“Life is a lot like jazz… it’s best when you improvise.”
– George Gershwin
Like many jazz artists, Andre Wickenheiser is multifaceted. Whether he’s swinging with the Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble, soloing with the Prime Time Big Band or teaching emerging trumpet players what he’s mastered of the craft, this cat knows jazz.
“It’s a very basic jazz improvisation course,” he assures, “We’re starting from the very beginning. It’s a very warm and friendly environment so people can feel free to experiment and create music without judgement.”
He acknowledges that the course is geared towards people 16 and older. He explains the reason is that, “you have to have a certain level of proficiency to get the most out of it.”
Wickenheiser creates a collaborative environment in all ensembles he works with, “It has nothing to do with theory or chords or scales,” he notes, “it’s about sound and time and feel.”
Jazz improvisation is something that has to be learned and nurtured. It’s not just notes. The notes strung together become ideas. Wickenheiser compares, “Creating coherent musical phrases is the equivalent of building a sentence using words. Using the musical ideas you already know, you can form new ‘sentences’ out of that.”
But Wickenheiser imparts that you’re never just speaking to yourself. Under the right tutelage, these sentences can grow into musical conversations between soloists, “There is trading (solos), call-and-response… interacting is a huge part of it.”
His biggest focus in the course is the sound. “No matter what you play, the sound is the first thing people hear.” Not to be singularly focused, he adds, “Then, having a really good time feel so you’re always in the groove.”
“As jazz has progressed, it’s become more technical.” He explains. But in this Jazz Improv course, he wants to keep it simple.
He cites some heroes, “Guys like Ben Webster (tenor sax), Harry “Sweets” Edison (trumpet) and Lester Young (tenor sax) all played in the Duke Ellington Band and Count Basie Orchestra before bebop. So, before things got really busy and ‘note-y’ they were just playing melodies all the time.”
The secret of their success is, “A lot of the time, they’re playing something simple, but what they’re playing has a very profound statement. It’s not about flash, it’s about being musical. Their sound and their stylistic inflections on things make it very interesting. It’s a good place to start.”
A note of caution from Wickenheiser, “A lot of people listen to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie when they’re starting. They’re very technical.” He adds that some get turned away from the complexity, “they think – woah, I can’t do that.”
In this course, he empowers the budding jazz soloist, “What you end up creating is based on what you’ve heard before. It’ll get your brain thinking in a different way.”
Along with his instructional duties, you’ll hear Andre Wickenheiser featured in this month’s Salon Series with The Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble in the TransAlta Pavilion at the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts on Saturday, February 25th at 8pm.
– by JLove
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
“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
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
Sophie Serafino is a proud Academy graduate whose continued success onstage mirrors the education she received from instructors like Bill van der Sloot at MRU Conservatory. These formative musical memories are powerful motivators to propel careers, strive for excellence and, in many cases, to give back.
With the help of the Rotary Club of Calgary Downtown, she is creating a partnership to pay it forward. This last month, the TransAlta Pavilion at the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts in MRU Conservatory was filled with world-class talent and world-class Rotarians. Serafino sings their prasies, “The Rotary Club of Calgary downtown, is a huge provider of scholarships. They strongly support education right from basic literacy to adult education.”
This particular event, however, has a philanthropic twist. The funds, to the tune of $7000 in its inaugural presentation, are to go towards the students’ tuition costs at the renowned post-secondary music institutions they’re destined to study at.
“On a practical level,” Serafino explains, “giving a student the freedom from financial concerns to concentrate on the study of their instrument can make all the difference in a busy year of study.” The levels of need are varying, but the cost of Julliard is ever increasing. Serafino recognizes that, “If a very promising student cannot access the tuition they require, it might prevent that player from continuing their study at all.”
And she would know. Since her time in the Academy, she has successfully transitioned her violin studies into a thriving career. She has recorded several critically acclaimed albums and appeared with artists including Josh Groban, Amy Sky, Pavlo and one of MRU Conservatory’s Music To Your Ears 2016-17 Season stars, Chantal Kreviazuk. The passion with which she plays onstage is echoed in the passion she has to give another generation of performers a leg-up. “Supporting music education, and those talented students who may go on to professional careers with assistance is extremely important, not only for those students, but for our city, for the future art and culture in our city.”
