 million people on YouTube.

He commemorated the impact that the imagination the late David Bowie had when writing the song in his late teens, before anyone had been able to live in space, maintaining how moved he was to know that Bowie enjoyed his version. Though, unlike Bowie’s original, thanks to his new interpretation, the astronaut in the story survives.

Releasing his supporting musicians, Hadfield then spoke directly with the audience. With the mantra to change yourself into the person who can accomplish whatever your personal goal is, he truly connected with his onlookers to offer a role model to do just that, in all of the avenues he has traveled. He opened up the floor to a question period which was so expertly handled that if you missed the entire show beforehand and experienced only that, you would have left knowing you got your money’s worth.

His unparalleled resume thus far has boasted titles like fighter pilot, test pilot, engineer, astronaut and commander of the international space station. What those in attendance now realize is that he is also an artist, a poet, a guitarist and among the best folk storytellers on the planet.

He revealed that his dream since he was a child was to walk on the moon. If there’s any way to get there, trust that Colonel Hadfield will find it and when he does, that lunar jam session will be out of this world.

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Hadfield: In Our Space

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Colonel Chris Hadfield is landing in our space at the Bella Concert Hall.

The first Canadian astronaut to walk in space will be the first astronaut to set foot on the stage at the new Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts… and he’s bringing his guitar.

Hadfield states his keynote address will be, “A mixture of some Canadian stories, some space flight stories and a personal interweaving between the two.”

The high-flying author of two best-selling books just released his third publication, “The Darkest Dark” a children’s volume on conquering fear. It’s just one of his creative passions he has pursued since landing back on his home planet.

The Music To Your Ears Concert Season at MRU Conservatory, which has featured the likes of Ziggy Marley and Chantal Kreviazuk already this fall, celebrates the pursuit of musical excellence, and Hadfield is quite at home on a concert stage.

Fans wishing to hear the famed space cowboy strum a tune might just be in luck. As the first human to record an album of music while off-planet and cover David Bowie’s Space Oddity to the tune of 33 million views on YouTube, he knows how to attract an audience. Ticket holders on November 26th will likely hear something from the album, “Space Sessions: Songs From a Tin Can” which features original music by Hadfield and his brother David.

Due to these many passions, he’s excited to bring his experience to the concert hall environment. “My intent,” he says, “would be to tell some stories and use some music to help illuminate them.”

Although Colonel Hadfield’s performance is sold out, there are more stellar guests in this year’s line-up at mru.ca/enjoy.

  • By JLove

Space Oddity

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True Patriot Love – Escaping with Chantal Kreviazuk

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On the night of the American election, it was nice to celebrate being Canadian.  Even before the polls closed, a capacity crowd shared an escapist evening with the healing power of Chantal Kreviazuk’s music.

When you get the chance to see Chantal Kreviazuk, you expect a blend of storytelling, songwriting and most of all, musical excellence. For the sold out audience at the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts Bella Concert Hall, that’s exactly what they got… but it wasn’t just Chantal.

Kevin Fox is a talent.

Most of the sold out crowd likely sighed to learn there was an ‘opening act’ before the songstress was to take the stage, but once he put bow to strings on his solo cello, they took it back. His rhythmic looping created a veritable orchestra filling the room with recognizable cover tunes from the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams to Paul Simon’s Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes. An obviously gifted composer who, like Chantal herself, blended his classical training with a contemporary sensibilities. His charismatic ‘aw shucks’ style banter was an endearing note of gratitude to the title act and a love letter home to his wife and two young sons in Ontario, whom the opportunity of ‘the road’ has taken him away from.

His love song, commissioned by his wife of ten years, with its lilting feel of a nautical lullabye, was a highlight of the evening.

From the moment she took the stage, interestingly bagpiped in by MRU President Dr. David Docherty, she commanded the evening. With the warm glow of four light strings spaced across the stage as if waiting to deck the hall for Christmas, Kreviazuk, dressed angelically in white, took her place atop the tree.

Her connection with the audience was comfortable. She wove stories of her family with Our Lady Peace frontman Raine Maida while onscreen, she showed personal photos of their beloved family dog and a humanitarian trip to Peru.  Her regaling of rough emotional experiences which music has helped her through and, mostly, self-deprecating humour on the benefits of the touring life as an antidote to parenthood captured the audience.  She was a confident storyteller with the life experience to support it.

