“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.
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.”
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.
- by JLove
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.”
- By JLove
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