The doors opened into the enchanting TransAlta Pavilion and each eligible student played to a rapt Rotarian audience and to a panel of esteemed adjudicators from the Calgary community. Joining Bill van der Sloot on the panel were Paul Dornian, President of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, John Kadz, Artistic Advisor and Coordinator for the Academy Program and Rolf Bertsch, conductor of the Calgary Civic Symphony.
With the array of talent taking the stage, their work was definitely cut out for them.
In Serafino’s words, “The standard of performance was absolutely fabulous. Very competitive, and impressive.” In the end, the adjudicators agreed that the inaugural scholarship funds were to be given to pianist Kevin Chen (12 and under), violinist Isabella Perron (13-16 years) and violinist Angela Ryu (17 and over).
MRU Conservatory is grateful to forge this insightful partnership and Serafino and her fellow Rotarians couldn’t be happier. “I am grateful that it came together, and that the funds went towards tuition of an amazing group of students. I would love to add a few 0s to the scholarship amount! I will work towards this scholarship increasing in the amount to a point where we could potentially send students to study at world-renowned institutions around the globe, and I want to help make that happen.
- by JLove
The excitement is electric.
The sound-check’s done and… we’re about to take centre stage.
In 2015, we completed construction and opened the Award-winning Bella Concert Hall and the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts. While it still has that ‘new theatre smell’ we’d like to amplify its acoustics by showcasing the finest local, national and international talent to play it.
We would like to announce the debut of SEVEN CONCERT SERIES taking place at the versatile venues in the Mount Royal University Conservatory’s Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts in 2016-17. These concert events will showcase some of the most innovative contemporary artists to bring music to your ears. We want our MRU Insiders to be the first to know what’s up.
Join us on May 13th, 2016 as we announce the line-up.
This will take place at the James Ehnes concert, our final Wyatt Series event for this season.
Our follow us online for up-to-the-moment social media releases. (Follow @MRUConservatory or mtroyal.ca/enjoy)
The Bella Concert Hall was built on sound.
The Soundscape Series showcases the amplification of these artistic vibrations in their acoustic glory.
* 5 concerts from local, national and international influential artists and ensembles.
Importing world-class musicians from around the globe. Let’s give them a true Calgarian white-hatted welcome.
* 5 concerts will take audiences on musical adventures in many musical genres.
Northern Lights Series
2016 is the Year of Music in Calgary. 2017 is Canada’s 150th Birthday.
What better way to celebrate our home and native land than to feature some of its finest artists.
*5 concerts will define our country’s energy, diversity and talent.
Our celebrated Wyatt Series continues to feature contemporary masters of classical works in performance and mentorship of our music students. This series honours the late Hal and Marnie Wyatt, longtime supporters of the Mount Royal University Conservatory.
* 3 concerts from modern masters.
Family Portrait Series
Music, Speech Arts and Theatre are for all-ages. To ensure that the younger family members, and those who are young at heart, get to experience amazing music and storytelling, we have the Family Portrait Series.
* 2 narrative shows that will inspire imaginations, whether it’s your first or ‘bazillionth’ time at a performance.
The Spotlight Series showcases our diverse and talented instructors in performance. We’re so proud of our instructors, we want to bring their talents to centre stage. This monthly feature is as varied and exciting as the programs we offer.
Historically, the Salon was a favourite meeting place for musicians of all styles to play, listen and collaborate. We’re bringing it back. Throughout the season, we’ll be offering these opportunities for folks to mix, mingle and enjoy a variety of musical entertainment.
Of course, we’ll still be presenting concert events featuring all of our incredible performance ensembles and programs, including festive favourites Winter Fantasia and Sounds of the Season.
Connect with us on social media for your chance to win tickets to each of the series, or the grand prize, seasons tickets to ALL concert events in our 2016-17 Season!
Like, follow and spread the message to your friends and family. It’s going to be an inspiring season of sound at the Mount Royal University Conservatory!
– by JLove
This past week, the Bella Concert Hall was examined by some lifelong masters of assessment… retired teachers.
Forty-five former teachers met with MRU Conservatory Director Elaine Danelesko for a private tour of the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts, with a special focus on the Bella herself. By all accounts, she passed with flying colours.
The Calgary Board of Education Retired Employees Association (CBEREA) provides members with various experiences and activities. Regular bowling and golf tournaments, bridge groups and luncheons are among the featured offerings. There is also a walkers and hikers division of the group who chose to end their trek in the lobby of the Bella.