But when she sings, you can’t help but listen.

The vocal powerhouse shone in the Bella Concert Hall with heart-felt power ballads well into the evening. Playing a majority of new repertoire from her latest release Hard Sail, which perhaps ironically she ‘hard-sold’ in each of her intros, despite not having the new release at the merch table, she mesmerized with a soundscape of eight years worth of life in song.

A Conservatory-trained pianist, she’s a marvel on the Steinway. Her graceful and melodious descants harkening a classical motif were blended seamlessly with the power of a modern ‘three-verse with a bridge’ songwriting formula. It’s no wonder her hooks have been sung and recorded by the likes of Pink, Rhianna and Christina Agulera.

The listening audience (you could hear a pin drop) thoroughly enjoyed the hits…perhaps more than Kreviazuk herself. Where she took the time to set up each of her new compositions, it felt like she was moving through the previously enjoyed repertoire. The majestic power of “Feels Like Home” and “All I Can Do” were comfortable memories, but slightly heavy-handed on both voice and piano. The addition of Fox’s cello and vocals rounded the classics out nicely, often filling in for what might have been lost in the non-studio version.

As she set up her beloved cover “Leaving on a Jet Plane” which launched her to fame when it was prominently featured in 1998’s blockbuster “Armageddon”, she invited an audience member onstage to sit beside her. Her lucky victim, “Jason”, an electrician with a calm demeanour and untrained singing voice, enjoyed the best seat in the house, and was a great sport as Kreviazuk sang her showpiece to and for him.

At the end of the night, it was obvious that Kreviazuk continues to be the real deal. Stripped of studio production, what she was able to accomplish with keys and voice (with supporting cello) was a testament to the creative best of Canadian pop.

But the real star of the evening was the Bella Concert Hall. With such intimacy of space and acoustic prowess, both artists onstage resonated beautifully. In fact, they both proclaimed it. Fox, who’s all-too-short opening half hour was seasoned with genuine wishes to continue playing in the hall all evening, took the liberty of ‘testing’ the hall’s acoustics in his final rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “River”, by pulling away from the microphone and singing upstage towards the lucky audience members in the choir loft, letting the reverberation of the room carry his voice effectively without amplification. It was magical.

Kreviazuk herself noted, especially on the historical American election night, that the fact that we had this exquisite hall made her “proud to be Canadian.”

  • by JLove
Jason & Chantal
Jason gets up close for “Leaving On A Jet Plane”
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Centre for All

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The City of Calgary has been celebrating hometown achievements and innovative contributions by Calgarians with The Calgary Awards since 1994. In it’s first year of operation, MRU Conservatory was presented with the Award for Accessibility for the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts.

“We’re honoured.” Says Elaine Danelesko, Director of the MRU Conservatory. “It’s a marvellous design and we’re pleased to have the facility contributing to the arts culture in Calgary.”

The 95,000 square foot building, which broke ground in 2011, features many soundproofed studio spaces and classrooms along with performance venues like the versatile TransAlta Pavilion and the acoustically pristine Bella Concert Hall. It is home to the MRU Conservatory and it’s 10,000 registrants in the student programs, performances and ensembles.

Danelesko simply states, “It feels like a fitting honour as our goal is to be an inclusive space for all Calgarians to practice, perform and enjoy the arts.”

The categories assessed by the panel are Accessible Entry, Accessible Parking, Accessible Seating and more. With special attention to audience experience, there are seats with removable armrests for those attending in a wheelchair, and restrooms and water fountains on all levels of the building. The space, which is already making waves in audio circles about its amazing acoustic design, wants a totally inclusive audio experience. So, it has Infrared assistive listening devices available for all to enjoy the music and spoken word performances in either performance space.

This comes at a great time for the institution as programs are already underway for the Fall semester’s music and speech arts studies. In addition, the MRU Conservatory is about to launch the Music To Your Ears concert season, which features over 25 events from performers ranging from Ziggy Marley (Oct. 13) and Chris Hadfield (Nov. 26th) to Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band (Jan. 29, 2017) to Land’s End Ensemble (May 26. 2017).

Award-winning accessibility seems to be part of the new mandate at the MRU Conservatory.

“We want to invite everyone to experience the Taylor Centre,” says Artistic Program Coordinator Mark DeJong. “With a diverse offering from reggae to classical, jazz to opera, there’s accessible performances for everyone.”

It turns out the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts is in good company with several prominent fellow community builders. The Calgary Awards are given in 16 categories including Community Achievement Awards, Signature Award, presented to philanthropist Richard F. Haskayne and the Citizen of the Year Award, which went to Big Brothers Big Sisters board member David Pickersgill.

With the design of being ‘barrier-free’ to all, there’s no doubt that countless will enjoy accessing all that the Taylor Centre has to offer as a cultural hub for all in the Heart of the New West.

– by JLove

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Island Culture Amplified

 

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The technicians at the Bella Concert Hall are ‘geeking out’.

Al Williams and Owen Day are the audio and lighting gurus preparing for the advent of a new sound in the concert hall. “For the first time in the Bella, we’ll be bringing in a bunch of sub-woofers,” Williams says, practically rubbing his hands with glee.

The reason is the upcoming appearance of reggae legend Ziggy Marley and his band on October 13, 2016. Marley and crew will kick off the inaugural concert season at MRU Conservatory called Music to Your Ears 2016-17. From an auditory perspective, there’s certainly a lot of diversity in the season, which features such varied guests as Wu Man (Chinese pippa player), the Pedrito Martinez Group (Afro-cuban drummers) and Chantal Kreviazuk (Canadian pop singer/songwriter).

This will mark the first occasion that reggae music will resonate in this concert hall.

For a brand new space, it certainly isn’t missing anything. Williams notes, “We have subwoofers in the building, but they’re primarily designed for the acoustical space. With Ziggy’s band and their type of music, there’s a tremendous amount of low frequency energy that’s involved in the show. So, we’re bringing in seven Meyer 700 HP double 18 Sub-woofers.”

For those unfamiliar with the audio brand, the best explanation Williams can offer is, “It will rattle the rafters.“

Lighting technician Owen Day echoes the excitement, “It’s definitely exciting to be doing bigger events. We have more technology and more toys to play with to provide a better show.”

What’s expected in an event like Marley’s is a rock concert event, which is a far cry from the technical demands of a solo violinist in recital or a keynote speaker. To illuminate Marley’s stage, Day says, “We’re adding more lights featuring lots of colour in the LED world.” LED meaning ‘light-emitting diode’, a technology that is making stage lights, as well as indoor Christmas lights, more energy efficient, easier to manipulate and brighter.

Day admits to the scope of this reggae event, “That’ll be the full use of sound system and the lights. I’ve seen his (Ziggy’s) rider and we’ll test the limits of the space.”

Brighter and louder will describe the Bella Concert Hall’s contributions to the Calgary music scene.

For those lucky enough to get tickets to the event, it’ll be spectacular. Day has been listening to exiting audience members from his booth at the back of the hall, “Everybody loves it. At least one person comes by and says ‘the space is amazing.’” Having that reaction motivates the positivity of the tremendous work required to make each show look and sound good. Day is in his zone, “It’s the dream. The kind of job you love coming into every day.”

Topping his colleague’s excitement, Williams quips, “I love the reggae, mon!”

Ziggy Marley @ the Bella Concert Hall

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Tix: mru.ca/enjoy

-by JLove

 

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The Bella Concert Hall
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New New Music

 

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Like many on staff at MRU Conservatory, Jaijai Li is both a gifted teacher as well as an accomplished performer.

She grew up playing both Chinese and Western classical flute, which has significantly shaped her playing. With the help of Program Administrator Jean-Louis Bleau, she is part of the new Chinese Classical Music program, teaching an instrument called the Dizi, a Chinese flute. Li says, “I’m excited and grateful that the conservatory is promoting Chinese music and it is just the beginning of this exciting program.”

In addition to the Dizi, students of Chinese Classical music can study the Erhu, Guzheng and voice. Jaijai grew up studying with dizi masters Dai Ya and Hou Chang-qing, but “Nowadays,” she notes, “besides classical music, I play lots of contemporary and experimental music which requires exploring new ways and techniques to play the flute.” Some of that innovation takes place with her colleagues in the Timepoint Ensemble, who are appearing at the TransAlta Pavilion in the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts on Saturday, September 24th.

The Timepoint Ensemble is, “a New Music ensemble and we are also new. So we should be a new new music ensemble.” She jests. But the diversity of music they perform is no joke. “A whole lot of different styles: Minimalism, post-genre, fusion, and music for experimental cartoons. You’ll hear different sounds coming from a grand piano, watch a video game, and discover the players interacting with each other and improvising on stage.”