Elaine Danelesko, who radiates with pride as she introduces all guests to the MRU Conservatory facilities, effortlessly spoke about the programs offered, the private studios’ acoustic treatment and the merits of the state-of-the-art practice rooms capable of accommodating worldwide private lessons through Skype to a responsive audience.
The reactions to the facilities, the programming and the design all made the grade.
Having just opened in the fall, it was a new experience for most, “Today I realized that there is a wonderful opportunity not far from home that has not been on my radar.”says Sharon Terray, retired Social Studies teacher who last taught at Lord Beaverbrook High School. Terray, who helped arrange the tour for the group, continues, “Because of what I saw today, I hope to be aware of programming and upcoming events, and thanks to free Sunday parking, take advantage of what the Conservatory has to offer the public.”
Seeing how it might directly affect the group’s demographic, Terray’s friend and co-walker Barbara Hongisto chimes in, “The facilities provide super opportunities for parents and grandparents to offer musical programs to young ones!”
Terray assess the Bella. “All the attention to detail both from an aesthetic and an acoustic point of view means that there is always more to take in; you have to sit there for a while to really appreciate it all.”
Sharon’s husband Dr. John Terray, who is the retired chairman of Mathematics, Physics, and Engineering, MRU, has an eye for quality, “I was very impressed with the architecture and design of the building. “ Of the Bella herself, he claims, “The concert hall conveyed a sense of quality with warmth.”
The offering that seemed to achieve bonus marks from this gathering is the outreach that MRU Conservatory is building within the education community in our Calgary school boards.
In discussion at the back of the class while the group hiked through the Music with Your Baby area and the Atelier Room, Dr. Terray sums up, “The tour informed me of the many opportunities the MRU Conservatory provides to the citizens of Calgary.”
Congrats to the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts on an inspiring spring report card.
- by JLove
In fact, I know one. Ralph Maier… and if I knew many more, he’d likely still be my favourite vihuela player. The instrument, he explains to me, “is the Spanish equivalent of a lute…except it’s shaped like a guitar.” A gifted guitarist, he touts, “Over the last ten years, I’ve gotten into doing things on period instruments.”
Maier is not only an expert to those who have the privilege of hearing him, he’s backed it up with the academic research, he finished a Musicology PhD in Spanish Renaissance Music in vihuela. So, for those who are interested in hearing a master at work, check out his upcoming recital Ralph Maier & Friends on Sunday, May 1st, 2016 from 2-3pm in the TransAlta Pavilion of the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts.
Not only will he be strumming a vihuela, Maier’s program includes some pieces on the Baroque guitar, which is a five-course instrument meaning it has five pairings of strings to strum. The strumming, traditionally, was meant to accompany dancing, so there are a series of universal chord progressions known to many players of the time; much like a Blues progression today. The progression, Maier says,“became a staple. Then, composers would write a variation on it.” Among those composers, he lists Bach, who added his own touch to the Spanish plucking tradition. Maier’s study of the form has led him to complete his latest CD, aptly titled “Variations” which is available on both iTunes and CD Baby.
Musically speaking, he gets history. My personal history, having known Ralph for nearly two decades, is that there’s nothing he can’t play on a guitar. Tim Brady is a contemporary composer who wrote a piece for 20 electric guitars. Maier was one of the twenty. He was so inspired by this composition that he recorded it for his latest CD, playing all twenty parts multi-tracked. After recording it, he sent his interpretation to the composer. His reaction, according to Maier, was, “he liked it and that was very reassuring.”
Recently, in addition to his teaching at MRU Conservatory he has been teaching university classes like The History of Led Zepplin, Progressive Rock Music and The History of Heavy Metal. “I’m all over the place, musically.”
Maier will be reuniting with the Oberon Guitar Trio (Brad Mahon & Murray Visscher) as well as teaming up with flutist Tim Janz for this program. As to what era their contributions might represent, it’s anybody’s guess.
When I asked directly what we could expect in this Spotlight Series Concert, his answer was confidently nebulous. “I’m not absolutely sure.”
Such is the secret of a true modern Renaissance man.