The show is called, Bridging Divides: Cascades, Layers, and Nightmares. Their program is as eclectic as their line-up featuring contemporary works by Marcus Fjellstrom, Ted Hearne, Bethany Younge and Terry Riley.

These are not household names by any stretch, but Li and her Timepoint counterparts are here to push the boundaries. “I think the society doesn’t fully recognize the value of musicians and artists when compared to some other places like Europe.” Having lived in Germany for three years prior to landing in Calgary, and also calling cities like Toronto and Bejing home, she has a worldly view on culture, “Every show is a another story, a unique experience, and a different angle to the society, to the art and music.

In another effort to bring the music to ‘the people,’ Timepoint is rarely confined to a concert hall setting. With venues ranging from coffee shops like Café Koi to the ContainR Art Park by Sunnyside, they’re bound to open some eyes and ears of new new music audiences.

Li likes the challenge of the new frontier and challenges audiences to see this ensemble live, “Timepoint will inevitably do something different from any possible expectations. But that’s part of the game – come to experience something new!”

Experience the Timepoint Ensemble, the first of the MRU Conservatory’s Salon Series at the TransAlta Pavilion at 8pm Saturday, September 24th. You might be the new new audience they’ve been looking for.

– by JLove

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Wild West Bella Debut

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Melanie Leonard

 

“Beethoven is pretty cool, but there have been a few guys and girls composing after him,” says true musical maverick Melanie Leonard.

Leonard is founder and Music Director of the Wild West New Music Ensemble and the newly appointed Music Director, Sudbury Symphony Orchestra. Calgarians remember her well from her four years as Associate Conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, but she promises to bring something new to the stage in the Fall, “I have a passion for new music and bringing people to beautiful music they don’t get to hear very often.”

The concert, titled Baroque Minimalism is a part of the MRU Conservatory “Music To Your Ears 2016-17” Concert Season in the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts’ Bella Concert Hall. The program features works by minimalist composers Phillip Glass, Marjan Mozetich and Steve Reich who are all considered major influences on minimalist music.

Glass is perhaps the best known to audiences due to his scoring of award-winning films including “The Truman Show” and “The Hours”. Leonard has invited renowned organist Neil Cockburn to join the ensemble for his Harpsichord Concerto, a time-traveling sonic experiment. Both composer and performer are,“using an ancient instrument in a modern way,” Leonard describes, “extending it into another era.”

The ensemble will be composed of up to twelve instrumentalists, depending on the requirements of the piece and, in one case, will feature some pre-recorded vocal interviews. In1990, Steve Reich won a Grammy for Different Trains based on the train journeys he made in America during WWII. Had he been in Europe at the time, the train ride might have been destined for Auschwitz. In the piece, Reich uses the cadence of the human voice from the recorded interviews to dictate the musical melody of the strings. “You’ll hear a conversation onstage between the voices and the instruments,” Leonard promises. It has been described by The New York Times as, “a work of such astonishing originality that breakthrough seems the only possible description… an absolutely harrowing emotional impact.”

Rounding out the program is one of the most broadcast classical composers in Canada. Marjan Mozetich’s Baroque Diversions, featuring Marcin Swoboda on viola, will resonate in the hall and with audiences alike. Leonard is pleased to be shining the spotlight on, “masterworks of the 20 & 21st Century with this work by a living Canadian composer.” Her motivation is simple, “I want people to appreciate the music that every century has to offer.”

Whether it’s a new audience for classical instrumentation or new works for a classically trained audience, Leonard is sure of one thing, “Beethoven would be all for it.”

MRU Conservatory is pleased to welcome the Melanie Leonard and the Wild West New Music Ensemble at the Bella Concert Hall in the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts on Saturday, October 15th, 2016 at 7:30pm. For tickets or more information, go to mru.ca/enjoy or call 403-440-7770.

  • by JLove

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Rastagarians

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What is a Rastagarian?

Leo Cripps knows. He’s one of the original six Calgarian reggae fans who, in 2003, created the Calgary Reggae Festival Society and have since entertained other Rastagarians with the best that reggae has to offer at Reggae Fest each August since.

When Cripps found out Ziggy Marley was playing the Bella Concert Hall,  his vibe went from laid back to up tempo. “It’s gonna be a great show.  Ziggy’s always been an amazing performer.”

Admitting it was quite a coup for a brand new concert venue to attract one of reggae’s top names, he says, “Ziggy’s one of the premiere performers in today’s day and age.” Having experienced Marley in concert before, Cripps adds, “You know you’re gonna have a well–rehearsed solid performance. He’s gonna deliver a great show for you.”

The Marley Family is, according to Cripps, “A dynasty. Bob (Marley) laid the foundation. It’s amazing to see the family that have taken it on. You have the third generation of Marleys still performing and producing some of the best reggae products in the world.”

Talking about Ziggy’s famous father, Cripps states, “Bob was such a dominant force.” By comparison, he identifies another world-renowned Jamaican, “Usane Bolt is the sports icon that carries the torch. Bob carried that for reggae music.”

With his new self-titled release just out, featuring the single “Weekend’s Long”, Ziggy promises to deliver hits from all six of his studio releases that will be the first reggae jams heard in the new acoustically tremendous concert hall.

Cripps is keen to hear the legend in an intimate space, “I’ve heard great things about the (Bella) hall from the audience perspective on how good the sound is in there.” According to this Rastagarian, he’ll be among friends, “There’s a huge reggae following in this city.” I’m anticipating that it’ll be a good crowd going out to see it.”

For all Rastagarians, Ziggy Marley will be appearing at the Bella Concert Hall in the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts at MRU Conservatory on October 13, 2016 at 7:30pm.  Tickets at mru.ca/enjoy

  • by JLove (Rastagarian)

 

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Ziggy Marley. Rastagarian?

 

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Beats Learning

 
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Paula Midori Nieckar is rhythmically inclined. As the MRU Conservatory’s new Taiko drumming instructor, she’s certainly marching to her own beat.

She recalls when her passion for performance was ignited, “I first saw taiko performed at the Heritage Day Festival in Edmonton in the late 80’s. I was immediately drawn to the natural rhythms, the thunderous booming sound, and the choreography that was incorporated into the music.”

Having studied ballet since age five and music since age 9 (she is also an oboist), she liked the synergy of the art form, claiming, “Taiko seemed to draw elements of both of those worlds.” Referring primarily to the Japanese group KODO, Nieckar admires the well-rounded commitment involved, “Professional taiko players are amazing athletes with training regimens that include long distance running, workouts, communal living, and strength training, in addition to intense drumming.” Though Nieckar will be offering a Youth Class (ages 10-15) and an Adult Class (age 16+) in the fall, it likely won’t be as intense. “Students should be prepared for a lot of fun,” she quips. “There’s some physical movement within their own physical capabilities, but there is no experience necessary.”

For those starting musicians of all ages who may be intimidated by notes on a page, Nieckar dispels that fear, “Taiko pieces are taught orally using a method of kuchi-shoga (a verbal cueing of the rhythm using syllables like ‘don’, “doko” or “ka”), and pieces are memorized rather than reading sheet music.”

She describes three sizes of drums that will be explored in class. “Large Odaiko drums have a very deep thunderous reverberating quality. The small shimedaiko have a more piercing high-pitched sound.” Finally, she identifies the popular chudaiko drum, “a medium-sized taiko that is often constructed from recycled wine barrels.”

Those who have experienced taiko performances, perhaps from Nieckar’s ensemble Midnight Taiko Kai in Calgary, will perhaps recognize two differing drum positions. Beta-dai is the upright flat-on-the-floor drumming that students will begin with and Naname is where the drum is raised and angled to enable a different percussive style and choreography. In all age groups, Nieckar will rehearse, “a variety of traditional and “open-source” repertoire, as well as introducing some basic improvisation.” Then she hopes to have a public recital on the final day of classes for family and friends to experience taiko performance.

According to Nieckar, this is a great time for the MRU Conservatory to start incorporating the art of taiko drumming in its musical programming. She says, “Some of my taiko peers are collaborating with rock bands, electronic music, ballet companies, classical music, television commercials, sports half-time shows and with choral music.” In fact, she addresses its growing presence in popular culture. “Photos of an interview with composer John Williams leading up to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens revealed an odaiko in the percussion section at the back of the orchestra.”

For fans of the Force, “these are the drums you’re looking for.”

  • by JLove

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