On April 30th, 2016, you’ll find Herbie Hancock, Aretha Franklin, Diana Krall and Sting at the White House. There will also be some jazz music featured in Bologna, Italy in the Jazz 4 Peace Celebration, and in the Quartet Diminished in Concert show at Niavaran Hall in Tehran, Iran.
Jazz music brings together the improvised solo expressions of individual instruments into an artistic whole in a combo. That’s the message of UNESCO’s International Jazz Day, celebrated this year on April 30, 2016.
“UNESCO (United Nations Educations, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared this day a day that celebrates creativity and diversity of Jazz music,” says in-the-know saxophonist Mark DeJong.
DeJong, who’s the new Artistic Coordinator at MRU Conservatory, has composed a special something to celebrate at the TransAlta Pavilion, “We are celebrating some of our renowned jazz alumni. We’re featuring a great local vocalist by the name of Aimee-Jo Benoit. She has a great following with indie bands like Woodpigeon. Joining her are some former grads of the Jazz Program.”
The program is made up of some jazz standards, “She’s going to dive in to the American Songbook for those ‘tin pan alley’ chestnuts.” DeJong continues, “then some jazz originals and really creative interpretations of some of her favourite Canadian icons like Joni Mitchell and Neil young.” No matter what the source inspiration is, DeJong insists that Benoit promises to, “breathe new life into them.”
He would know first hand.
DeJong is among the esteemed alumni joining Benoit onstage with saxophone in hand. “This is my first presentation as the new Artistic Coordinator at MRU Conservatory.” he says, “One of the things I wanted to do was be involved in the early shows both as a programmer and on the ground on the stage.”
As a unique UNESCO moment, DeJong and the combo are excited to have CBC’s Tim Tamashiro take the stage as guest emcee. “Anyone who’s a jazz fan in Canada knows Tim… not only with his incredible career as a jazz vocalist, but as the host of CBC Radio 2’s Tonic.” The ‘drinky’ jazz crooner will be on hand to spread the harmonious message to the jazz community, “he’s such an energetic and creative personality,” DeJong says, “We’re really delighted that he’s able to join us.”
Benoit, DeJong and Tamashiro are warming their chops for April 30th. To celebrate UNESCO International Jazz Day with the rest of the world, click here, or head to the White House.
- by JLove
Akiko Tominaga is an artistic tour guide. The worldly pianist, featured in the Spotlight Series from 2-3pm on Sunday, April 24th in the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts’ TransAlta Pavilion, called the program “Postcards from Afar” to take the audience on a musical journey. The best part is, they don’t even have to leave their seats.
Tominaga herself has experienced many cultures and their sounds. Born in Japan, she grew up moving to the varied musical landscapes of Singapore and the United States, she’s traveled to Europe and Asia and makes her home here in Canada. Along the way, she’s picked up sonic souvenirs that she’ll present to her audience. “Postcards from Afar” is based on pieces inspired from these different cultures,” she notes, citing specific references to Asian, Spanish and French influences. “Through the music, people can experience different cultures.”
Much like travel, the program selections are a feast for all senses. “You can blend and paint with sound,” she states. Highlighting works by French master Debussy, Spanish rhythmist Albeniz and Japanese minimalist Takemitsu, she couldn’t select a wider variety of cultural palates to paint with. “Music goes into the visual arts (in one’s mind)” she nods. “We experience it through audio, but we can feel the temperature, texture and tonality.”
Each culture has evolved in its own musical influences. The listening ear can place the hint of an Asian-influenced scale compared to a more western aesthetic. Tominaga suggests that accessing it starts on the page. “It all comes from the score.” She attests, noting composers’ own interpretive descriptions like ‘celestial light’ and ‘joyously’ on the printed page. “I analyze and study the score, then reflect on what the composer wrote. I see the images. I hear it. I see shimmering gold. By envisioning it, I can play it.”
This particular program has, itself, traveled. Tominaga played it in recital as a part of Roland Graham’s Master Piano Recital Series in Ottawa last month. As it travels, it evolves. “It’s never the same,” she expresses, “The whole dynamic performance experience is exciting. It can only be created in that moment. That unique experience is what attracts me to live music.”
Take the trip with Akiko Tominaga. All travel yields memorable experiences. But, unlike most jaunts abroad, this Spotlight Series show is by donation only and includes one thing you won’t find at any airport… free parking.
Please RSVP if you’re attending the concert on Sunday, April 24.